The care and feeding

The Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art pays tribute to artists-in-residence.

‘Vagabond’ by Alex Wissel and Jochen Weber, mixed media installation, 2014. (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Vagabond’ by Alex Wissel and Jochen Weber, mixed media installation, 2014.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What would you call a situation in which you were flown for free to someplace new and interesting, given an apartment and a generous stipend, and allowed to spend a few months, a year or more doing your favorite thing in the world – without ever having to worry about money or a job? If you’re like most of us, you would probably call this a fantasy.
But if you’re an artist, you would call it a “residency” and most likely be busy trying to apply for one.
Artist-in-residence programs operate throughout the world, providing opportunities for artists, curators and occasionally academicians to spend a period of time away from the stresses and obligations of their usual lives. They allow artists to experience a new culture, meet other artists, encounter new sources of inspiration and often use wholly new materials as they experience life in another location.
Now, the fruits of some of these programs are on display in three ongoing exhibitions at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art.
Why dedicate an entire museum to work that young artists have made during their residencies? “Art residency programs have become increasingly popular in the past 10 years,” explains Dr. Aya Lurie, the museum’s new director and chief curator. “I’m living and working in the community of art curators, artists and so forth, and in the last few years, it seems that everyone is going to a residency, coming back from a residency, signing up for a residency, asking for a recommendation letter for a residency....
It’s a really heavy phenomenon. It becomes a starting point to reflect on contemporary practice, on contemporary artists, on globalization, about artists’ work.
How does it influence them? How does it influence art?” There is no single type of artist-in-residency program and expectations, requirements, and degrees of support vary greatly.
Some programs are run by foundations, others by museums. Some are operated by organizations that exist solely for this purpose, sometimes in conjunction with other organizations or even governments.
What all residency programs have in common, however, is the provision of unpressured time in a new venue so artists can devote themselves to their work.
One of the three exhibitions, entitled “The Gift,” showcases the work of four participants in the prestigious Jerusalem Center for the Visual Arts residency program.
Founded in 1986 as the country’s first international artist-in-residence program, the JCVA hosts distinguished and promising artists from around the world.
The program promotes intercultural dialogue among its guests, art schools, and the local community. This exhibition features the works of Servet Kocyigit, Daniel Chust Peters, Marjetica Potrč and Dale Berning Sawa.
“Memory Goes as Far as This Morning” is a solo exhibition by artist Gideon Rubin, displaying two extensive series of works he produced in 2014 during two residencies – Outset’s Bialik Residency in Tel Aviv, and the Da Wang Culture Highland Residency in China.
Rubin is the grandson of iconic artist Reuven Rubin (1893-1974), one of the country’s most renowned painters. Born and raised in Israel, a student of art in New York and London, and now living and working in England with his Chinese-born wife, Silia, the younger Rubin has nonetheless established a firm reputation as an accomplished artist in his own right.
Like virtually all figurative artists, he paints people. But the people he paints have one characteristic that sets them apart: They have no faces. They are also set within scenes from other eras – the late 19th century and the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s – that make them appear almost spectral.
For this exhibition, though, he has placed his people against the backdrop of pages from Israeli newspapers and magazines, creating a fascinating juxtaposition of the past and present, the spectral and what purports to be the “real.”
THE THIRD and largest of the exhibitions is “Temporary Relocation,” featuring participants of the artist exchange residency program of the Dan and Cary Bronner Foundation of Düsseldorf, Germany. Each of the 12 artists on show were selected by professional committees and traveled either from Israel to Düsseldorf, or from Germany to the Artists’ Studios in Tel Aviv, where they lived and worked for several months. In the former category are artists Rafram Chaddad, Uri Gershuni, Nir Harel, Barak Ravitz, Gil Yefman and Alma Itzhaky; in the latter are Angela Fette, Christoph Knecht, Sebastián Mejía, Jens Pecho, Leunora Salihu and Alexander Wissel.
All of the works on display are projects created especially for the exhibition.
Says the foundation’s Gil Bronner, “We have two main goals with our residency.
One is to be benefactors to art, to support artists during their career, to help broaden their horizons. The other, of course, is more personal. My mother is Israeli; my father came to Israel after the war. We have very strong affiliations [with] Israel. We live in Germany, where we feel very much part of the community, and we feel we can help to grow friendships between the communities.
We’ve built up networks of artists who have been to Israel, we’ve supported artists who have come to Germany from Israel.”
Participants in the program receive two-way transportation, an apartment, a studio and money to live on for six months.
Itzhaky’s work features vivid and often raw depictions of how Israel, her home country, appears from far away, on the television screen in other countries. One painting called Thinking about the Government – evoking a line from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” – portrays a group of viewers on some kind of stage, watching Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving a speech on TV.
“I try to paint what I see around me, not from photography, and not from nature,” she says. “I paint from memory, but everything then gets mixed up with my fantasies and my imagination.”
