Curators & Co.
Curator: Revital Ben-Asher Peretz
The exhibition “Curators & Co.” inquires what curatorship is, turning the spotlight to curators and the essence of their work in the era of globalization and its impact on Israeli culture and its products. The contemporary art field is typified by a profusion of exhibitions, fairs, and spectacular events which draw tens of thousands of visitors each year. Taking art out of the museums, galleries, and private studios into the urban space and alternative exhibition venues offers the public greater exposure and unmediated encounter with visual art, raising awareness among audiences other than the ordinary art consumers. In such circumstances, the practice of curators, who are perceived as art’s gatekeepers and agenda setters, has shifted from behind-the-scenes to the forefront of the art world.
Alongside the traditional perception of the curator’s role as mediator between art works and the viewer, new curatorial practices have evolved, granting curators a major role in the artistic arena and considerable public exposure. At the same time, the traditional distinction between artist and curator gradually dissolves, partly due to the emergence of cooperative exhibition spaces operated by artists who also function as curators, thereby changing the balance of power in the field and introducing added complexity. Vis-à-vis these inclinations, the need arises to delve into the curators’ cultural role and to explore relevant issues pertaining to the curatorial act and its derivatives.
The exhibition is based on a unique format. Curator Revital Ben-Asher Peretz gathered nine Israeli curators with diverse agendas and curatorial approaches for a joint experimental project underlain by a model of a curatorial chain (curator-curating-curator) and a long-term group work process. In the course of the project, which took approximately two years, each curator was asked to choose an artist or a group of artists who will implement a work of art which would best reflect his/her curatorial stance.
Concurrently, and as part of the integrative curatorial process, Ben-Asher Peretz, the curators, and the artists held regular meetings, as part of which a dynamic, open, and mutually-enriching intra-artistic discussion was held, a type of an art laboratory which enabled self-reflection and a pluralistic discourse regarding the curatorial act in the local social and political space.
Bringing together some of the leading curators now operating in Israel, the exhibition sets out to explore the uniqueness and role of the curator as a researcher, a representative of culture—in the local context, but also from a universal perspective. At the same time, it delves into various issues and aspects regarding curatorship and the art field in Israel 2011, among them: curator-artist relations, the curatorial act, hierarchies and power relations in the artistic scene, the curator’s status, the notion of the creator-curator, the influence of curators on the discourse of culture and on trends and processes, and the motivations behind curatorial selections.
The show, which was conceived as an umbrella exhibition, features nine site-specific installations, each forming a small-scale exhibition which reflects a specific curatorial approach. As a whole, the project offers a broad spectrum of visual languages, tastes, and directions: the choice of a minimalist language alongside the preference for an extroverted spectacular style; engagement with the individual-personal dimension as opposed to confrontation of collective identity; the use of scientific technology versus adherence to material simplicity; inquiry into an ideological dimension alongside concentration on a
visual facet. In addition, the exhibition discusses several unique curatorial practices, among them “Wall-less Curatorship,” an alternative project by Ami Steinitz, who departs from the museum into Petach Tikva’s urban-communal sphere, and “Readymade Curatorship” which is associated with Gideon Ofrat’s figure of the creator-curator.
Spanning diverse mediums, including video, installation, painting, photography, sound, readymade, and text, the artists’ works offer diverse references to the art world. Some turn a reflexive gaze at art itself and the arena in which it operates; some allude to the intricate artist-curator relationship; others focus on memory and historical, cultural, and communal contexts, and yet others charge the exhibition with irony, criticism, and self-humor. The artists’ works are sometimes juxtaposed with a “curator’s footnote”—a documentary video, a sound work, or a presentation of a “curatorial text” in a unique format. In these cases, the curators momentarily pop into the foreground, exposing themselves, their motivations and considerations. The exhibition thus offers a peek into the secrets of curatorship, granting a more accessible experience.
Curator Ami Steinitz presents a process of cultural-social activism. He has chosen to take the museum outdoors, to the street, thereby inverting its role. As part of the project (called “The Journey”), ten stories reflecting the history, culture, and reality of the Ethiopian community in Petach Tikva were selected. Signs were installed in ten spots throughout the city, inviting passersby to dial on their cell phones and listen to these stories. In order to implement the project, a team including municipality representatives, activists, and local Ethiopian artists, and artists from the Petach Tikva Museum of Art Education Department was set up. Steinitz himself regards all the project participants as associate “curators.”
