Art Review: Between art history and humdrum kitsch

The solitary lamb, emblematic of the people of Israel is indeed a powerful image.

A painting by Ben Avraham (photo credit: DANIEL SHORKEND)
A painting by Ben Avraham
(photo credit: DANIEL SHORKEND)
Shuliart Gallery - Haifa
Gallerist: Shuli Yaloz
Shuliart Gallery is a commercial space pandering to the taste of the general public showcases paintings (and a few sculptors) by leading Israeli artists from the 1980s up until the present. The well-known “brands,” such as Yossi Bergner, Menashe Kadishman, Ben Avraham, Yossi Cohen Zarenkin, among others, are on show. The work is decidedly easy and simple, by which I mean little conceptual technology is required. They simply evoke a sense of beauty, clarity and light.
There is perhaps the more rarefied remembrance of those Jewish artists who form part of the hallowed history of art: Chagall, Soutine, Modigliani, Pizarro, Mark Rothko. Perhaps one can link these established greats to the work on show and even construct a peculiar Jewish style: a penchant for the other-worldly, the obvious Romantic strain, the propensity toward the expressive, the constant introduction of a musical element and the use of Jewish themes or subject matter.
Such stylistic peculiarities, if indeed they exist, or in their overt generalization, eschew the great variety of artistic expression in Israel and of Jewish artists of the Diaspora. At any rate, such a gallery explores and lauds the highly accomplished works of many of the well-known artists locally and in so doing makes a space for what one can perhaps be called Judaica-inspired art that sits somewhere between the holy realm of the history of art and that of humdrum kitsch art.
To be honest, I am not bored of Kadishman’s sheep motif. The solitary lamb, emblematic of the people of Israel is indeed a powerful image. It need not symbolize that “perfect offering” that is the idol of the West in the main but comes to be a metaphor for the eternal struggle of the “weak” spirit against the powerful and mighty, the lure of the more powerful beast within. Of course, this motif is open to various interpretations, but the sheer ingenuity with which the artist bathes the image in various hues and plays with it with surrounding colors and brush-strokes iterate the theme in ever more complex ways. I particularly liked the one which is a play on various nuances of white-on-white.
Bergner’s work, of which there is an excellent representation, has a sort of inner glow. One ought to be attentive to the brush-mark that displays a certain vitality, an ingenious sense of the simultaneous existence of solidity and lightness of being. The figures are robust, yet one senses that they could take flight and the musical dynamism and thematic content adds to that sensibility. It is perhaps a good thing that in an age of materialism and cynicism to matters spiritual or on the other side of the coin, violent fundamentalism, that art retrieves its simple task: to be beautiful, to be pretty, to not complicate. Bergner makes a special effort to render the sky at least 50% of the picture plane and this releases his figures as larger than life, as neither trapped within the Earth nor without awareness of the heavens above. As Shakespeare put it: “What should fellows as I do, crawling between heaven and earth?” Yet these figures do not crawl – they dance to music, both solitary and yet connected to a larger social world and the Earth itself.
Avraham’s work is even more overtly spiritual. It is refreshing to see a Jewish take on angels in pictorial terms, as well as obvious biblical themes, a voice that needs to be heard from the people that spawned The Book in the first place. The blues, greens and white intermingle in a soft and yet austere manner as the ladder leads to worlds that only a refined intuition may grasp and even perceive.
The gallery overall? Pretty, easy, nice art.