In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, Gideon Spiegel, the Tel Aviv-based Israeli artist also known as Goodash, entered an abandoned Egyptian house and leafed through family photo albums that had been left there. That experience of connecting to photos of a family amid the ruins of what was once their home led to his creation of “Memories,” a series of digital collages, or “photodrawings,” which Spiegel says “use imagery that connects to ideas surrounding ancestry, collective memories, and abandoned spaces.” A selection of these works is on view at the Koch Gallery of the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Calif., until mid-June.
By blending his photographs of Christian, Muslim and Jewish buildings in Israel and the Palestinian Territories that have been abandoned since 1950 with antique photographic portraits, and then adding hand-drawn elements, Spiegel aims to evoke a bygone era, “reoccupying [the buildings] with images of former inhabitants.”
Three hundred of Charlotte Salomon’s beautiful expressionist paintings illustrating a young German Jewish women’s self-discovery can be seen at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum until July 31. The same week that the San Francisco exhibit opened, an enormous comic book convention nearby attracted thousands of young readers searching for their latest superhero (Green Lantern this year) and his predecessors. I would like to report that all the comic book readers paraded a few blocks across town to pay homage to Salomon’s landmark project, “Life? or Theatre?,” after hearing that her gouaches painted in 1942 anticipated contemporary graphic novels and the films based on them.
Regrettably few of the comic book acolytes left their convention center, as far as I know; but Salomon already has quite a following, thanks to prior exhibits of her masterwork in other cities. First brought to public attention in 1971 by the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam, the series of 1,300 paintings was celebrated over a decade ago at New York’s Jewish Museum, as well as at Boston and Toronto exhibitions. (Amsterdam’s Joods Historisch Museum, repository of the collection, organized the selections in the current West Coast premiere.) By now Salomon’s work also has been well documented in scholarly books, and inspired a fine play by Elise Thoron and a volume of poems by Anne Barrows.
An exhibition of rare Jewish books, now on display at the Jewish Religious Center at Williams College, Massachusetts, marks the center’s 20th anniversary. Alumnus and Jewish art collector Sigmund R. Balka loaned the books — part of his own personal Judaica collection — to the center as a means of honoring its contribution to his alma mater and passing his love of Jewish heritage on to the next generation.
Balka had a different experience from the current Jewish students at Williams: “When I began at Williams there was no Jewish center. In fact, there were very few Jewish students and certainly no place they could worship. There was compulsory chapel,” Balka, who graduated in 1956, told the Forward.
The passing of multiple new administrations since Balka’s college years has rendered the college more accepting and multi-faith, he says. Balka feels an emotional connection to the Jewish center as a symbol for Jewish students and a focal point for religious and cultural activity; “It was moving,” he remembers, “to be at the initiation of the Jewish center 20 years ago, when the prior history of the college, which was not empathetic to Jewish students, was frankly spoken about. Jewish students were able, for the first time, to have a home on campus, to be part of the student body instead of outsiders.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
If you’re willing to pose with a hibiscus flower in place of a sexual organ, or have a lobster dance with you as you strike a pornographic pose — and have that photo tagged on Facebook — you have to pay for it.
Yoash Foldesh approaches a wide drawer in his house, pulls out a tin cylinder, opens it and spills puzzle pieces on a low wooden table. The pieces are large, like those of a puzzle for beginners, greenish and yellowish, and outlined in black. The task of assembling them is performed quietly, with concentration. The red lobster featured in many of Foldesh’s pieces splashes in its nearby aquarium.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Last Friday, a day before the opening of his solo show, “NU,” at the Dvir Gallery (Hangar 2, the Jaffa port), Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed looked relatively calm. His works, which arrived last week, had been carefully and slowly unboxed and set up, one behind the other, in the large, darkened space.
One video piece, two neon graffiti and a glass installation are what he chose to exhibit here now. They are fragments: He’s not seeking to build a narrative, but rather to display “acts,” as he calls them. In the future, art critics may classify them by comfortable and clear categories, such as migration, the exploitation of women and one world catastrophe or another.
“Rosh Hodesh: Beginning and Renewal,” a community art exhibition on view at the San Francisco Bureau of Jewish Education’s Jewish Community Library until July 31, begins and ends with an egg.
