The Arty Semite

Bad Politics Meets Bad Art in 'Pro-Israel' Exhibit

By Joshua Furst

  • Print
  • Share Share

According to its publicity materials, “Response Art: An Experiment in Politics, Power, and Pop-Culture,” the exhibit currently running at the Dershowitz Center for Pro-Israel Art, deep in Brooklyn’s South Slope neighborhood, promises to show what happens when artists and intellectuals “struggle together towards a new understanding of Israel and the Middle East — aided by the vision of artists inspired by the tremendous burst of cultural creativity unleashed during the ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Israeli Summer.’”

‘Piece no 1’ by Bill Bassman

Over the past few months, the artists involved attended a series of lectures and panel discussions exploring the current situation in Israel. They were then asked to “transform the themes, arguments, and emotions they observed into art.” The work on exhibit now is the result of this process — their “response,” as it were.

One can imagine something great and necessary coming out of this: a challenging mix of competing ideas, Jews and Palestinians coming together at last to engage frankly and honestly, at least through art, in the hard conversations that are required if either side is going to survive. But that assumption would be naïve.

Artists 4 Israel, the group that, along with Birthright Israel, sponsored “Response Art,” isn’t interested in art, per se. Or, maybe, it would be more accurate to say that it sees art as a vehicle for its true goals. As the letter from Daniel Seaman, the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Deputy Director General, that was proudly printed in the opening night program puts it, “‘Artists 4 Israel’ is one of the more — if not the most — creative, innovative and effective Israel advocacy projects today… [Artists 4 Israel] is changing perceptions of how Public Relations can be conducted.”

And so, looking more closely at the contents of the panels the artists attended, one discovers that the topics ranged from “The Palestinian Right to Israel,” which claimed to “systematically and methodically [expose] the myths and lies about the Arab right to the land of Israel,” to “Making a Case for Israel,” which promised to teach “how to respond to difficult questions, such as ‘Israel is an Apartheid state’ or ‘Israel commits war crimes.’ [sic]”

All of which explains why the artists involved in “Response Art” have been culled not from the wide range of world-class Jewish and Arab artists working in the world today, but from the much smaller number of artists willing to unequivocally, and without question, support the Israeli state in all it does. The work on display varies from inept to incompetent to, at its best, bludgeoning and didactic.

Art can do many things. It can provoke thought. It can present complex emotions, or complicate the viewer’s emotions. It can change your understanding of how the world looks, feels, sounds, even tastes. It can disrupt your sense of reality, lead you into a new state of being, radicalize you, comfort you, disturb you, alter you forever.

“Response Art” does none of these things. Instead, it peddles crudely drawn, and crudely thought through talking points (for absurdly high prices — upwards of $10,000, the cost of a good Jasper Johns). It pleads for you listen to the most reductively sentimental chambers of your heart, those that chant “next year in Jerusalem,” regardless of what the rest of your being might know about the real situation in Jerusalem, this year.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Visual Art, Response Art, Joshua Furst, Dershowitz Center, Exhibits

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.