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Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Eighth Candle: Fully Lit and then Ebbing Away

"The Eighth Night, the Jewish Quarter"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

In this last post for the week of Chanukah, I will be pulling together little bits of this and that didn't fit into a neat subject but  together summarize the week for me.

One of the things that I have always appreciated about living in Israel is how natural Israelis are about their Judaism. One such example is that store owners who can not leave their businesses at dusk to light their candles at home, will do so at their place of business in the most matter-of-fact way, as in this scene which took place in the open air market of Mahaneh Yehuda.


"Fishmonger Prepares Chanukiah" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz



"Chanukah at the Fish Stall"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz


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"Chanukiah"  (glass bottle, olive oil, wicks) by Ken Goldman

This contemporary take on the chanukiah by Ken Goldman is one of the Chanukah-related artworks that caught my eye. Goldman, a trained industrial artist, took "the road less travelled" (thank you Robert Frost) when he moved to Israel to live on Kibbutz Shluchot in the Beit Shean Valley, not exactly a world art center. Nonetheless,  Goldman 's ripples are felt on distant shores as he explores edgy turns on issues relating to  Judaism in the current world.

Here, the essence of the candelabra is  reduced to a bottle of oil laid on its side and oil wicks inserted directly into the oil supply. (children:  do not try this at home). The minimalist take on the traditional ritual object makes this the white canvas of the Judaica world.

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Since so many people travel great distances to enjoy the Chanukah lights that are in my neighborhood, I will share with you a few glimpses of the street where I live.

"Chanukah Lights and Passers-by"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz


"Channukah Lights and Geranium"  c. 201l  by  Heddy Abramowitz

"Chanukiot on Lane in Jewish Quarter"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

"Multi-story Chanukiah" c.20ll by Heddy Abramowitz

"Chanukah Lamps and Metal Door"  c.2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
"Women's Seminary Door and Chanukiot"  c.2011by Heddy Abramowitz

"The Last Glow"  c.2011 by Heddy Abramowitz


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To close,  here is a cartoon from the legendary cartoonist, Yaakov Kirschen, whose "Dry Bones" cartoon series in the Jerusalem Post has made the world seem a little less bleak for so many people. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Seventh Candle: Unearthing the Past


 

Clay Seal, circa 1st century B.C.E. -70 B.C. (AP photo/ Oded Balilty)

 Jerusalem is a work in progress- and that becomes readily apparent in the field of archaeology where new discoveries expand the store of wealth about this location and what we know of our joint history. It was announced this week that a clay seal has been discovered in the ongoing digs adjacent to the site of the ancient Temple. The seal bears two words in Aramaic meaning "pure for God."  Archaeologists believe that it was used to approve the purity of objects used for ritual purposes and is a rare artifact linking to this time period.  

While this find apparently relates to the period of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans,  and not connected directly to the holiday of Chanukah,  it is a discovery which may reveal to us the kind of seal that could have been used during the time of the First Temple to mark the purity of the oil used in Temple rituals,  the basis for the story of the requirement of a cruse of pure oil bearing a seal of purity.

Pretty cool Chanukah present.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Sixth Candle: Persecution and Freedom

 
"Battle Between the Maccabees and the Bacchides"
Jean Fouquet, vellum, 1470, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France

A significant part of the story of Chanukah concerns the up-rising of the Maccabees against the Greek oppressors. The above illustration by Jean Fouquet (1420-1481 France) shows the Macabees in pitched battle and was from the French translation of Josephus Flavius 's historical  accounts, "Antiquites Judaiques." Fouquet, a master of the portrait miniature (and perhaps the inventor of the genre) and illuminated manuscripts, is also credited, some claim, with creating the first self-portrait and may have been the first French painter to travel to Italy for artistic inspiration, leading a long line who came in his wake.

One of the stories in the second book of the Maccabees details the martyrdom of seven brothers who refused to transgress Jewish laws as decreed by their conquerors, and one after another all seven brothers were killed in front of their mother's eyes. She, Hanna, even refused to plead for the youngest to be spared,  and then died herself. Their graves are said to be in the ancient cemetery in TsfatWith this but one tale of many instances of persecution, it  provides the background for the fierce motivation needed to fuel the few Maccabee rebels to rise against an enemy which over-powered them in numbers and strength.

