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Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. Would love to hear from you if you get to see the exhibit. For details see post

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Facing Faces at the Nora Gallery


Gyulya Zilzer (1898-1969) Man with a Top Hat (1929)

TIME recedes when going to the Nora Gallery. Arriving to see “Portrait Art,” the 495th exhibit of this gallery, one cannot help but imagine Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood in days gone by. Tree-lined Ben-Maimon Boulevard evokes a different age.

A metal-shuttered kiosk still stands  in front of the gallery entrance and one  senses that it once must have done a brisk trade in gazoz  fizzy drinks and now defunct newspapers. Golda Meir, herself, was one of the more famous of the residents on this street where, in its heyday, the cream of Jerusalem gathered. While still the home to professors and journalists,  a trendier tone has evolved with sushi bars, high-end gourmet bakeries and vacation homes for the well-heeled.

The Nora Gallery, the Grande Dame of Jerusalem galleries and certainly one of the oldest in Israel, has its own illustrious history. Though founded in 1942, it has been in  its present location since 1952. Even the custom-made cabinetry in the gallery has a provenance: Mendel Cohen built the fittings which evoked the height of luxury when Israel was undergoing austerity periods and wood was a scarce building material. He was also carpenter to King Abdullah of Jordan, grandfather to the current king. The street-side salon is packed with fusty dried pomegranate and flower arrangements, art in every corner and piles of albums documenting the hundreds of art exhibits that have taken place here. Art researchers could have a field day exploring this trove.

The original owner, Nora (Eleonora) Wilensky,  after whom the gallery is named, amassed an art collection reflecting the feinschmecker cultivated tastes of the Jewish German refugee community that settled in Jerusalem. The  Jerusalem art scene of that day was heavily influenced by German expressionism, a significant body of the gallery’s collection, which also includes many works by Sonia Delauney, a pioneer in abstract painting and a personal friend of the founder.

Meir Ronnen, in his last column before retiring as the Jerusalem Post’s art critic in 1992,  described its role in “little” Jerusalem when everyone took a Saturday spazier:

In the good old days when everyone walked rather than rode and Jerusalem was heavily populated with art lovers, a  Sabbath morning walk to this gallery was de rigueur, followed by another stroll, en masse, to the Jerusalem Artists House. Hundreds of residents and many artists took part in these cultured processions. Everyone knew everyone else and lively discussions ensued.

Dina Hanoch inherited this gallery as well as her mother's astute eye and continues its operation on a  non-profit basis. This show, typical of group exhibits at this venue, combines works culled from the gallery’s collection with those of contemporary artists.

Bucking the fashionable and facile, this grouping of portraits and people,  evolved from a range of approaches and media, creates an artistic dialogue spanning nine decades. The artists themselves originate from more than fourteen countries from around the globe.

Portraiture, from ancient  to modern times, is the artistic genre that most connects us together in our shared humanity. We look at the portrait and take in  the myriad similarities and differences to ourselves; in facial features, age, race, gender, ethnicity, social status, and whatever else the artist brings to our attention. This exhibit, overall, shows work that seems less concerned with depiction and often  reveals something about the subject that goes beyond a likeness.

Hermann Struck, Portrait, 1925

Amongst the oldest of the fifty works shown are miniature-sized etchings by Hermann Struck depicting various serious and distinguished men. A master etcher, his works in this exhibit are representative of his finely cross-hatched etching technique. They contrast in approach to that taken by Jerusalem print maker, Eli Shvadron, who shows four etchings using different techniques, three of them showing couples, which were apparently inspired by family photos. Though created in recent years, they themselves hearken back to earlier times, implying a sense of the dynamic between the couple as well as their attitude to the viewer as they gaze out.

Eli Shvadron, Couple, etching, 2002

Jacob Pins developed a singular reputation as a wood carving printer and included herein are several examples of his skills including a self-portrait from his later years.Wood carving has become something of a lost art form having fallen out of fashion,  but here one can appreciate it at its best with simple shapes combining  minimal detail and the grain of the wood to make a strong impact.

Jacob Pins, Self-Portrait, Woodcut, 1993

Soldiers present another interesting contrast amongst these works.

Marian Marinel (1932-1955), The Officer, gouache, 1950
Marinel's portrait of an officer (perhaps the Russian army?) in dress regalia and medals made two years after the founding of Israel shows a high romantic sense. It contrasts sharply with the portrait of a young soldier by Kroner, who focuses on fear and isolation.


Thomas Kroner (1909-1992), The Soldier, aquarelles, 1963

Portrayals of women also display a range of approach. Yitzhak Greenfield's drawing of a young Israeli woman echoes European modern artists and displays a pared-down simplicity in the basic household objects behind her while he focuses on the swirls of hair and tapering fingers.


Yitzhak Greenfield, Tzippora, drawing, 1956

Sasha Okun's drawings nod to earlier artists with Rembrandt evident as an influence. Here, he shows the woman incongruously undressed with a fully-clothed male which perhaps is his contemporary twist on similar scenes from previous artists, such as "Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe" by Edouard Manet. Okun has long explored the aging body and the sexuality of those getting on in years, combining the grotesque with his tongue in cheek sense of humor or despair.



Sasha Okun, drawing,  circa 2006


Despite its central location, Nora has lost its centrality as an influential gallery. Artistic tastes have moved on in favor of other avenues.Yet, there is also a backlash movement, with many artists in Israel, as elsewhere, exploring the lessons of earlier masters and showing renewed interest in figurative and observational painting and drawing. They will find what to admire here. (Through the end of August).

All images courtesy of Nora Gallery

1 comment:

  1. this is wonderful. thanks so much for pointing out this little gem. I never even noticed this place. I'm planning to go see it as soon as I can!

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