Painfully thin and garishly costumed young women, their bones and sinews peeking through paper-thin skin, writhe in their confined agony. The striking images of women in the throes of eating disorders, painted by English-Jewish artist David Breuer-Weil, make up the new blockbuster show "Anorexic Babes," which opened in March at Jaffa's Hayek Center for Contemporary Art.
Breuer-Weil, 43, labels them "gloomy caryatids" (a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support in place of a pillar or column). The eight large vertical oil paintings (4.6 m x 0.6 m) of skeletal women were sized to fit comfortably into the dimensions of the four pillars that support the center's exhibition space.
It is the third exhibition held in the center, which was inaugurated barely two years ago for the purpose of showcasing the work of Israeli and Jewish artists who are at the beginning of their careers.
"There are many up-and-coming artists and not many avenues of expression," says Samuel Hayek, 56, the Israeli-born philanthropist who founded the center. "We are looking to exhibit artists who are finding difficulty in this country securing space in conventional art galleries and museums. It is my intention to give them a platform to present their works and become part of the fabric of the local art scene," says Hayek at the opening of "Anorexic Babes," which comes in the wake of the debut exhibition at the center by Russian-born Israeli painter Meir Pichhadze, and a second exhibit of physician-artists entitled "Art.Doc."
Over the last 25 years, Hayek - who divides his time between London, where he runs a successful real estate business, and Jaffa - is becoming one of Israel's prominent art collectors, who for the last 15 years, has focused on contemporary Israeli art. The center, which is making a major effort to support promising local artists, will eventually be the venue for six to eight exhibits a year.
Contributing to the maximum exposure and clout of the works in the current exhibit is the layout of the center's interior space. Set back from Louis Pasteur Street in a re-gentrified area that overlooks the Jaffa port, the center has its entrance on the second level, affording the visitor a vantage point of looking down into the exhibition hall within.
This setup is perfectly suited to display the monumental figures at a single glance, which heightens their impact. At ground level, the pillars dwarf the visitors, giving the impression that one is in a cathedral-like ambiance. But unlike the dramatic play of light and dark that illuminates ecclesiastical architecture, the pristine walls give the interior an airy, almost ethereal quality that does not compete with the works they are intended to display.
An exhibition at the Center is just one benefit from Hayek's foundation. The chosen artists receive a cash grant, exhibition space and a fully illustrated catalogue of their works. Furthermore, Hayek purchases a work for his own private collection and attempts to sell the rest. It is common for artists to donate a work to an institution after being exhibited there, but Hayek buys one instead. "I give donations," he avows. "I do not take them."
Hayek encounters difficulty in setting sale prices for the artists he intends to promote. "Even though they are at the start of their careers, the prices at which they wish to sell their art are often unrealistically high." He claims he has an uphill battle convincing artists to keep their prices affordable, below $2,000, with most works selling for $700-$800. "When it comes time to discuss prices, I prefer to sit with the artists' dealers than negotiate with the artists themselves." He agrees that artists see their works as "children" and are loathe to let them leave home.
Hayek and his staff churn the artistic waters to discover fresh talent and encourage artists to submit their work for consideration. His aid is available to all citizens of Israel and to Jewish artists from abroad. Pulling a large folder from his desk, he cites an application by a 65-year-old artist. "We seek work from up-and-coming artists, not necessarily youthful ones," he says with a nod to late-blooming energy and talent.
Extract from an article in Issue 26, April 13, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.