Solitary Sisters (Extract)

21cindy (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Extract of an article in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Israel Museum showcases women without men If you've come to "A Room of Her Own," an exhibition of women in art from the Israel Museum's permanent collection, with the expectation of gazing at erotic nudes, pietistic Madonnas or despotic queens, you've come to the wrong address. There are no Venuses or Cleopatras here, not even a grieving Virgin Mary. The reason? Because Venus needs Mars, Cleopatra needs Mark Antony, and the Catholic Madonna is rarely shown without her martyred son. And this exhibition is about women only - although almost all the works are by men, ranging from the late 19th century to the present day. The title of the exhibition comes from English novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf's often-cited advice to women who wish to enter the writing profession, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction," Woolf wrote in 1929, in her most famous series of lectures. Woolf challenges female writers to aspire to Shakespearian heights by aiming for poetic license and the personal liberty to create art. The women who have been gathered here by curator Tania Sirakovich seem ready, through poise, probity and passions, to take on the independent life that Woolf describes. "These individual women are not the traditional ones from mythology or religion," says Sirakovich who curated the exhibition, which runs until February 19, 2008 at Jerusalem's Anna Ticho House. Speaking about the diversity of femininity on display, she claims, "It is the women's personalities, not their function in society - not even their motherhood - that interests us. Just them, all alone, taken out of their usual contexts." And the context of women is usually in relation to men: whether he is a demanding lord and master, conquering general, magnanimous king or tumescent satyr. This "Room of her Own," however, is off limits to men, who can only observe the feminine action and form. The paintings, photographs and sculpture that have been gathered in two rooms of the Ticho House show a panoply of feminine types: strong, sober, virtuous, industrious, seductive, depressed, off-putting, threatening and enigmatic. They're all here to show the spectator that women can get along just fine without a man's approval, thank you very much. The Anna Ticho House is a propitious venue to hold an exhibition about women. Well-known to Jerusalemites, what is now called Beit Ticho was built by the wealthy and venerable Arab family, the Nashashibis in the second half of the 19th century. It was one of the first homes built outside the walls, set off from Jaffa Road by a magnificent garden. In 1924, ophthalmologist Dr. Avraham Ticho and his wife, Anna, bought the house, turning it into their home and eye clinic. For many years, Anna was the "woman beside her husband," helping the poor in his famous eye clinic. Yet after Dr. Ticho died, Anna seemed to come into her own and began to paint the flowers and landscapes for which she is so well known. She was awarded the Israel Prize in 1980, but died a few weeks before the ceremony. Anna Ticho left the house to the Israel Museum in 1980. Until recently, it hosted her works, set up small temporary exhibitions, and became the venue of Friday-morning classical music concerts. The stone building and garden tucked away on the capital's Harav Kook St. in the city center is being used as an Israel Museum satellite for contemporary art during the renovations of the museum, which are expected to be completed in 2010. Israel Museum Director James S. Snyder tells The Report that, in their day, the Tichos made the house available for cultural gatherings and intellectual pursuits, "so that an exhibition about women in the home of a woman who dedicated herself to the furtherance of arts and letters in Jerusalem is entirely appropriate." To be sure, this is no feminist exhibition. With two exceptions - Ukrainian/French 20th-century painter Sonia Delaunay and contemporary American painter Cindy Sherman, known for her conceptual self-portraits, all the artists are male. Following Woolf's lead, the museum agrees that if a woman finds herself in an environment tailored to her needs, shielded from demands, entreaties and just plain distractions, she will flourish. The members of this women's room derive from a cross-section of late 19th- and 20th-century European and American painting, photography and sculpture. All of the canvases in the lower room of this modest two-hall exhibition show solitary woman, Sirakovich points out. "On this floor, I wanted to emphasize their physiognomy, their facial expressions and bodily movements," she adds. Whether they are portraits or generalized types, they are bereft of background figures, interiors or landscapes. They share an appropriate no-nonsense environment, insulated from distraction. In spite of their Spartan surroundings, the joie de vivre of the figures is apparent, especially in the brushstroke of Pierre Auguste Renoir. The artist, who is better known for his buxom nude and semi-nude women frolicking in nature, here shows off his talents in the world of fashion. His "Portrait of Mme. Paulin" (ca. 1885) is dazzlingly restrained in a black evening dress and gloves, ready for a night at the opera. A wisp of hair flutters in her otherwise careful coiffure. Her slimness, in the hands of an artist whose calling card was the embodiment of voluptas, suggests that over-ripeness is more a male fantasy than a desirable female trait. The equating of control and sexuality is apparent in Cindy Sherman's close-up photo ("Untitled") of a large towel-draped figure, perturbed by our interruption of a private moment. She corners you with her eyes, flashing a nasty look that seems to say, "go away," but not so fast, because her body language sends out a different message. The frontal position and the open legs suggest a "come hither" request, but only if you dare. In other words, she uses the double message to retain control by keeping the unwelcome guest off balance. Extract of an article in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.