As for her residency in Düsseldorf, she recalls, “It was just an opportunity for six months to completely devote myself to my work. I got a studio, I got a stipend. Of course, this is something I don’t usually have. And besides it was an opportunity to see another art scene. To get to know other approaches. And there it was striking for me in several respects. In one way, the art scene in Düsseldorf is very similar to the art scene in Israel. The Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf had a very strong influence on the academy that I went to here in Israel, the Midrasha School of Art at Beit Berl College. It’s sort of the same tradition. Joseph Beuys, who founded the Düsseldorf academy, was a very important figure for my teachers, and for the whole tradition here. So a lot of things were very familiar.”
At the same time, she continues, “it works differently. There’s something more pluralistic about the art scene in Germany. Partly because it’s bigger and there’s more public funding. So you get the impression that there’s more room for different things.”
Fette, meanwhile, is a German painter, sculptor, filmmaker, writer and performance artist known for her idiosyncratic combinations of readings and rituals in costumes, masks and hats, in which she assumes the role of a meta-artist, pushing the proverbial envelope of society’s definition of “artist.” Her contributions to this exhibition include a video and an installation that combines abstract paintings, costumes, cardboard objects and masks, which she uses in her performances.
“I was here for half a year in 2011-2012,” she says. “It was my first time in Israel, and I really enjoyed it. I had an apartment...
in [the] Florentin [neighborhood] in Tel Aviv, and I had an additional studio to work in.”
Asked how her time in Israel affected her as an artist, she replies, “In Israel, there are special questions about identity which you don’t have at this level of energy in Germany. This was an influence.
But in very simple formalistic terms, the light is different here. I was influenced by a visit to Jerusalem. I saw a painting of a rainbow in a church in the Old City. I later made it red. On my arrival later back to Tel Aviv, there was the sunset – pink light on gray stones – and it had a very strong impression on me. So I tried to make it into a painting, gray and pink. I liked the atmosphere in it. It was a bit melancholic, but very warm. Also, I was influenced by many people I met while I was here.”
RAVITZ, A young Israeli artist whose residency was in Germany, stands in front of an artwork that appears to consist of menus from a restaurant serving maki sushi.
The title, Maki Messer – Mack the Knife – is a reference to the popular pre-World War II Berlin production of Three-Penny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.
“These are take-away sushi menus,” he affirms. “I was interested in their form, the many circles. Actually, someone put a menu in the door of my studio, and I had to do something with it. Take-away food is a big thing in a residency program.”
As for that program, he says it “mostly gave me breathing space. And I think my stay in Germany was a lesson in the variety of materials, many things that don’t exist here. Even screws have a huge variety that doesn’t exist here, making me want to do things with them.”
Sooner or later, however, the elephant in the room becomes too big to ignore, and I ask Ravitz whether being in Germany bothered him in any way, as an Israeli and a Jew.
After a long moment of reflection, he replies, “Of course, I was thinking a lot about it while I was there. I don’t know if ‘bother’ is the right word, but it made me think.
Even the books I read there were about the Holocaust. It was always on my mind. In my daily life, I didn’t feel anything, really.
But it was always there. All the time. The area of Düsseldorf I was in was almost new, because it was damaged during the war. So it was almost about the same age as many places in Israel, but for a different reason.
So yeah, I thought about it a lot.”
Pecho, sent from Germany to a residency in Tel Aviv, does not think about it very much. Standing near his installation, Endless Wood – which expresses an attempt to modify natural materials according to human desires, in this case a pattern of uninterrupted wood – he says that for him, “this was about undergoing an experience, and I always look for different kinds of experience whenever possible. For sure, Israel is a special experience. It’s not as ‘normal’ as going to Istanbul or Paris from Germany.
So for me, it was more of a challenge.
But I’m not working in a sense as to say, ‘Okay, this is now an Israeli topic, and now I have to make an art work that deals with Israel or Germany.’ My kind of working is to go more with the mood, see where it brings me and what comes out of it.”
Aside from that, he continues, “I’m someone my age. I also have partial Spanish blood, and that’s where my surname comes from. I don’t consider myself as being guilty of anything. I don’t think it’s possible for someone my age. [Political theorist] Hannah Arendt once said that people cannot be held responsible for something that happened before they were born. I think that’s right, and that it’s more our responsibility to take care of the future, and to be aware of the past. Also, as a gay man, I also identify with victimization.
Identity is much more complicated than political slogans and labels.”
He says he was “very happy how much the young Tel Aviv ‘vibe’ was not really interested in talking about this.
Mainly with me they talk about, ‘Hey, in Berlin the clubs are great!’ They all went to Berlin, and they all have a relationship with that. I guess they would feel weird if I were to permanently talk about the war. They themselves don’t want to talk about this, and they have a different kind of war going on, permanently, which affects them much more.”
The three artist-in-residency exhibitions are running concurrently until August 15 at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, 4 Habanim Street, Herzliya. For opening hours and other information: (09) 955-1011.