This project reflects Steinitz’s current curatorial concept as the outcome of an ongoing process. In 1996 he began staging exhibitions created in collaboration with young people from the Ethiopian community. After many years of extensive activity in the Israeli art milieu, in 2001 Steinitz decided to close his gallery in Neve Tsedek, Tel Aviv, following This stemmed from the realization of the limited nature of the gallery space and the desire to place topmost importance on direct involvement in socio-cultural processes. Believing that one should not focus, as customary, on the art exhibit, Steinitz developed a process of “wall-less curatorship,” as he calls it—a social approach striving to create a direct affinity between the museum and the life of the community in the urban sphere.
Partners in the Petach Tikva Municipality: Nili Hay, Director of the Visual Arts Department; Israel Biru, Coordinator for the Ethiopian Community
Activists: Daniel Uoria, Gadi Fekadu, Asher Simon Tesfai
Storytellers: Gedalia Uoria, Yshak Eli Iacob, Shirly Goada, Demeke Toabu, Zecarias Yona, Tabage Mahari, Amy Malesae, Sharona Nagato-Biru, Daniel Fekadu, Pnina Tamano-Shata, Mitiku Teshale
Lyrics and music: Abebe Melese, Jeremy Cool-Habas
Narrator: Meir Desse
Singing: Avital Tashala
Singing and lyrics: Bat-Sheva Lahav
Traditional musical instruments: Dejen Manchilot
Artists of the Education Department, Petach Tikva Museum of Art: Reut Ferster, Yifat Giladi, Sivan Grosz, Yasmin Wakstein, Avshalom Suliman, Aluma Raz, Lior Schur
Photographer exhibition at the Integration Center: Eyal Pinkas
Thanks to: Ammevet Tayacho Tagaya, The Fidel Youth Center, Werke Demoze Community Absorption Office; Yeshayahu Tamano, Head of the Department of Jewish Identity and Absorption of Ethiopian Jewry; Ronit Dadon, director of the Beit Marko, Yosefthal Youth and Culture Center
Recording studio and adaptations: Aebby Kazas
Signposts and maps: Koby Levy, Tucan Design Studio Ltd
Exhibition photographs – Community Absorption Office: Eyal Pinkus
Under the auspices of: Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Cellcom, Ministry of Culture and Sport, Petach Tikva Municipality
Amir Ben-Shalom, curator of the Science Museum, Jerusalem, worked with artist Shachar Kislev to create Primordial Soup. The work consists of a glass tube in which the “electrical discharge” phenomenon takes place: light is emitted when an electric current passes through gas. The tube version presented here was scientifically developed by Ben-Shalom. Around that tube Kislev created an enlarged soft ball pool of sorts. His work invites the audience to rub against the balls as they step inside the pool, allegorical of the crowded art world swamp.
As a part of his work, Ben-Shalom is entrusted with the development of exhibits for the Science Museum. The work presented here reflects his view of himself as a part of a larger team active in a process largely carried out in the Museum’s workshop. There is great emphasis on the pedagogical nature of the exhibits and the way in which they exemplify a given phenomenon, alongside their ability to “lure” and stir up immediate interest. Alluding to this perception, Kislev’s work, with its somewhat “intimidating” design and scale, deliberately undermines the definition of estimated criteria for a “good exhibit” in a science museum.
The work was constructed and mounted in collaboration with the Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem
Curator Anat Gatenio presented Meir Franco’s (1954-2002) paintings in the past and felt a special affinity with his art. The contents of his works, as well as the act of digging and burrowing in the collection of the dead artist, reflect the themes which interest her: memory, detachment, immigration, perpetuation, and death. An immigrant born in Turkey, Franco’s paintings portray a yearning for his native aesthetics and culture, deeply rooted in the culture of the Levant, which is typified by a unique blend of West and East in its historical contexts. The exhibition was formed through close and full collaboration with the artist’s son, Shaul Franco, who faithfully represented his father’s spirit. Gatenio also collaborated with two additional artists: Asaf Oren created the video installation “Transformed Memory Table,” a type of family dinner table addressing the notion of memory in reference to the artist’s life and the team’s work process; Kfir Malka attended to the graphic aspect of the exhibition and the independent catalogue accompanying it.
