Art: The sum of the parts

Exhibits aplenty at the Artists House

Yanai Segal, ‘Gates,’ 2015 (photo credit: YOUVAL HAI)
Yanai Segal, ‘Gates,’ 2015
(photo credit: YOUVAL HAI)
Institutions like Jerusalem Artists House have a distinct advantage over their contemporary counterparts.
For starters, they don’t normally offer the works on display for sale and don’t have to rely on revenue from the public to pay their bills.
That naturally means they can put together shows that are untainted by commercial considerations, and they can fill their exhibition spaces solely with items deemed by the respective curators to be worthy of public interest.
This is clearly the case with the current lineup at the above venerable Jerusalem repository of art.
If you’re looking for variety, you’ll find that in abundance at the century-plus-old edifice on Shmuel Hanagid Street.
There is an intriguing and evocative photography spread by Omri Keren Lapidot, as part of his Nidbach series, which dips into Israeli folklore and offers a left-field angle on the practice of getting out and about, across rustic domains, in order to get a better handle on our national heritage.
Keren Lapidot’s Tulips show is a somewhat nostalgic study of the kibbutz, as the photographer takes a wistful look back over his shoulder at the demise of the institution as an ideology- based collective.
“You can see in all these pictures of kibbutz dining-room buildings that there are almost no people in them,” notes Artists House director Ruth Zadka.
Indeed, dining rooms were once the hub of shared life on kibbutzim, where almost everyone ate three times a day. Now, in the era of privatized kibbutzim, the once core structures are now either abandoned or have been pressed into the service of some entirely different facility. The fact that the kibbutz dining-room prints are monochrome naturally lend themselves to a sense of a bygone era.
Keren Lapidot casts his critical artistic eye over the very foundation of the Zionist way of life, and his color prints of some of his friends and family members out for the day in the country. The hikers are shown from the back, as if to neutralize the personal element.
“These works are about the places, not about the people who are visiting them. It is a more humble mind-set, rather than [that of] the Sabra going out to ‘conquer’ all these valleys and mountains and other places,” explains Zadka.
She adds that Artists House does its utmost to help budding artists such as Keren Lapidot to come to grips with street-level reality after leaving the cloistered confines of academia.
“The Nidbach series is designed to help young artists, within the first five years after they finish their studies. It is a cruel world, especially the arts market, so we give them an opportunity to chalk up an exhibition in their résumé.”
The initial Jerusalem Artists House introduction to the world of exhibiting works takes in the full national spectrum of incipient creation.
“We don’t choose the artists,” continues Zadka. “We choose the curators and they select artists from all over the country. We have run this series for 19 years and all the leading Israeli artists in this time started from here.”
As befitting any artistic exploratory venture, the search for identity is a theme that runs through all the exhibitions. Haim Ben-Shitrit’s thought-provoking Oriental Bavarian – Do You Know This Woman? video installation, overseen by writer, restaurateur and curator Albert Suisa, certainly pertains to that line of thought and emotion. In his new work, Ben-Shitrit takes his ongoing examination of multilingualism and its ability to convey biographical collages a step further.
The Oriental Bavarian section fuses the artist’s biography with that of his friend, Bavarian-born Israeli Berndt Sering. It is a German-, Hebrew-, French- and Arabic-speaking effort that careens through the languages and their associated culture baggage, offering a glimpse of some of the richness and confusion spawned by the Israeli cultural melting pot.
The narrative takes in prejudices and plain old incomprehension.
For instance, with an ironic chuckle, Sering notes that when he spoke high-society Arabic in Tunisia, the rank and file there thought him a snob, while back here his newfound love of Arabic music was considered to be the stuff of romanticized Ashkenazi pretension.
Do you Know this Woman? features the visage of the artist’s Egyptian-born mother interspersed and disrupted by seemingly extraneous elements. Once again, fragmentary identity rears its befuddled head.
Possibly the most emotive exhibition of the current crop is Pearl Schneider’s display of paintings, curated by Menahem Goldenberg, that seem to exude a sense of innocence and wonderment. The colors and shapes she employs are initially easy on the eye and the heart, but before you know it you are drawn into ever-deeper strata of aesthetics and sensibilities.
Schneider won this year’s Osnat Mozes Painting Prize for a Young Artist, with the prize committee noting that her paintings “describe a world that is rich and full of imagination.
It is with rare restraint, sincerity and modesty that they beckon the viewer into their midst. Her paintings convey a clarity and precision; they demand further observation and suspend a sense of fulfillment. Every brush stroke, however swift, appears deeply meaningful.”
Zadka proffers Schneider as a prime example of the Artists House philosophy. “Find a young talent and let it spread its wings and grow,” she declares. “That’s the idea behind this house. Find the goodness and let it soar. We don’t display any enormous, bombastic works here. When you come here, you have to take a good look at the works, look right into them.”
That said, Yanai Segal’s Walkway is a generously proportioned piece, occupying three separate spaces. The titular route stretches out in front of the visitor betwixt beds of gravel. The walls of the first section sport large canvases with rows of black shapes that look like archways or inverted candelabra.
The site-specific installation leads the viewer from one Jewish heritage-fueled motif to the middle area which contains dozens of hamsa shapes. The last spot is something of a stunner, conjuring a mixed and quite possibly confusing sense of a sacred site and finality.
Above all, as you traverse the four shows, you experience an organic sequence in which the evocative and emotive works combine to convey a powerful and ultimately spiritually uplifting message. •
The free exhibitions close on December 26.For more information: (02) 625-3653 and