Unfortunately, it is never too long of a historical stretch for one to find more recent examples of persecution in Jewish history. The Sixth Candle of Chanukah may be as appropriate a place as any to make this connection, six being a number with direct associations to recent tragic Jewish history. We may never know all the names of the Hannas who bore the unspeakable of seeing  a child killed before their eyes during the Holocaust - not for refusing to break commandments, but for the crime of being a Jew.  


The Jewish Museum in New York is currently exhibiting "An Artist Remembers: Hanukkah Lamps Selected by Maurice Sendak"  in which illustrator Sendak acts as curator. Sendak, who still feels the loss of the world of his eastern European parents, avoided the most ornate and chose instead the most square and simple lamps, saying


“Their very simplicity reminded me of the Holocaust. And I thought it was inappropriate for me to be thinking of elaboration.”
One of the lamps chosen has its own special significance. It was created by artisans who were Jewish Holocaust survivors in a Displaced Persons camp in 1945 and  was presented as a gift to honor the U.S. General Joseph McNarney, the Military Governor of occupied Germany, for the extra efforts he took to ensure not only their physical survival, but their spiritual survival as well.

The Obama White House requested this particular chanukiah to use in the White House ceremony, which focused specifically on the contribution of the military service. Not only did the White House decide to use a Chanukah lamp of such great significance, but it went the extra mile to address the comfort of all the invited guests to the ceremony, including those who adhere to the Jewish dietary laws. Continuing a practice started by Laura Bush, a team of religious experts were invited in to convert the White House kitchen to a kosher kitchen for the day.

This act should not be taken for granted. One of the distinguishing features of the United States is that it was founded by those escaping religious persecution and seeking religious freedom. One of the underlying messages of  Chanukah is preservation of the unique traditions of the Jewish People.Beyond what Martha Stewart would require in the way of  the niceties of formal hostessing (and even if our inner cynic knows it presented a great opportunity for a pre-election photo-op) the symbolism of this act speaks volumes about religious freedom and cannot be over-estimated.



"Chanukah Lamp" Landsberg am Lech, Germany, 1945 Collection of the Jewish Museum New York

 




Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Fifth Candle: Evoking Candlelight

"Hanukkah, Festival of Lights" woodcut from Minhoginbukh (The Book of Customs), Amsterdam, 1727 (Library of Congress)
Tonight we have a convergence of the celebration of Chanukah with Christmas Eve. They coincide when the Jewish holiday, which follows the lunar calendar, happens to overlap with the Christian holiday, dated according to the solar calendar. In North America this coincidence has turned into a convenient secular and commercial "holiday season."

Visitors to Jerusalem are usually struck by  the lack of commercialization of these celebrations. Yes, there are festive events and the city is decorated with bright lights, but it is a holiday atmosphere that is less about the material. The municipality of Jerusalem, for many years, distributes cut pine trees for Christians as a city service. During the day today, there were church bells pealing in the background and a light drizzle started at dusk, turning now into a steady strong rain, much needed in this arid country.

In art,  the images relating to these holidays provide an opportunity to depict light. Here are some of the images relating to Channukah from a variety of times.

"Chanukah" etching by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882)


Hanukkah, 18th century, artist unkown, 35 cm X 41.5 cm


Here is a detail from the Ades synagogue in Nachlaot,  where the walls are covered with menora symbols.

"Ades Synagogue"  2010 by Heddy Abramowitz

It was painted by Yaackov Stark,  a teacher at the original Bezalel School, during 1911-1912.

And below,  a photograph of holiday lights in the alleyway of the Armenian Quarter:


"Bus and Passers-by, Armenian Quarter" 2010 c. by Heddy Abramowitz 



Best wishes for days that continue to spread light.