The profound, holistic team work reflects Gatenio’s modus operandi from the outset of her career as curator. In 1998 she launched a “curatorial project” at the Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education, Haifa, as part of which students from various departments acted as curators and designers. In the course of a decade, comprehensive theme exhibitions were staged in this frame. The two artists collaborating with Gatenio here took part in that project as students. Furthermore, the exhibition continues Gatenio’s engagement with inter-generational cultural narratives and their multiple, intricate contexts in Israeli society—such as the engagement with the work of artists who are offspring of Holocaust survivors (“second generation” artists). This process is also a part of Gatenio’s scholarly inquiry into the representation of cultural memory from the parental home in contemporary Israeli art.
Ellen Ginton, senior curator at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, chose to collaborate with the artist couple David Reeb and Michal Goldman, and with her own partner, artist David Ginton. Together the quartet, comprising two couples, created the project “Picture Event” which offers a playful, ironic, and non-hierarchical gaze at the art world and at themselves. The artists present a range of works conscious of themselves and of their very engagement with pictorial representation. The participants are seen in paintings and photographs created in the process, and even sign each other’s work. A video documentation of the quartet’s meetings reveals the considerations behind the artistic practice, their views on art and on the relationship between partners operating in the same arena, etc.
The exhibition reflects Ellen Ginton’s focus over the years on exhibitions transpiring on the line between the pinnacle of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism, with emphasis on the quality of the human encounter with artists. Ginton regards herself as an artists’ curator rather than the curator of “thesis exhibitions” typified by a comprehensive message. As part of her work she has consistently staged, for example, one-person exhibitions of outstanding female Israeli artists and promoted the cultural and gender discourse involved in their work. In her curatorial practice Ginton seeks “loose ends.” The current project has enabled her to expand the range of possibilities and arrive at unexpected results while collaborating with the group of artists as well as with the curator of the umbrella exhibition.
Gideon Ofrat chose to “collaborate” with Emil Ranzenhofer, a Viennese Jewish artist who lived between 1864-1930. The figure of the forgotten artist is conjured up as a specter of sorts, and his commemoration is performed through a “sepulcher installation.” Ofrat created a pseudo-reconstruction of Ranzenhofer’s study based on a photograph from ca. 1920. Assuming the role of the performing artist, he engaged in the duplication of reproductions via Xerox photographs from the artist’s estate, fitting parquet flooring, gluing wallpaper, and laying Viennese porcelain ware on a white lacework tablecloth. The exhibition also spans a documented conversation between Dr. Ofrat and Prof. Shaul Ladani, who has a collection of Ranzenhofer’s works.
Ofrat’s choice reflects his tendency to explore contents that have disappeared from public consciousness. As a curator committed to his role as a cultural historian and as an intellectual, he strives to expose the neglected margins found in culture’s archived “memory cellars” —a concept he coined in the 1970s. Ofrat has since curated exhibitions based on the practice of “curatorial readymade,” as he defines it—namely: the transposition of an existing cultural space, while manipulating it, into the exhibition space.
Videography and editing: A.G. Photography Services
Henrietta Eliezer Brunner, curator of the Glass Pavilion at the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, chose Hila Amram—an artist who frequently uses glass, although she does not specialize in this field. The joint process spawned Still Glass, a work consisting of three showcases divided into three different historical periods. Eliezer Brunner incorporated original glass vessels from the collection of the Eretz Israel Museum in them, while Amram referred to these via a variety of visual and technological means, thereby articulating various cultural and critical ideas.
The Veritas (Latin: truth) showcase, standing for the death awaiting every living being, features intact, cracked or restored glass vessels from the Roman period in a manner linking their disintegration with the withering of the organic body. The Vanitas (Latin: vanity) showcase, contains receptacles which represent the affluent, luxurious life of the emerging bourgeoisie in the 19th century. Simulating vessels bearing portraits of leading political and military figures as well as other dignitaries, a bottle with a blank space of a missing medallion bears the projected figure of Tyohar (Moshe Castiel), shedding an ironic, critical light on the Israeli guru’s preaching. In addition, an effusive fountain is set in motion within a glass. The In Vitro (Latin: in glass) showcase represents the modern world. Rows of soft drink bottles are lined up in it, alluding to mass production. Hints for evolution and life are inserted into these bottles, calling to mind experiments in a biological laboratory.
