Home is where the art is

The Israel Museum's 'No Place Like Home' examines the domestic uncanny

The Israel Museum’s ‘No Place Like Home’  (photo credit: ELIE POSNER)
The Israel Museum’s ‘No Place Like Home’
(photo credit: ELIE POSNER)
When Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz clicks her ruby red shoes and says, “There’s no place like home,” she has been engulfed in a world entirely foreign to her and is ready to return to the familiarity of Kansas. An early May conference on the Israel Museum’s exhibition, “No Place Like Home,” which will run until July, centered around this theme of the comforting becoming strange; the domestic made absurd.
The two-day conference consisted of artists’ talks on a range of topics under the umbrella theme and an experimental exhibit that turns a large section of the museum into a 12-room home, where domestic objects become tools for the artists to explore issues of gender roles, housework, family, and identity.
“This exhibition began at the beginning of the 20th century until today,” says Dr. Adina Kamien-Kazhdan, the exhibit curator. “It follows the transformation of the domestic object by artists and their means of transforming in order to speak about gender, space, roles in the home, housework versus creativity, and displacement.
“The curatorial work for me was triangular: the theme of the domestic object, the space which was a quasi home within the museum, and then the third point of the triangle was the Ikea-inspired catalogue. I was happy that this time it all came to me as a unit; then I worked together with the designers to develop that vision.”
The exhibit was thoroughly complex in every sense.
Visitors walk through the space from room to room, observing domestic objects that were transformed and then placed back within their “natural” place. Consisting of 120 works drawn from the museum’s own collection, as well as those supplemented from other institutions and private collections, every room brings an encounter with artists of the past 100 years and a silent dialogue between viewer and viewed.
“The exhibit is the story of each of the artists, but it’s also a group show and a space,” Kamien-Kazhdan adds. “You walk in and the architectural plan is delineated on the floor and then each room of the home is marked; you know you’re in the living room, dining room, or kitchen. The pieces in the space create the exhibition.
“It’s important for me to emphasize that it was a holistic approach to curating and I enjoyed it very much. Three years ago, I acquired a work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama from 1963. It’s an ironing board covered with phallic protrusions. It’s a sea of erect phalluses and then you have the steam iron, threatening to flatten them.
“It’s basically talking against male dominance. The 1960s are the heyday for feminist art. Maybe to us these messages are obvious, although I don’t think they really are. I thought what would happen if I put this ironing board into the utility room of this home? The result was powerful.”
Over the span of two days, “No Place Like Home” offered an international symposium in addition to the physical exhibition. Highlights included a lecture from Kamien-Kazhdan, entitled “Home As Subject and Matter,” followed by a keynote address from artist Janine Antoni, who also gave the closing lecture.
The Bahamas-born Antoni had never been to Israel before. A pioneering artist, her work was displayed in the home’s bathroom. The work, Lick and Lather, is a pair of self-portraits done in chocolate and soap. Antoni washed herself in the soap and licked the chocolate.
They stand  side by side in the bathroom, where the issues of casting and feminism pervade.
Antoni’s art concerns inhabiting her body and the work simultaneously; her work involves her body in its creation. “There is a wonderful photograph of her from 1993, creating a work by dipping her hair in dye and painting with it on the floor,” Kamien-Kazhdan shares.
“It’s a continuation you could say of Jackson Pollack.
She creates with her own body, not with brushes or sticks. She loves the exhibition, so that made me happy. We have the great opportunity of her being here so we want to make the most of it.”
The final day of “No Place Like Home’s” conference featured three sessions.
The first, Homes Are Built in the Mind, centered around architecture and psychoanalysis and showcased talks by Kamien-Kazhdan, architect Esther Sperber, and Prof. Robert Lubar of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, an expert in surrealism who examined Salvadore Dali’s works in the context of the architectural uncanny.
The second session, Gender and the Domestic Uncanny, featured a talk from Dr. Dror Pimantel of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, as well as three different artists. The last of the three, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, spoke on what she calls Maintenance Art.
“I showed artworks of mine that were recently in a huge exhibition at the Queens Museum in New York City,” Laderman Ukeles says. “They deal with maintenance and service workers, both in the home and out.
That’s the connection to the exhibition. Can the city be home? Can the planet be home? I’ve made many works of art with the Department of Sanitation, including a performance work with 8,500 sanitation workers where I went to every single one, shook hands, and thanked them for keeping New York City alive. It took 11 months. I’m trying to set up this notion that these are the housekeepers of the whole city.”
The third and final session featured assistant curator Neta Peretz facilitating an artists’ roundtable with five female Israeli artists. The conversation covered the topic of domesticity and the artist’s specific object in the exhibition. The roundtable was an opportunity to include artists who related deeply to the topic of gender and the uncanny home, and who are relevant to it, but whose displayed work was not a domestic object. The exhibition’s theme was encompassing enough to include an incredible variety of artists and pieces of work.
“With this exhibition, I integrated contemporary, international, and Israeli artists,” Kamien-Kazhdan explains. “It draws a line through our history from the historical avant-garde in the early 1900’s until today. The Israelis were very excited to be paired with artists like Man Ray, Warhol, and Oldenburg. It’s not usually done and I’m happy about that. It was a learning opportunity for me.”
One piece of work that stands out as a quintessential example of what “No Place Like Home” came to accomplish is called Greater Divide. It is a grater (the kind normally used for cheese or vegetables) that becomes greater because it stands two meters high.
The grater transforms into a kind of separation wall, questioning traditional domestic roles with a subtle anger. The exhibit manages to examine the relation between art and its context throughout; how the viewer interprets things differently based on context.
“No Place Like Home plays on the Wizard of Oz phrase,” Kamien-Kazhdan explains. “Here, since it’s the uncanny home, it’s no place and it’s like home. It’s about place and no place and home and like home. These pieces of art are not functional, so the home is not functional.
“Every aspect of this is about the uncanny; the familiar becoming strange. It’s a home that becomes un-homey. People come and have different emotions; some find it very funny, some find it militantly feminist, or melancholy; it’s all about what you’re coming with.
“The exhibition raises a lot of feminist issues in a playful way. It can be read on many levels.”