Friday, December 23, 2011

The Fourth Candle: An Old City Custom

"Jewish Quarter Wall- Hewn Chanukiah Indentation" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
The wafting smell of  burning olive oil is in the air nightly as my neighbors light their candles and lamps.   Lighting candles,  or the preferred oil lamps, is most commonly done in an open window at nighttime while people are still walking about, in order to publicize the miracle of the single oil container that defied physics and lasted for eight full days instead of the expected one day. As with art, it is one thing to perform the ceremony and make the appropriate blessings, but these lights in the dark night are meant to be seen by others.  

It is preferred to light one's candles outdoors, near the doorway of the building, so that the flames are visible by passers-by. Commonly, people use a glass box to house their chanukiot so that the lit  flames will be protected from the evening winds. This is especially important on Friday evenings, like tonight, when care is taken to ensure that the Chanukah candles, lit just before Sabbath candles, will stay lit for at least an hour. It is also the only time during the holiday when all observant Jews light their candles at the same time,  so it is the chance to see the many lit chanukiot all at once - a draw for anyone  wanting to view this without the weekday commercial atmosphere on the other nights. Neighborhood children go on a chanukiah "hunt" to count the lighted candelabra they see in windows and doorways at dusk.


 "Chanukiah Window, the Jewish Quarter"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
In the Old City,  this is sometimes taken one more step. There is a local custom, when possible, to carve into the exterior stone of the building and make an indentation - making  a special built-in window for the sole purpose of  housing the chanukia for this week.  

Here is my personal  Chanukah “window”  where I  light my candles.  It is placed on the left side of the entrance to my home, as is the custom, so that  with a mezuzah on the right side of the doorway, the portal to the home has religious commandments (mitzvot) flanking it.

"Menora and Ripening Oranges" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

Third Candle: On Gates and Grates

"Window Grate, Nachlaot Synagogue" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
With so many religious institutions, schools, places of learning and prayer,  it is no surprise to see the motif of the menora or chanukiah incorporated into decorative  elements all over Jerusalem, often with a utilitarian function. Most homes and public-use buildings have metal grates and bars on windows and doorways for security - and these metal works, in some effort at creativity, go beyond the geometric, using symbols in their designs, such as the menora or chanukiah.


"Menora  Window Grate and Magen David Window"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

It makes sense that the Chanukah theme is incorporated so frequently. The word Chanukah really means dedication - it was named for the act of re-dedicating the Temple. In modern Hebrew, when one has a house-warming party, we call it a Chanukat-haBayit, or dedication of the home (or place of another sort- such as synagogue, yeshiva, etc.). Very appropriate, then, to have a Chanukah pattern in a new structure or a newly-purposed place.


"Geula Synagogue Gate"  c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
Some of these uses, while exuberant in their zeal, vary in their aesthetic success.

"Women's Seminary Gate, the Jewish Quarter" c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz
And then there are others, which I think attain the level of a kind of folk art, their wrought metal forms achieving something quite beautiful in their naive formulations.

                 "Gate with Menora and Quote: If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, Let My Right Hand Lose Its Cunning"
c. 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz



And,  this final example harkens to an earlier time and the work of an artisan with a sense for simplicity.

"Nachlaot Synagogue Window and Grate"  c.  2011 by Heddy Abramowitz

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Second Candle: Carved in Stone

"Stone Carving, Musrara"  c. 2010 by Heddy Abramowitz

Wandering around Jerusalem, one can see the menorah motif used as an embellishment on buildings in various neighborhoods. These small details, I find, are what gives individual distinction to neighborhoods and buildings, in the same way that freckles and dimples define a face.

Above,  is a contemporary carving found along a wall in today's in the Morasha/Musrara neighborhood.

The following  photos are examples of  the menorah used as a lintel stone over the doorways of buildings.

 
"Door Lintel, Nachlaot, Dedicated 1935" c.2010 by Heddy Abramowitz

It puzzles me how these lovely details seem to be invisible to some residents,  with exposed wiring, pipes and all manner of infrastructure cluttering buildings all over the city, where practicalities often trump aesthetics.


