Italian marble, a column of buckets and lots of bubble gum

There is ‘Plenty’ to enjoy at Bat Yam’s Ben Ari Museum for Contemporary Art as it kicks off with new management and an exciting new exhibition.

Art from the exhibition 'Plenty' at Bat Yam's Ben Ari Museum for Contemporary Art  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Art from the exhibition 'Plenty' at Bat Yam's Ben Ari Museum for Contemporary Art
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With Carrara marble torso and limbs, plus genitalia made from bubble gum, the sculpture Chewed Material by Zohar Gotesman may not be the first thing one would imagine when dealing with the concept of “plenty.”
“It’s made from 4,000 units of Bazooka gum,” explains newly appointed chief curator Hila Cohen-Schneiderman as the artists and workers around us are busy installing the exhibition before the opening.
“Gotesman boiled it all in cooking pots and sculpted with it around an iron construction.” She bends over for a moment to pick up a piece of bubble-made bicep that dropped to the floor and with a shrug puts it back. The result, a meshing together of classic Greek art and mass-produced sugary pink human-targeted chewing cud, is brilliant and horrific, bringing to mind iconic male figures in biblical-like triumph and horror movie special effects where victims have their faces melted off by giant spidery aliens.
Located just two train stops from Tel Aviv, Bat Yam’s Ben Ari Museum for Contemporary Art has a rich legacy. Under the helm of director Ofri Omer, it hopes to serve as a focal point for the Israeli art scene.
“This is an issue every museum in the world is dealing with,” Omer explains, “how to get people to show up. In Israel, where there isn’t a well-established culture of visiting museums, it’s even harder. Regrettably, some people live in Bat Yam for years and don’t even know there’s an art museum here. We hope to change that.”
Bat Yam can boast of a powerful connection to Jewish artistic and intellectual trends, thanks to the efforts of the first mayor of the city, Polish-born David Ben-Ari, who served in office from 1950 to 1964 and increased the number of people living in his city from 8,000 to 80,000. He arranged for the water tower – which still serves the city with well drinking water and stands near the art museum – to host studios for resident artists in the early days. He also invited Yiddish writer Sholem Asch and the widow of Ukrainian-Jewish painter Issachar Ber Ryback to reside in Bat Yam and the city built them homes. Today, both are honored by museums that, together with the Museum of Art, work together to bring art and culture to Bat Yam. Hopes are high that the Asch museum, scheduled to re-open later this year after renovations, will reintroduce this exciting Yiddish writer to the Israeli public.
But what exactly is “Plenty?” Plenty of what? Photographer Malachi Sgan-Cohen presents me with his large-scale photographs that evoke 20th-century art in exquisite detail while using cardboard and ready-made objects. The chessboard evokes French artist Marcel Duchamp, who introduced the concept of the ready-made object in art with his urinal and bicycle wheel before moving his interest to chess. The nearby guitar harks to Spanish painter Pablo Picasso.
“I started out with the concept of the ready-made object and moved from there to deal with left-over materials and wrappings,” said Sgan-Cohen. “This is actually the negative of “plenty.” Rather than a rain of gold, we see the paperboard cores of toilet paper rolls, but arranged in a studio with precise lighting and well-printed. So really, you can find potential or quality in almost any material.”
The exhibition dares to explore both ends of the spectrum with such unusual works as a tall column made from plastic buckets constructed by Nardeen Srouji and glitter-covered carpet beaters with flowers created by Vered Nissim and hung on the walls as art. 
“‘Plenty’ also means some connection to the divine,” says curator Hila Cohen-Schneiderman in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, “like the plastic chairs Uriel Miron uses and turns suddenly into a monstrous skeleton. It’s how one thing can transform into the other. It’s not only liberating, but also melancholic and direct in the sense it confronts reality and what is really here and actually possible, in Israel and in Bat Yam.”
Cohen-Schneiderman mentions former head of the Queens Museum Tom Finkelpearl as one source of her inspiration.
“At the beginning of his term, he tried to get people from Manhattan to come to his museum before he decided to focus on the people who live in Queens,” she says. “He said something that really appeals to me: ‘We are the Queens Museum and we take the word Queens as seriously as we take the word Museum.’ I want to do something like that for the people of Bat Yam. The soon-to-reopen Asch Museum will offer residencies to writers and the Ryback Museum can be a great place to reach the community, so we are going to be a museum that takes chances and risks, a place that would hopefully enrich the entire Israeli art field.”
Perhaps a case in point is Ezra, a construction worker Cohen-Schneiderman met by chance outside the museum recently and invited in.
“He told me he hadn’t been in the museum for 20 years or so because Ashkenazim took it over,” she laughs. “I mean seriously, and what am I, right? Then he went inside and saw the column of plastic buckets Srouji made and he was so excited. He took out his phone and began taking photographs and said he’ll bring his whole crew to the opening. So you know, if you meet people good things can happen.”
“Plenty” will open on June 21 at 8 p.m. at the Ben Ari Museum for Contemporary Art at 6 Struma Street, Bat Yam