Monday, April 30, 2018

One Hundred Years Of Art In Israel Hardcover by Gideon Ofrat (Basic Books)

A detailed, persuasive, well-illustrated survey of art produced in Israel over the past hundred years, focusing more particularly on the period from the 1940s to the present. Ofrat, a prolific Israeli critic and the curator of a number of shows there, carefully traces the influences on Israeli art (in the 1940s and '50s intensely realistic and upbeat art was in the ascendance; in the 1970s art, reacting to the pressures reshaping Israel, became more visibly politicized, often reflecting a radical critique of current situations), and the interactions of numbers of Israeli artists both with each other and with the international art scene. A useful introduction to a crowded, busy field, and more particularly to a number of powerful contemporary artists (among them the painters Ori Reisman, Jan Rauchwerger, and Aharon Messeg, and the sculptor Menashe Kadishman) still little-known outside Israel. (200 color and 150 b&w illustrations)

In this overview of Israel's half century of existence, Hohenberg draws on newspaper accounts, memoirs of major players in Middle East politics and standard historical works, as well as a personal cache of memories, letters, notes and diaries, to teach a lesson in the intricacies of international diplomacy. Although he reflects the rather miraculous circumstances of the Israel's creation, he also gives a dutiful and dispassionate record of the failures as well as the successes of Israel's political leaders. For example, Hohenberg is brave enough to recount how quickly the afterglow of the Six-Day War subsided following the debacle of the Yom Kippur War. The writing is clear and, at times, crisp. However, this historical survey of Israel is hardly comprehensive, leaning too heavily on the traditional treatment of Israeli history as a series of Arab-Israeli wars. Economic matters, social issues and movements, and religious factionalism receive too little attention. Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of this study is Hohenberg's focus on the United Nations' role in Israel's development. As one of several histories out on the occasion of Israel's 50th anniversary, Hohenberg's study holds up well though it will not lead the pack.

Ofrat, an Israeli art critic, breaks new ground in this history of Israeli art. He begins his survey with the religious and folk art of nineteenth-century Palestine, the foundation on which Israel is built, then strides into the twentieth century and the emergence of the first phase of socially conscious art, the Bezalel school and its utopian Zionist images. With the rise in European immigration, seeds of the avant-garde art of Paris arrived in Palestine, where they flourished not in the sacred city of Jerusalem but in the more secular and receptive city of Tel Aviv. Those cities have become emblematic of the two poles of Israel's highly politicized art: the faction that has valued art not as forms of personal expression but as manifestations of the Jewish experience and the collective community, paving the way for kibbutz realism, and its opposite, seen most clearly in the postwar "lyrical abstract" movement. Ofrat's chronicle of the evolution of Israeli art is a means of tracing the conception and birth of the nation itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment