Winning Works

Recipients of the Culture and Sport Ministry’s artists’ awards are displaying at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Sasha Serber, ‘Lion Head,’ 2012, acrylic on polystyrene. (photo credit: TEL AVIV MUSEUM OF ART)
Sasha Serber, ‘Lion Head,’ 2012, acrylic on polystyrene.
(photo credit: TEL AVIV MUSEUM OF ART)
Every year at around this time, the Culture and Sport Ministry awards a number of prizes to local artists working in the fields of visual art and design.
These awards, according to Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, are intended to support not only talented artists with experience and renown, but also those taking their first steps in the world of contemporary art.
“In no way is the prize a license to rest on one’s laurels,” she says. “Rather, it is an incentive to keep advancing in the stormy and demanding whirlpool of artistic practice in Israel.”
“The Culture and Sport Ministry primarily supports art institutions; this award is the main way the ministry supports individual artists,” explains Idit Amihai, director of the ministry’s Museum and Visual Art Department.
“Most artists work independently and are not associated with art institutions; this award is in recognition of those artists.”
Prizes are awarded in five categories: Young Artist, Encouragement of Creativity, Visual Art, Design and Lifetime Achievement. “We started with this award around the year 2000. Since then, the numbers of participants and winners have greatly expanded,” Amihai says. “This year there are 36 winners, and hundreds and hundreds of artists were considered; there were around 200 artists in consideration for each category.
“The judges are some of the main figures in Israeli art. Each category has its own group of judges, and they are changed every year. The prize includes recognition, encouragement, support and money. The amount of money for each category is different – For Young Artists, it’s NIS 10,000; for Lifetime Achievement, it can be as much as NIS 70,000.”
The ministry’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner for 2014 is Shaul “Tulli” Bauman, sculptor, visual artist and founder of Israel’s influential Studio art magazine.
An exhibition of works by the rest of this year’s prize awardees, called “And the Winners Are,” is currently on display at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Most of the victorious artists were on-hand at the exhibition following the award ceremony on January 13.
Yuri Katz, winner of the Visual Art Award, stands near four rather disturbing impressionist portrait paintings.
Three of the people portrayed can only be described as emaciated, almost skeletal.
One, a young woman, is depicted with eyes that are conspicuously absent, replaced by two white blotches where her eyes should be. The fourth individual – a journalist perhaps, or a professor – appears somewhat down-at-the-heels, disheveled and possibly drunk.
“I paint. I enjoy painting; painting people is what I do. I start to paint, and the only thing I know is that it turns out to be a human being, in some kind of human situation,” Katz explains.
Asked whether he is painting people from life, he replies, “No, I don’t know them; they are only a figment of my imagination. And I hope that [in my imagining,] they have something that, with their help, I can talk about certain human qualities I’m interested in – fragility, sensitivity, sadness, melancholy… The painting itself, putting oil on canvas, also interests me, maybe even more than the content itself.”
“I started painting when I was six years old,” Katz recounts. “I’m from Kiev originally; it was very organized there, you study art in school like you study everything else,” he continues, his voice and face virtually expressionless.
When told he appears somewhat less than emotional about winning the award, he laughs and replies, “I am very emotional. Listen, here’s the situation: I am doing what I like doing, something I would be doing anyway. And suddenly I get a big amount of money for it – and it feels very, very good!” Standing in front of a large video installation mounted on a wall near the exhibition entrance to is Yifat Bezalel, winner of the Creativity Encouragement Award. “I took an image of a kibbutz shomer [guard] from Israel in the 1930s, and I found a parallel between this and The Lovers by René Magritte,” she explains. “I find something similar in the two images.
“It was passion: There was passion in what was then Palestine among Jewish settlers for the land, and the passion in Europe at the same time was inside the individual. Here, it was about community; there, it was about the individual.
I call this work Hashomeret, which means guardian, but specifically a female guardian. It’s my shadow. And it’s a video installation that I decided to put on my drawing of the guardians – I guard the guardians.”
Bezalel says she was drawn to the subject in an indirect way, through her family history. “My parents were born in Israel; their background is Sephardi, but they both went to the kibbutz as children. This kibbutz culture was very different from the Sephardi culture they came from. My parents found their roots again though, as adults in their 20s.”
Bezalel expects that winning the ministry’s Encouragement of Creativity Award will endow her with a bit more “street cred” in the Israeli art world. “I have exhibited in Europe, but never here. I wasn’t successful here before, but this recognition will enable me to show my work here in Israel. This is home.”
Another Encouragement of Creativity award winner is Hila Amram, who stands in front of a work that virtually defines the word “creativity.” Arrayed on a series of wooden shelves are various objects encased in beeswax – yes, beeswax.
Says Amram, “I was invited to exhibit in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, and I decided to put some day-to-day stuff in their honeycombs. And it only took the bees one day to build everything around it. It’s beeswax.”
Among the quotidian objects she placed in the honeycombs – now embedded in an installation created by the bees – are dishes, knives, bottles, cups, clocks and little notebooks. “Ordinary stuff,” she notes. “It’s like what will be later on when nature beats us back, after people leave this planet.”
Amram calls her post-apocalyptic work Colony Collapse Disorder, and it was a major attention-grabber on opening night. Asked how she feels about winning, she simply laughs and bellows, “Great!” At the center of a group huddled around two paintings of sea animals that, upon closer inspection, appear to be moving are Design Award winners Nomi Geiger and Dana Gez, who together comprise Studio Gimel 2. Each moving painting depicts an aquarium – one containing a two-headed turtle, the other a two-headed snake.
Says Geiger, “We are graphic designers, and we were very excited about making something for this exhibition, which is art and design together. What we did is make posters that are alive, posters that move. On the one hand, they almost don’t move. The way we made them is we drew these images and we copied real references from nature.
But then, being designers, we made small tweaks and made something different again. We made the wall into an aquarium.
“As a design, it’s somewhat limited, but it also creates a very different reality.”
The depiction of animals with two heads, Geiger explains, is a way of detailing their creative process. “You have here one piece of work, but we are two creators. A big part of what we do has to do with the dialogue between us, and the two-headed animals are a bit of a self-portrait. It’s how we feel. In the end, we have something that’s one piece, but when we do our work everything is split in half. Everything keeps losing its meaning while we work, but then has double meaning later on – and that’s what we love about design.
“Also, we just felt like doing these animals because we love these references from nature. It’s where we go in our minds when we try to be creative.”
Asked if winning this award is likely to effect any changes in their young lives, Geiger responds with amusement: “Well first of all, we feel different, we dress differently, we stand differently. People stop and talk to us on the street.”
Says Gez, with more laughter, “We’ve made T-shirts that say, ‘We won!’” Adds Geiger, with all three of us now chuckling, “And we think that now we are going to become millionaires from being graphic designers.”
Suzanne Landau, director and chief curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, explains how the specific works in this exhibition were chosen. “The artists were selected by the judges, but the artworks on display were selected by the curators. The prize is not for a specific work, but rather for the artist. The idea, I think, was to select the work that most typifies each artist, but also what is the best.”
Says Noa Rosenberg, who with Maya Vinitsky is co-curator of the exhibition, “We worked together with the artists; it was a complete dialogue with them. We had only two months to get the exhibition together, and we did it, together with the artists.”
Asked if any ego or personality problems arose with two curators and 36 artists working together, Rosenberg smiles and replies simply, “Like they say on Facebook, ‘It’s complicated.’ But all in all, it was a good dialogue and a very good experience.”
“And the Winners Are: Culture and Sport Ministry Prizes in Art and Design, 2014” is on display until April 15 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 27 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard, Tel Aviv. For more information: (03) 607-7000 or