Tel Aviv’s famous Rubin Museum is hosting an extravaganza of several artistic mediums as they converge simultaneously. It began on August 19 and includes performances and iterations on September 7, 20 and 27.
The result is a celebration on many levels: the creative talents in the arts drawn from Israel; the synergy between disparate arts; a rejuvenation of the spirit of the old in the form of the painter Reuven Rubin, and the bridging of the gulf between old world conceptions of art and modern, cultural dissonance and developments whose foundation lies in the painter’s artistic pursuits and vision.
Reuven Rubin was born in 1893 in Romania. He painted from childhood and came to Jerusalem in 1912 in order to study at the Bezalel Art Academy. A year later he continued to Paris, then the art capital of the world, to pursue his art studies. After World War I he traveled to America, exhibited in New York in 1921 and in 1923 returned to Palestine to settle. Soon recognized as one of the leading pioneer artists in the country, his depictions of the local landscapes and the people, Arabs and Jews alike, reflect the Zionist enthusiasm of those early years.
What is Tel Aviv's Rubin Museum?
The Rubin Museum is an artist-house-museum in the historical heart of Tel Aviv where Rubin lived with his family, working in his third-floor studio from 1946 until his death in 1974. Constructed in 1930, the house at 14 Bialik Street opened to the public in 1983. A choice selection from the museum’s permanent collection of Rubin’s paintings is regularly on display.
One will recall that Rubin’s style might be classified as modernist and expressionistic, influenced by European modernism, perhaps of the ilk of the German Expressionists. His figures are often distorted, elongated, and contorted – a reminder of the likes of Soutine and Modigliani, perhaps even the sullen Kirschner. His figures are often outlined in harsh, linear brush marks; the background is often cubist in style and the color free of realist conceptions, being rather more romantic or expressive in intent. His figures exude a sense of the tension between the geometric and static and the organic, caught in the flux of movement.
Now, the innovation of this cultural festival is what I believe is a bringing to life of such paintings as it is teased, taunted and gestured toward, through the experiments in dance, music, digital art and video and other offerings at the museum. The static body of the paintings is now given weight, texture and a visceral quality of aliveness, of being – what one might conjecture to be a humanitas.
In fact, I would go deeper and explore such synergy as a kind of synesthesia: colors are given shape by sound; static images are enlivened by moving bodies in the form of modern dance expressions; and the old tools of the painter are set against new media and modes of expression in the digital age. This acts as both a kind of collaborative arts schema that transcends any one medium and a sort of dissonance or contradiction that invigorates the old with the new.
In this sense, one can call this cultural “play” a dynamic meditation of the Israeli cultural experience, of which Reuben was an innovator and pioneer, and that of modern and postmodern developments – in effect, a celebration of 100 years of creative Israeli art in its multitudinous forms.
In particular, Maya Clara Baharaff, the festival’s art director, says this event is a unique consolidation of the Tel Aviv world of art and its cultural dynamism, of the old and the new. This makes sense, for even a change in trajectory – which is what essentially the “modern” or even “postmodern” implies – is predicated on the past, on the historic and traditional template. In this sense, Reuven’s art is even more poignant not simply in the context of painting as such, but within the realm of art in a broader and more diverse sense.
The unique aspect of this event is it is not simply a matter of going to a gallery or going to the theater as such or simply watching some kind of live performance in a well-defined traditional manner.
Instead, the gallery-goer might begin by viewing Reuben’s work, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, dancers begin their “routine,” music begins to play, traditional Israeli food is on offer, and the very architectural space of the museum becomes a stage, or rather the stage is everywhere and nowhere, and the lover of art is at once immersed in the art, but more importantly, it is subtlety interwoven in the stream of life, rather than the strict performer-performance-audience boundaries. In this way, art becomes an amorphous field of experience, a sensory delight and a cerebral riddle.
The general name for the arts (dance) project is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which captures the dreamy, other-worldly quality of this cultural event, wherein what is real and what is imaginary is not at all clear. It is playful, experimental, trendy and creative, weaving a plot that is surprising as it is whimsical and hopeful. Perhaps hopeful of the creative hub that is Tel Aviv.
Included are the likes of Yasmin Goder, an international award-winning dancer and winner of the Israeli Culture Ministry’s award for Best Creation in 2015. The Yasmin Goder troupe will strut their stuff. There are also performances called Alphabeta by creator and choreographer Gal Karmona and director Dylan Yosef Shtrot, winner of the OVF Best Award in 2021. The closeness and intimacy in the museum’s space adds a special flavor to what is really a star-studded ensemble.
What is perhaps most intriguing will be the parallel works of Rubin’s Quartet in Rehovot painting, and the musical performances of “The Cello Player,” adding to the idea of the overlap of the arts, rather than the “purist” vision that each medium ought to be absorbed and appreciated in isolation.
This formed the basis of theories of formalism and the rather out of date “arts for art’s sake” mantra. This really is an oversight, just as the very experience of life itself – of awareness – includes the whole gamut of the senses.
In philosophical terms, one might recall the Irish philosopher of old, Bishop Berkeley, whose famous maxim, “To be is to be perceived,” is relevant here, in the sense that consciousness gives credence and existence to material reality. In this light, matter itself speaks. It can be meaningful, and its energy can be sensed and detected. An event or festival of this kind in that respect thus instills a sense of the vividness of art itself, no less within the cultural city of Tel Aviv. Or perhaps more precisely: an event of this kind creates the very existence of art itself, and therefore the audience is somewhat complicit in that making.
So, treat yourself, be creative and support this initiative, and in that sense contribute to the very existence of culture in the broadest and widest sense, emanating as it does from the Rubin Museum and culminating in the hearts and minds of all that are part of it.
Art is not just for the gallery wall, the theater and the concert hall – it happens around us all the time. And this festival invites us to participate in such a vision. ■
Tickets can be purchased through the museum website: http://www.rubinmuseum.org.il/he/home/a/main/. Here one can also view the precise calendar of events and the artists involved, many of international acclaim beyond the shores of Israel (in particular the choreographer Or Schreiber).
The event is in collaboration with WIX Noach 12 Arak Premium, Barkan Wineries, Ariet Tel Aviv and the Culture and Sports Ministry.