'Beuys, Beuys, Beuys' | Israeli Perspectives On Joseph Beuys

'Beuys, Beuys, Beuys' | Israeli Perspectives On Joseph Beuys
On October 15, 2015, at Tel Aviv’s Contemporary by Golconda art gallery opened a group show by Israeli artists inspired by Joseph Beuys. Curated by Liav Mizrahi, it features the works of artists, which, despite the geographic and temporal distance of the Israeli art scene from this acclaimed artist, evince his persistent influence. Joseph Beuys is at the center of the multi-gallery exhibition entitled ‘Beuys, Beuys, Beuys’ at Contemporary by Golconda.
Ariane Littman, White Land, 2001, 35 Censored aerial photographs,35 x 35 cm © Ariane Littman

Thematic Experience

Opening in Tel Aviv in concert with other art spaces across Israel, this exhibition celebrates Joseph Beuys, renowned German artist associated with Fluxus, an anti-establishment international artistic movement from the 1960s. Liav Mizrahi, the art curator who masterminded this multi-sited artistic event, has drawn the thematic axes around which this exhibition revolves, which includes the thematization of military service experience and war trauma, the interplay between Israel’s history and local art, and European, and more specifically German, historical echoes of these topics. Israel’s dialogue with Beuys’ artistic legacy is, thus, a layered and multifaceted affair.

Ariane Littman, Sea of Death 2010,Performance at the Dead Sea, video, Photograph Jim Hollander © Ariane Littman and Jim Hollander

This refraction of aesthetic perspectives is also reflected in the format that overarches this exhibition, since along several galleries in Tel Aviv, art spaces in Jerusalem and Sderot also participate in this Beuys-centered cycle of shows that cast a panoramic view on the relationship between this German artist and local art through the works of 75 Israeli artists.

Gidon Levin, Friends #2, 2013, Inkjet print, 60 x 80 cm © Gidon Levin

The Artists

Ariane Littman’s work ‘White Land’ (2001) represents the complexity of Israeli artists’ relation to Beuys as loosely coherent echoes of historical patterns in her flattened by height representations of geographic terrains, in which white irregular areas can stand for silence and erasure that surround everyday and historical experience. War-related experiences of death that in their macro representation can become an overlooked terrain are alluded to in Littman’s work ‘Sea of Death’ (2010) on a micro level as she represents a corpse-like figure in what appears as an estranged, foreign perspective on the brine of Israel’s Dead Sea.

Gidon Levin, Untitled, 2012, Lambda print, 100 x 70 cm © Gidon Levin

Liav Mizrahi explains that each exhibition site explores a different aspect of how Israeli artists from different generations have directly or indirectly engaged ideas, iconic images and biographical details that Beuys’ oeuvre is associated with. For instance, Gidon Levin’s ‘Untitled’ (2012) photograph arose from everyday practices rooted in his army experience that detached from their context parallel Joseph Beuys’ narrative and artistic representations of his Second World War experiences.

Hadas Ofrat, Crisis of the object, 2, 1996-7, Okome wood, Sapele wood, lead, brass © Hadas Ofrat

Interactive Artwork

As Lee Scoop’s video work brings home, Beuys can be imagined to timelessly mingle with Israeli artists as they seek to take a deconstructive look at the myths that permeate everyday reality. Whereas Gidon Levin’s ‘Friends’ print puts soldiers’ crumpled blankets on a nondescript concrete pedestal on the generic landscape background, Varda Getzow in her ‘Ein Huhn ohne Kopf’ (2015) [A Hen without a head] watercolor critiques the normalization of industrialized animal slaughter.

Lee Scoop, Ch. 1, Dialogue with Joseph, 2015, video © Lee Scoop

This echoes Tali Ben Bassat’s ‘Untitled’ (2006) watercolor where crimson-colored sky drips blood on a hare’s body. These expressionist dialogues with Beuys’s work are contrasted by Olaf Kühnemann’s ‘Free associatins’ (2015) photograph peering into an eerily lighted interior space of childhood that could be representative of 1960s Germany.

Tali Ben Bassat, Untitled, 2006, Watercolour on paper, 62 x 82 cm © Tali Ben Bassat

This almost anthropological look at private and public interiors harkens back to Itzhak Danziger’s ‘Sheepfold as Mirrors’ (1971) ink on paper painting that shows a dissolution of pictorial form into architectonic, no longer organic elements. This movement towards abstraction as an antithesis to commercial art that the Fluxus movement was is captured in Arie Aroch’s ‘Painting in Red on a Panel’ (1962) that superimposes two shapes and their shadows on a flat pictorial plane. This exploration of the crisis of modern and contemporary art connects Beuys’s work to that of Israeli artists that, as Hadas Ofrat in her ‘Crisis of the object’ (1996-7) wooden sculpture questions the differentiation between organic and inorganic matter.

Varda Getzow, Ein Huhn ohne Kopf, 2015, Watercolor on paper, 102 x 73 cm © Varda Getzow

While Avital Geva’s ‘Music, Ants, Sewage Pipes’ (2013) documents his interventions into urban spaces through his earthworks sculptures, Alon Andorn’s has explored the superposition of aesthetic perception on the flux of daily experiences through his ‘Kit Bag’ (2015) installation, while springing open the materiality assumptions that have defined modern art, in a manner that directly connects to Beuys’ elevation of everyday life experiences, processes and materials to the status of works of art.

By Pablo Markin

In addition to his more academic involvements, Pablo Markin is a globe-trotting flâneur with a keen interest in Israel’s and, more broadly, international cultural scene and urban spaces. His Instagram impressions, blog articles and exhibition reviews can be followed on Twitter @pbmarkin.