"Aliza's Wig Boutique with Menora Lintel, Geula"  c. 2010 by Heddy Abramowitz

As cities everywhere become more similar, these small unique markings are ever more valuable in maintaining the distinct character of place in Jerusalem.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The One Where Y'all Light the Little Candles


 Drawing of  Temple Vessels,  circa 1st century B.C.E. by unknown artist  (Photo c. Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Yoram Lehmann)
Yes, Chanukah starts tonight at sunset,  the holiday when the Jews recall a miracle dating back 2,176  years to the Greek destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple. The story of Chanukah is likely familiar to most,  but, as I’ve noticed that I have readers in the most diverse of countries and cultures, you can find it here .

The menorah, the seven-branched candelabra of the Temple, is one of the most enduring of national symbols of the Jewish people. It differs from the candelabra  that is used for the celebration of Chanukah in the number of candles lit – a chanukiah is comprised of eight branches to re-enact the eight days of the miracle, plus an extra candle to aid in the lighting of the others (plural: chanukiot).

Scholars have long explored ancient texts for clues to the actual appearance of the ancient holy vessel. At the end of Jordanian rule in 1967, extensive archaeological digs were conducted in the Jewish Quarter, led by archaeologist, Nahum Avigad,  which uncovered a rare possible eye-witness documentation. During the excavations a large mansion was unearthed which showed a drawing scratched into a plaster wall located a number of meters away from the Temple itself (albeit during the time of Herod's Second Temple, after the Chanukah story). It is believed to have been drawn by a Jewish Priest who was familiar with the holy artifacts and sketched them into the wet plaster of the wall and is the earliest known depiction of the menorah.
Graffito with temple vessels; Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem; Herodian period, 1st century BCE, Plaster, The Israel Museum 

This ancient rendering of the menorah is housed in the Israel Museum archaeology wing in the newly renovated museum.  If you are visiting,  keep this image in mind when you cross into another wing of the museum, that dedicated to Jewish Life. The old museum displayed a truly impressive high wall of Chanukah lamps from all over the world-  which, unfortunately, was eye-straining and prevented close-up views of the details of the individual lamps which were as diverse as their countries of origin. And,  I presume, also presented a continuing battle with dust. The newly designed museum now  displays fewer examples in a room dedicated to these Chanukah lamps,  each in a display window of suitable height and  with individual lighting so that they can be better appreciated.

Preparations for the holiday are at their height,  with the first of eight candles to be lit tonight. My studio landlord's grandchildren invited me to see their family's preparations for the holiday, and this is one of the chanukiot their family lights - jumbo-sized, the better to publicize the miracle. I was struck by the remarkable resemblance it bears  to the one shown above from the first century, B.C.E.  And so it is with tradition.

I will be posting more images relating to Chanukah from around Jerusalem and beyond for all eight nights of the holiday. If there are artists who incorporate the menora or chanukiah image in their work are welcome to send a suggestion  for posting.

"Chanukiah in Nachlaot" ( Razel Family) c. 2011by Heddy Abramowitz


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Daniel Eichenberger at Espace Dix Gallery



"Rehov HaNeviim" oil on canvas on board 2011 by Daniel Eichenberger
The great outdoors has been lassoed into small canvases and pinned down by Daniel Eichenberger in this, his first solo exhibit entitled "Here and There."
 
Espace Dix Gallery is a welcome newcomer to the Jerusalem art scene. Owners Pasquale Perez and Florence Soulam opened the gallery in 2010 in Soulam's home in diverse Nachlaot  with the intention of promoting emerging Israeli artists. It is located a few steps away from the landmark Ades Synagogue, now being restored to preserve the wall paintings of the artisans hired from the close-by Old Bezalel art school.  A typical metal door from the early days, replete with a pair of Magen David stars and an oriental hand-shaped door knocker mark the entrance to this renovated home-gallery, where the exhibit winds around an interior courtyard.  

Not being a white cube space, the home atmosphere helps to visualize the works in a private setting, but with the disadvantage that some of the works are awkwardly hung to accommodate the idiosyncratic space. Being short, I stretch to see works above my eye level –though this may not be a problem for other visitors who are less height-challenged. 