Curator Elayne Grossbard selected Amy Kassiola’s colorful mixed media “One Cycle of the Moon,” which depicts the egg of a woman’s menstrual cycle, as the starting point for viewing the 30 works by 27 local artists (25 women and two men), some of whom have participated in this annual show since the 1990s.
Kassiola’s piece, one of the strongest in the show, is followed by a variety of interpretations of the celebration of the New Month. Inspired by a variety of traditional and modern texts and commentaries provided by Grossbard, the artists took off in a myriad directions in terms of both message and media.
“Do you think we told a good story?” filmmaker Sharone Lifschitz asks her mother at the end of her video installation “The Line and the Circle.” “Yes, we talked about all sorts of things,” her mother responds. “You will now have to edit it.” The installation, a short film tucked away from the main galleries in New York’s Jewish Museum, where it is showing until August 21, is a small yet sweeping film that beautifully weaves together narratives about what it means to be a child, a daughter, a kibbutznik and an Israeli — and what it means to preserve memories while also embracing and forgiving the past.
Just under 20 minutes long, “The Line and the Circle” was filmed over a two week period in 2009, and documents a conversation between Lifschitz and her aging mother. The movie follows the two as they return to the darkroom for the first time in over 20 years to develop black and white photographs taken on Kibbutz Nir Oz, where Lifschitz was born and raised. Throughout the film the camera remains fixed on the developing solution where the blank photo papers crystallize into images. Framed by a circle and a line, the development of the images is the only action seen through the camera’s unmoving lens. The photos, taken between 1959 and the early 1980s, depict day-to-day activities on the kibbutz, as well as celebrations and the occasional photo of Lifschitz and her mother. Watching the video, however, it is not the images or even one event that stands out. Rather, it is the sometimes disjointed conversation between Lifschitz and her mother that makes for the film’s narrative pull.
Crossposted from Haaretz
“Heaven,” a work by Miroslaw Balka now showing at Hangar 2, Dvir Gallery’s space in the Jaffa Port, stirs more than a trace of irony. Sixty-eight Perspex rods, each wrought in a kind of open spiral, turn slowly, “flowing,” reminiscent of decorative objects sold at spiritual fairs or plant nurseries. In the middle of the week, when the space was entirely empty of visitors, the observer’s portrait was refracted in the rods and illuminated by an unearthly sort of light.
It is an experience in which the “I” is infinitely reduplicated, like in a hall of mirrors or in a dream. The duplication is one of solitariness, and its amplification creates an uncomfortable feeling.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art announced the selection of painters Asaf Ben Zvi and Michael Halak as the winners of the 2011 Rappaport Prize. This is the sixth prize awarded since its establishment in 2006 in honor of Ruth and Baruch Rappaport. The prize is awarded annually to two painters, an established painter (Ben Zvi) and a young painter (Halak). Beyond the monetary sum given to the painters, the prize funds two solo exhibitions at the museum as well as the production of the catalogs accompanying the exhibitions.
The official announcement of the prize, scheduled for next Tuesday at the museum, will coincide with the opening of the exhibition by artist Sharon Poliakine and painter Oren Eliav, last year’s recipients of the prize. The exhibitions of works by Ben Zvi and Halak will open at the museum in March 2012.
On March 11, “Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World),” the first museum exhibition devoted to New York illustrator and author Maira Kalman, opens at the Jewish Museum. The show, which debuted in Philadelphia last summer and then traveled to the West Coast, gives Kalman’s fans a rare opportunity to see the original artwork behind her blogs, books, and magazines spreads, as well as some of the quirky objects that inspire her. The Arty Semite sat down with Kalman recently to talk about her homecoming, her process, and why being funny is important.
Jillian Steinhauer: How does it feel to have a museum exhibition?
Maira Kalman: It’s really nice, because I don’t think of it as a show but as rooms that happen to have my work in them. It’s lovely — it’s in a museum on Fifth Avenue, the windows are huge, and the trees are going from winter to summer. Yes, there are drawings sprinkled there, and yes, there are ladders and buckets and suitcases, but it’s the same in my living room, so it feels very natural.
Just several feet away from where people are immersed in the digital worlds of their laptops, iPhones, and Kindles, Ido Agassi’s hand-designed, individually printed and bound books calmly look on from a display case in the lobby of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California. Those who take time to observe Agassi’s “Books as Works of Art,” on view until March 31, are reminded that text need not be a flickering image on a screen, and that words can possess beauty beyond their meaning.
The blending of sculpture, graphic design and bookbinding has been part of the 34-year-old Israeli artist’s personal landscape since 1994, when his father, Uzi Agassi, founded Even Hoshen, the family’s letterpress and intaglio publishing house in Ra’anana. An autodidact, the younger Agassi is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to handcrafting books, boxes and slipcases. Over the years, he has studied bookbinding, restoration, box making, letterpress printing, typesetting, typography, calligraphy, gold finishing, printing and carpentry.
“Cookalein” is Yiddish for “a modest bungalow, usually in the Catskills” where mothers would cook for their vacationing families. It’s also the title of one of the more modest but moving works in “Will Eisner’s New York: From the Spirit to the Modern Graphic Novel,” which opened last week at Soho’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, running through June 30.
The exhibit showcases the work “of the comics and graphic novel master that was inspired by, and which spotlighted, his hometown, the city he always held closest to his heart: New York,” according to its website. Progressing from the iconic early “Spirit” cartoons to his prodigious later output of graphic novels — most with Jewish themes — the show offers a rare opportunity to see Eisner’s original work up close. While much of his graphic-novel portrayals are “affectionate, and softer-edged in terms of social commentary,” co-curator Danny Fingeroth told the Forward, “some works are as savage as any Philip Roth or Saul Bellow on the less pleasant sides of the Jewish-American experience.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
Sculptor Oz Malul has created a universe out of computer printers at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. Dismantled, defective or broken printers of various ages move in a kind of repetitive, mechanical dance, in time to the sounds they create. They are also attached to other objects or pieces of machinery - for example, a radiator laying on its side, a dilapidated record player, a can of spray paint.
Malul, who graduated from Columbia University in New York in 2008, has been a notable exception on the Israeli art scene for some years now. His kinetic sculptures are made from ready-made materials, which in his hands become futile machines that range from touching to threatening, from amusing to frightening.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The writing was on the wall regarding the urban renewal projects on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem and the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. Urban renewal has become just another word for gentrification, higher prices, uprooting working-class residents and small businesses, widening the gap between rich and poor — all in exchange for improving the quality of life and the public landscape of the affluent.
No one has yet come up with the formula for renewal that will benefit all those who have rights to the city, while balancing improvement with fairness. But this needs to be the top priority for all those involved today in renewal, whether from a government or municipal standpoint, or from a practical or theoretical standpoint.
“The Jaffa Road Botox Party” was the name (unforgiveable, indeed) of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s end-of-semester event organized by students enrolled in an interdisciplinary course that focuses on redesigning showcase windows. Held last week, it included a tour of the shops that participated in the project, an exhibit at the Yaffo 23 Gallery that provides documentation of the work done, and a study of preservation efforts on the street that includes interviews with merchants.
In the world of Jewish museums and art collections, there is no more iconic landscape than Jerusalem. But how many ways can one see the Dome of the Rock, the Old City gates or the shuk at Mahane Yehuda before they become static tropes? With such a heavily charged backdrop, photography of Jerusalem often devolves into bland suggestions about what people struggle with and share in the sacred city.
The most welcome achievement of “Illuminated Reflections: A Bill Aron and Victor Raphael Collaboration,” showing until May 8 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, is how directly it takes on these familiar scenes and creates something new with the material. Aron is a photographer who focuses on Jewish communities, while Raphael works with an eclectic range of media, from traditional gold leafing to digital art, both of which he uses here to alter pictures taken over the course of Aron’s career.
It would be fair to call Jon Axelrod’s paintings synesthetic. They are, after all, visual representations of sound. However, these aren’t the idiosyncratic cross-sense connections of an unfettered mind. His is a willful synesthesia. Axelrod uses science and math to reveal relationships between color, shape and sound. He finds kinship, for example, in the frequency of high-pitched tones and the high-frequency wavelengths of blues and violets.