Eliezer Brunner has developed a curatorial approach which combines old and new, providing a vivid and dynamic platform for the art of glass. As a curator who ordinarily stages historical exhibitions, her work involves careful development of the chosen theme in a structured, long-term process of ongoing research. The current project was different in this respect: it originated in a willingness to enter into a process of abstract search in collaboration with the artist.
With the support of The Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv
In “Given,” curator and artist Merav Shinn Ben-Alon collaborated with Galia Gur Zeev, who is also an artist and a curator. Together they have created a work space consisting of two identical spaces constructed especially for the project, setting out to explore the relationship between artist, curator, and audience.
In her work Watchers, Gur Zeev presents a strip of photographs which runs along the walls of the space, featuring figures staring straight ahead with piercing gazes, as a reflection of the viewers. It is as though the work directs its gaze at the artist and the curator as well, asking: Who is looking at whom? To the other space, situated in the back as a repressed consciousness, Shinn Ben-Alon invited another artist—herself. Her work, One Hundred Words, is akin to a “curator’s footnote,” mirroring the curator-artist conflict. In the groove crossing the walls of the space she concealed a text she had written, as a metaphor for the power of the “curatorial text.” The viewers, accustomed to using the text as glasses with which to decode the exhibition, return to observe Watchers on their way out, this time in a slightly different manner perhaps.
This project reflects the blurring of boundaries and the dialogue between artmaking and curatorship in Shinn Ben-Alon’s life. In one of the exhibitions she curated in the past Shinn Ben-Alon used the works of other artists as infrastructure for the construction of a personal story. The current project reflects, inter alia, the curatorial concept she has developed as curator (2003-2006) of the Art Gallery at Tmuna Theater, Tel Aviv. This concept ascribes major significance to the space as a point of departure and as a theme.
In the sound work “I Have Made Up My Mind,” curator Tali Tamir reads a text out loud, written in 1917 by her grandmother, Malka Goldstein, as an adolescent girl and an active member in Hashomer Hatza’ir youth movement in Poland. It discusses the emotional price she paid in her personal life vis-à-vis the demanding nature of the collective. Two video works by Hilla Ben Ari are projected on either side of the space, associated with the text’s content. Dawn features a solitary female figure in a tense bodily posture expressing devotion. The figure sands amid an assortment of old work tools which call to mind the collective experience of early Jewish settlement in Palestine. The second work, Dusk, portrays a woman hovering between heaven and earth, close to the ground, but not touching it, in a state of dissociation and detachment.
Tamir has collaborated with Ben Ari from the outset of her career as an artist. They share an interest in the tension between the individual and the group. In the current project they experienced a blurring of boundaries, as the curator became a performing artist in the exhibition, exposing an autobiographical story. Through art, Tamir endeavors to explore local culture, its inclination toward collectivism, and the tensions between center and margins, themes which she has extensively addressed as curator of the Kibbutz Art Gallery, Tel Aviv (1994-2004). As director of the Gutman Museum, Tel Aviv (2005-2010) and as an independent curator (since 2010), Tamir continued to confront Israeli culture and local myths.
Curator Tami Katz-Freiman chose artist Guy Zagursky for this project, as she realized that his work contains many of the features on which she herself has focused in her curatorial practice, and in a desire to push to the extreme the image of her “curatorial style.” In Let Me Entertain You mirrors are installed along a corridor, with the text “LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU” repeatedly imprinted on them. The viewer undergoes a gripping physical experience while observing his countless reflections, and is invited to contemplate the essence of “art as a reflection of reality.” In Art Wrestling—a video documentation of an arm wrestling performance held at the 2006 Art Basel—Zagursky was crowned World Champion in Art, having defeated artists, critics, gallery owners, and other art lobbyists. Both works undermine the elitism innate to contemporary art, ironically indicating its role as the provider of entertainment in a world of rating wars.
In the past two decades Katz-Freiman has acted extensively as an independent curator. Between 2005-2010 she was Chief Curator of the Haifa Museum of Art. Characterized by a distinctive personal curatorial style, her work focuses on themes such as pathos, body, sexuality, gender identity, emotions, beauty, seduction, and ornamentalism, themes which for many years have been condemned in Israeli modernism, with its adherence to restraint, asceticism, and want. The current project enables her to observe these tendencies, as well as the curatorial act itself, which is often perceived as solemn, with a big smile and a playful wink.