Born and raised in Switzerland, Eichenberger studied at Ecole Supériore des Beaux-Arts Genéve and with sculptor Andre Rives in Jaffa, and has been living in Israel for around twenty years. This exhibit is comprised of 25 landscapes en plein air  done primarily in Jerusalem and environs, but with Ashkelon, Tel Aviv  and Geneva represented as well.

Painting directly from nature on location has a comparatively short tradition in the annals of painting  It was only in the 1800’s that it became prevalent for artists to exit their studios in favor of standing in the outdoors, exposed to the elements, and attempting to record nature. This coincided with the extension of rail service to beyond city lines and the invention of the tube for oil paints in 1841 – making them more portable than the previously used pigskins. In France, the Barbizon School drew painters to the Fountainbleau forest;  and Corot, a dominant figure of the group, continued to paint in Italy, Switzerland and beyond.

"Tel Aviv" oil on canvas on board 2010 by Daniel Eichenberger

The landscape painter today may have the luxury of a car or bus to get to his destination, but one must still be hardy to carry a compact studio to the site one chooses. Typically, the minimum equipment one needs may include: an easel, paints, several painting surfaces to choose from, a palette, palette knives, brushes, medium, rags, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, water, and a brimmed hat.  Some painters augment this short list with a chair, a sun umbrella, and tethers for anchoring their equipment in harsh winds and so forth. The advanced planning and effort are rewarded by engaging in direct connection with nature or city motifs, allowing the painter to add an immediacy as part of his or her  response to the onslaught of visual stimuli. 


"Derech Hebron" oil on canvas on board, 2010 by Daniel Eichenberger

Modest in proportion, Eichenberger’s paintings are on average in the range of 15 x 25 cm, allowing him to work on site and bring the painting to a close during a single session.  Limiting oneself to one session minimizes possible changes in lighting conditions – due to different times of day, year or weather conditions. These oil paintings all on canvas and mounted on board, all from the past two years, evidence a classical Western training. They are carefully observed, some displaying a delicate touch. A few show bold compositional choices, others are faithful to the cast of light or the atmosphere. In all, there is a sense of standing in the nature where these vignettes were made.  

These pleasant works pack a lot into their small formats. Eichenberger is off to a good start.

"Espace Dix - Nachlaot" 2010  Heddy Abramowitz


Till December 2 (painting photographs courtesy of Espace Dix).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Crimson Peels" at the Jerusalem Print Workshop

"Once 1" 2011 woodcut 34 x 36 cm by Hilla Ben Ari
Who’s afraid of Feminist Art?  Quite a lot of people, it seems. Artists who are women find themselves often caught in a double bind- on the one hand they compete against their artist brethren in a male-dominated art world  and, on the other hand, when exhibiting on their own, or pursuing subject matter from their own perspective as women,  are marginalized. In the age of post-feminism, many new artists and audiences are repelled by the term, if not the content, displaying what seems to me at times to be an allergic reaction to the eight–letter Word Whose Sound We Dare Not Say.


In her review of the major feminist exhibits of 2007 for ArtForum magazine, Carol Armstrong asks:

“WHY ARE WOMEN so angry? What do women want? Why can't a woman be more like a man? Can a man be a feminist? Why have there been no great women artists? Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? What is feminism? What is art? Is feminist art "art"? Is feminist art great art? Is art by women artists feminist art? Is feminist art women's art? How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Do feminists have a sense of humor? Can women be funny? (No, but we can be hysterical.) Do we have permanent PMS? Is a woman born, or is she made? Is she nature, or is she culture? Is she a victim of the species or just of society? Is she a sex, or is she a gender? Is hers an identity or a performance, a construction or an essence, an excess or an absence? Have we come a long way, baby, or no distance at all? Are we now the first or the second sex? (And just how many sexes are there?) Which came first, the woman or the egg? How many feminists can dance on the head of a pin? Can anything else be said by and about women other than that throughout history we, collectively and individually, have been raped, abused, and punished, confined, marginalized, and excluded, dominated and dehumanized, objectified, othered, and orientalized, invented, imprisoned in stereotype, and made invisible? And that this is our inevitable fate under the never-ending, self-reproducing ideological order of patriarchy and phallocracy? And what does art have to do with any of these questions? Why art, in fact? Why feminist art? Why bother?”

This territory, as she points out, is fraught with pit holes. Though women comprise more than 50 percent of the planet, and, typically, the vast majority of tuition-paying BFA and MFA students,  the “glass ceiling” of the art world in the Twenty-First century  remains impervious. 
The  Guerilla Girlsactivists who questioned access for women artists, achieved limited success but, high level achievements remain top-heavy with whom they call “the white guys.”  Somehow less of a legitimate pursuit to see the world through their subjective experiences as women,  when women artists address issues from their outlook as women,  the art is labeled feminist and typically relegated to a separate dimly lit corner of the art world. And in the local context, as shown here by David Sperber (in Hebrew), the tag “feminist” only relatively recently became a desirable adjective for artists.
Yashar Ali, in his article "A Message to Women from a Man: You are Not Crazy" explores the underlying societal phenomenon which he calls “gaslighting” – a term borrowed from the language of psychologists referring to the practice of taking normal well-adjusted people and denying their  assessment of reality - as being in some way questionable or off-base – causing them to lose confidence in their instincts, sometimes to the point of doubting their own sanity.
 “As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways.”

If true of contemporary society at large, it is also true for the artist. When leaving the gallery talk for the exhibit “Crimson Peels” I happened upon a male art colleague from a shared nude model group of prior years. I asked him if he saw the exhibit and what he thought. “It's bullshit – I would do a woman’s body completely differently.” No doubt he would. Which is precisely the point.


The exhibit, “Crimson Peels,” is part of the project Manofim, a city–wide month of activities opening the art exhibition season in Jerusalem. Shown at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, the venue is located on the seam of many worlds. Housed in a beautiful stone building dating from the Ottoman empire on the juncture between the Street of the Prophets and the Tribes of Israel Street, it sits on the intersection of what used to be No Man’s Land during Jordanian rule from 1948-67, the edge of the ultra-orthodox Meah Shearim neighborhood, next to the gentrifying neighborhood of Morasha (Musrara) with its many cultural activities and within view of  Suleiman’s walls of the Old City. A fairly recent renovation resulted in a spacious street-level gallery and the exhibit continues upstairs so one must wind through the work rooms and presses to the original gallery of the workshop under its peaked roof.


Nomi Tannhauser, project initiator and curator, states in the exhibit's attractive catalogue:

“The external gaze constantly examining the woman has, in many ways, been assimilated as an internal gaze, while the desire to experience the body as hermetic and confined has turned into a need of the women themselves. Many women are uncomfortable in their own bodies, perhaps due to the irreconcilable gap between the ideal of beauty flooding us from every direction and the individual physique.”

The exhibit title, “Crimson Peels” derives from a  Talmudic reference to a miscarriage. Tannhauser suggested at the gallery talk that it is meant to focus on taking the internal of the body and displaying it on the outside,  with inner feelings as well as physiology  revealed and considered. So, one might well ask, does that mean that there will be blood? No, thankfully, little in the way of drippy bits to view, and certainly less involved with blood than a typical art exhibit on contemporary politics- when no one objects. But, the colors red and pink do predominate more than, say, at an exhibit of landscapes. 


Jenifer Bar Lev, Hilla Ben Ari, Nomi Bruckmann,  Rakefet Viner-Omer,  Orna Bromberg,  Noa Sadka, and Nomi Tannhauser were invited to work at the Workshop and  over the course of two years created eighty new prints in their experimentation with the techniques of etching, screenprint and woodcut. The exhibit is rounded out with works by the artists in other media, but the catalogue includes only those of print-making. They range from the delightfully thought-provoking and challenging  to some that made me wince for their chosen "bad art" style, a decision entirely au courant, but one which leaves me indifferent.


"Patience 2011" 20ll screenprint 42 x 30 cm by Jenifer Bar Lev
U.S.-born Bar-Lev, a graduate of Parsons School of Design and the Avni Institute displays prints which contrast the constraining and painful women’s accoutrements of practitioners of sado-masochism with the sentimental characteristics stereotypically attributed to women. The terms, such as grace and trust, juxtaposed with the straps, corsets and harnesses concretizes the split between what women can be subjected to and what is expected of them. The words, etched in lower-case English in a feminine cursive, as well as references to tattoo art and song titles (in another piece) are meant to connect to the wider world through popular culture. Some of the contraptions are an easy stretch to mainstream fashion trends, which fashionistas might want to ponder.

"Looking Sideways" 2011, screenprint 76 x 56 cm by Nomi Bruckman
Bruckman, best known for her self-portraits which emphasize every nook and cranny of her naturally aging face, displays  views of women’s bodies that are more soft-focused, vague and sometimes verging on the abstract. Jerusalem-born Bruckman studied art in École Supérieure des Arts Modernes, Paris; School of Visual Arts, New York; Brooklyn Museum Art School, New York and The Jerusalem Studio for Figurative Art. In these amorphous and organic forms, she seeks to convey an idea of woman that is un-hampered by Western influences and is pre-historic in view. Some of the images do bring to mind the wide-hipped goddesses of ancient cultural artifacts. Examples of some of her sensitive oil studies for self-portraits are displayed in the upper gallery.





"Female Metabolism" 2011, soft ground and aquatint 69.5 x 88 cm by Nomi Tannhauser
Tannhauser, also a participating artist in this show, is American- born and educated at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and the Leeds University Israel extension. She shows a number of accomplished etchings, some of which, as a reflection on society’s obsessions, focus on her chest area with varying cloth coverings and bared. In “Feminine Metabolism” she displays her internalization of her print-making experiences merging as part of her inner world and her outer world – saying that everything is felt through her body. Also displayed are some of her self-portraits done on materials she expects will have a short shelf life, composed of cardboard and plastalina (a children's modeling dough). She finds it liberating to work in a material whose life will unlikely outlast her own, making the creative experience less precious. Her intention, she says, is to communicate with her contemporaries, not with future generations. See them while you can.


Photographer Noa Sadka shows etchings which are dependent on type-written text to address the queasy and odd in a woman’s world, with little more than simple doodle-like markings resulting in a spare and minimal aesthetic. Orna Bromberg relies on icons she has created over her long career to evoke a girl’s view of a colorful but potentially threatening world as represented by a butterfly. Hila Ben-Ari shows a lithe figure, an acrobat–like image suspended between  earth and  sky. Her  movements are ostensibly free-flowing yet artificially limited, her position broadcasts confidence but is vulnerable, perhaps also being caught between in an internal fantasy and reality - are we voyeurs to a performance in a circus, in a gymnasium or in a dream? Rakefet Viner-Omer shows etchings which are visually uncomfortable and meant to evoke graffiti-influenced  semi-androgynous images, some of whose  forms barely  rise above stick figures, in keeping with the  backlash to virtuosity current in some circles. 

This exhibit, overall, broadens the dialogue of viewing the female body - as felt and seen through female eyes.

Through end of January, closing date not set, catalogue (photography: Shlomo Serry)



Friday, October 21, 2011

Margalit and Atlas Ben-David at Artists’ House

"Jerusalem, New York" oil on canvas 152.5 cm x 125 cm 2006 Debbie Margalit

The current exhibits at The Artists’ House will be satisfying to painters of differing stripes. Debbie Margalit is an observational painter exhibiting the fruits of six years of work confined to the four walls of her studio and what can be seen from within it. Hedva Atlas Ben-David shows the results of an internal journey as her self-image transforms from a mainstream school teacher to the life of an artist on the less-accepted edges of society.  

The Jerusalem Artists’ House in the city center of Jerusalem is itself well worth a visit. Built during Ottoman rule, it once housed the original Bezalel School of Art, founded by Bezalel Schatz in 1906. The lobby contains an example of the typical metalwork once created during those early years. In the meantime,  The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design has evolved to a leading contemporary art school now located at Mount Scopus. This building showcases several concurrent exhibits which change monthly, and the pluralistic approach keeps the roster lively. A restaurant in the courtyard for warm weather, inside for the colder season, and a gallery for sales by Jerusalem artists complete this spot frequented by art lovers and savvy locals.

