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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Israeli Art

Israel Design Museum, Holon, Israel
Fairly often a country, though quite small, will have a surprisingly viable art market supported by a sizable army of outstanding artist and a worldwide group of wealthy buyers supporting them. Yet only rarely does the international art establishment pay them much notice. Sometimes that comes about because the country is, in fact, small or the work of its artist is quite ethnic and conservative as to the scope of what it produces. That's the case in many South American countries, the Baltics, the Balkans, and particular in the case of Israel. Though that country has an extremely long cultural heritage from which to draw its themes and content, it is primarily from a literary context flowing through a language few people in the rest of the world understand. That is to say, it's in the habit of not using the Roman alphabet, and reads from right to left. It's a little like my trying to drive a manual transmission Land Rover on the streets London at rush hour while stuck in reverse.
Dura Europos Synagogue fresco Jews Cross Red Sea,
3rd century AD.
The Jewish people, at least as far back as the Egyptian captivity, were prone to "borrowing" from those foreign cultures with whom they came into contact. However, despite the best efforts of the Egyptians, Greeks, and finally, the Romans, painting, sculpture, and architecture were not their strong suits. The Jews preferred to discuss religion, poetry, music, banking, and philosophy instead. The 3rd-century fresco (above) is by an unknown artist. It has a strong Greek and Egyptian look to it despite having been unearthed from a synagogue. Those of Jewish heritage down through the ages have long been more likely to buy art than create it.
Wine production for domestic consumption and export has always been a Jewish craft (perhaps even an art) as seen in the mosaic dating from before 700 AD and the modern-day representation of the "fruit of the vine" as seen in Scouts with a Bunch of Grapes to be found in the Tefen Industrial Park's open museum.
Painters of Landscapes (or perhaps the tourists they sell them too) can't seem to get enough when it comes to depicting the ancient city of Jerusalem (claimed by the Israeli's to be one of the oldest cities in the world). Although some are as intimate as the colorful narrow streets (more like alleys) of the city, far more attempt to embrace as much of the city as possible (right). In any case, few painters of Jerusalem would veer far from the Kotel (the wailing wall) and the ancient and architecturally lackluster build-ings surrounding the area (below).

Ascent to Jerusalem,
Don Livni
Some visitors buy postcards, others buy art, while still others inspire art as in Ruth Meyer's Jerusalem Unveiling.
Although there may have been a time when Israel was forced to import its architectural and engineering talent from its neighbors (a Phoenician designed and built Solomon's temple), today Israeli architects are known around the world for their daring, sometimes even brash work as builders. No where is this more obvious than in the country's collection of museums. Some are pleasantly sublime while others border on the phrase "over the top, as in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (below).

From a soft, slightly-melted, white-chocolate "Kiss" in Jerusalem, to the stark "cutting" edge of Tel Aviv's jarring art edifice, Israeli architects seem unafraid of failure.
As I see it, the real heart and soul of Israeli art lies not in museums competing to overwhelm their contents, but on the streets. There the resilient spirit of the Hebrew people is exhibited and celebrated by amateurs and professionals alike, painting what sells (of course) but also pouring into their work three or four thousand years of history (good, bad, and ugly), along with a similar dose of forbearance, tolerance, ingenuity, bravery, and levity to be found nowhere else it the art world.
An artist colony sidewalk show
Art and smiles on the street, the best the
Israeli art market has to offer.

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