The Arty Semite

'Keeping it From Collapse': The Sculptural Visions of Dina Recanati

By Benjamin Ivry

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Until June 16, Manhattan art lovers will have the unusual experience of visiting a gallery exhibit by a banker’s widow who also happens to be an evolving, gifted artist.

Dina Recanati, born in Cairo in 1928, married the banker and philanthropist Raphael Recanati in Tel Aviv in 1946, after which she pursued art studies in London and New York. Her current show, which opened May 6 at Chelsea’s Flomenhaft Gallery, reveals faithfulness to her time-honored investigations, but with new visual force, intensity, and scope.

Recanati has always been an artist of the desert, inspired by wind, harsh weather, and the erosion which they cause. Already in 1989, in a solo exhibit at Ramat Gan’s Museum of Israeli Art, Recanati expressed the theme of “survival, which to me means continuity,” as she states on her website: “Columns that are support systems. Trees that serve as an oasis, where the tired voyager may want to stop just for a moment on his continuous journey.”

In the decade since her husband’s death in 1999, the emotional range of Recanati’s art has expanded, as witnessed by her somber, haunted 2001 sculptural installations at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The desert turns precious relics deceptively into something looking like debris, and time can make the Dead Sea Scrolls oddly resemble the results of a backyard bonfire.

The attrition by the elements, a tactile weathering of storm-tossed objects, is described by Recanati on her website in this way: “My manuscripts are layers that are marked, injured at times, sometimes burned, but as an experience from which we learn, almost a necessary passage.” One such object is in New York’s The Jewish Museum, a 1976 “Book” made of styrofoam and mixed media which gently invites Jews as “People of the Book” to look at what condition the book is in.

At the Flomenhaft Gallery, textures are more powerfully kneaded, brilliant colors of the desert more deeply explored, and in general, images rebelliously break the bounds of the pictorial frame. These works, all given numbers after the constant title “Gathering Winds,” are both ominous and reassuring as they capture permanent aspects of nature.

Even if nature’s power is inevitably destructive, Recanati observes in another quote from her website: “I deal with digging the past, with saving the remnants, with continuity…I deal with gathering what I can build on; to salvage before it crumbles in order to keep it from collapse.”

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