Contemporary art from Israel – text G.C.Rump

SOME REMARKS ON ISRAELI CONTEMPORARY ART
by Gerhard Charles Rump

Some say that Israel is a young country filled with old stories. But that’s not quite enough: There are so many new stories told, too. In any case, contemporary Israeli artists haven’t got any shortage of inspiration for their works: Sources of inspiration are the country’s  ancient history and, of course, its more recent political crises. This endows Israeli contemporary art an unusual depth of engagement, fiery imagination, and full social context. These elements are pursued by the artists through all kinds of media, and painting is one of them. Israeli artists are constantly responding and reinterpreting historical, political and religious subjects, and they do so by using dynamic, progressive, innovative, and experimental artistic practices.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art says: “Israeli artists have been particularly concerned with questions of identity and conflict. They explore topics as varied as local landscapes and Mediterranean light, Jewish tradition and its complex attitude toward figurative art, and socio-political as well as urban issues: local versus universal, periphery versus center, or east versus west dialectics.” (See the museum’s website).

Israeli artists have, in recent years, gained more and more international presence, and the group showing in Spring 2016 at the Palastgalerie Berlin underlines the fact that Israeli contemporary art is making a valuable contribution to the international contemporary aesthetic and artistic discourse.

When we look at the paintings (and photos), for instance, we see that there are living connections to Street Art, environmental issues, urban gender subjects as well as thoughtful approaches to landscape painting, and those, sometimes, with embedded instances of conceptualism, thus generating a new spirit.

The same is true for the sculptures, where we also find aesthetic references to the times of the rise of Modern Israeli Art (in the 1920s), invoking historical identification and identity issues, which are important in Israeli Art.

The range of artistic practice shown is astounding, as we find both technically and aesthetically highly elaborate works alongside calculated seemingly folkloristic and naïve ways of expression. These are not, of course, truly basic, instead they present a certain content-related and formal attitude, sometimes in admiration of great Jewish artists like Marc Chagall, without jumping on the bandwagon.

The tendency towards balancing contradictions or invoking new feelings in the context of well-established iconographies is also notable. This relates to a fundamental questioning of the way we see and interpret reality, pointing in the direction of alternative modes of processing issues. If the world is not what we think it is, what is it then? Does it change according to the ways we represent and understand it? These are universal questions, and the answer to most of them lies in art, in painting, in producing a work itself. The aesthetic and philosophical problem, “is there anything I can understand if I do not make some kind of representation” is clearly answered. The result is a determined “No”. The representation may be mental, but in the context of art it is aesthetical. In Israel and elsewhere.

That is also the reason why Israeli art speaks to the world. A political conflict may be local, but once it is turned into an artwork, broader issues come into play. Like, for instance, in Velázquez’s “Las Lanzas”. The political conflict in the historical background of the image is long gone, it hasn’t got any import on daily life any more. But the art in it survives, rises shiningly from the historical ashes. That is why the painting is still loved and admired  today by zillions of people. This, indeed, is the nature of true art, to be capable to rise above the nitty-gritty and conflict of its time, its ability to gain quasi-eternal life. And this is also what this exhibition shows: Art, which, notwithstanding its entanglement in present day conflicts, has the power to rise above the occasion and present and explain  the nature of the human condition.