Margalit, American born and raised in Israel, took up painting in her thirties, studying privately with Rory Allweis and Jordan Wolfson. She completed an MFA at Graham Nickson’s New York Studio School and   these works are the result of long and hard looking at her immediate environment augmented by  two models and the props at hand’s reach in this small world to which these paintings are restricted.

"Lison and Chairs" 152.5 x 122 oil on canvas 2011 Debbie Margalit
Curator Emily Bilski draws comparisons to influences by Masolino in the handsome catalogue, but I find that the strongest influence apparent in Margalit’s exhibit is that of her former teacher, Jordan Wolfson, who often focuses on backlit furnishings of interiors in his own work. Margalit shows a range of subject matter and interests; windowsill still lifes evidencing varying times of day or year, the model in seated, prone and standing poses, views of patio chairs, and self-portraits. The surfaces are often rich with impasto paint, but never distracting. Though occasionally some of her figures feel a bit stiff, she compensates for this lack by her deft sense of colour and light.

"Summary" 244 cm x 162 cm oil on canvas 2011 Debbie Margalit

In “Summary” Margalit goes at the canvas in a composition incorporating a model and mirrored reflections of both model and artist as well as interior and exterior reflections and the art paraphernalia in the room.  Unlike many examples of artist self-portraits in the act of painting, from Velasquez’s Las Meninas, through Alice Neel’s "Self Portrait",  Margolit does not portray herself with the tools of her trade, such as brush in hand or applying paint. We are denied seeing a bit of the painting in progress, like Vermeer’s "The Art of Painting" (c. 1666-73; Oil on canvas, 130 x 110 cm; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, detail) which might provide a window into her process. Here, Margalit bears down,  gazing in deep concentration at the motif - as if  she is emphasizing “looking as the central act in the making of her art," according to Bilski.



"Last Supper I" 155 cm x 240 cm oil on canvas 2005 Hedva Atlas Ben-David
Rather than her immediate external world, Atlas Ben-David explores her internal world in ink drawings, mixed media paintings and ceramic sculptures as she makes the transition from staid school teacher to the more, seemingly provocative (if not exotic) world of exhibiting artist. Born in Haifa, educated first to be a teacher, she underwent a transformation in her thirties when, as Tali Tamir, curator, states in the catalogue “painting overtook her.” 

Painted in a cross between naïve art and caricature, Atlas Ben-David reveals to the viewer her observations of the odd in the everyday world of the classroom, sometimes bordering on the grotesque. She finds the quirky, not just in the students and their individuality, but also in herself.


"Accordion" ink drawing, acrylics and prints on paper 120 cm x 152 cm 2011 Hedva Atlas Ben-David

A number of works focus on the expected rituals of public school, the marking of holidays and special events throughout the year, but with the twist of Atlas Ben-David’s observations of the out-of-synch students, and, ultimately, the out-of -synch teacher. In several appropriations from Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” she appears in lieu of Jesus as an inappropriate role model while smoking amongst her charges, or naked.

She portrays herself totally exposed amongst the fully clothed in “Yearbook Photo and a Donkey” and other works, like “Lesson” - where she is teaching her otherwise normal book-lined classroom fully undressed.  Unlike Manet’s “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe,” the sole woman unclothed amongst the lounging picnickers, Atlas Ben-David is naked, not nude - her own subjective view of herself,  not imposed from the outside by a separate artist in the control of a dependant model.

Tamir points to an examination of the rigid expectations of the education system as an under-lying theme.  Though there is much to question in the restrictions of the school system, I sensed that activism and critique did not seem paramount in these paintings; a personal catharsis was more apparent.

Margalit’s exhibit juxtaposed with Ben-David’s exhibit makes for a rich viewing experience – both careful and sensitive observers of their immediate worlds resulting in widely differing ways to note their responses.

catalogues available (images from the Artists' House web site)