Axelrod’s creativity is borne of constraint. “I am interested in how a system that is completely closed can still have mystery and allow for free will,” he writes in his artist’s statement. This methodical style can yield exciting results. Yet, of the 13 pieces in “Imaginary Oscillations,” on display at New York’s Hadas Gallery through February 28, his most recent paintings feel the most restricted. You feel him pushing against, but subdued by the increasingly clear and strong rules guiding his work. The question is, must he push harder or surrender completely to find the freedom he seeks?
View a slideshow of images from ‘Imaginary Oscillations’:
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
The name Mark Epshtein (1899-1949) no longer occupies a prominent place in Yiddish cultural history, but a current exhibit in Kiev brought the artist back to the city where he created his most important work. “The Return of the Master,” which runs until February 20 at the National Art Museum of Ukraine, is the first full-scale exhibition to showcase the legacy of this strange but forgotten master of the Yiddish avant-garde.
Born Moyshe Epshtein in Bobruisk, White Russia, Epshtein moved at a young age to Kiev with his family, where he entered art school. According to one story, when Epshtein was barely 10 years old, his mother sent him to bring water from the well. When he didn’t return his mother went looking for him, and found him building a sculpture of Leo Tolstoy out of snow. A neighboring photographer took a picture of the boy with his sculpture, and the picture was later was given to the Tolstoy Museum.
The story illustrates not only Epshtein’s talent and love of art, but also the tragic fate of his work. Like his childhood snowman, almost all of Epshtein’s sculptures have been lost or destroyed, with only a photographic record of them remaining. Moreover, because of his overt Jewishness Epshtein was never included in official versions of Soviet art history. Neither has he been much appreciated by Jewish art historians, presumably because his artistic vision didn’t accord with their own ideas about Jewish art.
Crossposted from Haaretz
A cloud of having missed the mark hovers over “Forehead Mesh,” Aaron Adani’s exhibition at the Kibbutz Gallery in Tel Aviv. There are quite a number of beautiful of works in it and interesting treatment of wire mesh (chicken wire, a material often used in art courses ) but it seems as though the curator, or the artist, fell indiscriminately and deleteriously in love with the works.
It is hard to understand how some of the works in this exhibition ended up displayed in the gallery. I am referring mainly to “Veil,” which oversteps the boundary of kitsch and leaves it far behind, as well as to “Forehead Mesh.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
Whether it’s Malevich’s black or white square, the figure of the collector, the cardinal or the church that appears in Norbert Schwontkowski’s paintings, central to the work will be an existential question about life and death. It reflects the basic lack of trust and faith that he experienced as a boy growing up in post-World War II Germany. Last week, he was a guest at a painters’ gathering at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.
About a year ago, at a similar gathering at the Darom Gallery for independent art in south Tel Aviv, the public met with artist spokespersons to discuss painting and its role today and how to talk about it. Passionate arguments erupted. Painter Yonatan Gold thought that an important discussion had begun, one it was very important to continue. Gold, who began this year to teach in the new art department at Shenkar, quickly joined up with Larry Abramson (also at the Darom gathering and the head of the Shenkar department), and they moved to invite international artists to expand the boundaries of the discussion.
A decade ago, American journalist and photographer Edward Serotta decided to collect the life stories and family photographs of every elderly Jew living in Central Europe that he could find. “I wanted to document a whole world,” he said.
It was a world that few Jews or Europeans knew about. Jews were unaware that a considerable number of Holocaust survivors chose to remain in Central Europe after World War II, while Europeans knew little about Jewish life and Jewish contributions to European society in the early part of the 20th century.
“Jewish Witness to a Polish Century: Pictures and Stories from the Centropa Interviews 2001-2008,” an exhibition now on view at Beth Tfiloh School in Baltimore, following exhibits in Northern California and before stops in Atlanta, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, is just one facet of Serotta’s work. Centropa, the organization he founded and which is based in Vienna, bills itself as an “interactive database of Jewish memory.” Its primary focus is educational, drawing on its collection of 1,200 transcribed interviews with elderly Jews in 15 countries, as well as 22,000 digitized family photographs.
View a sideshow from ‘Jewish Witness to a Polish Century’: