Michael Gitlin, 16 Works
Curator: Drorit Gur-Arie
Michael Gitlin’s work pulsates with an internal dynamic that recreates itself each time anew. We can say that Gitlin offers an artistic commitment to some fundamental questions which have been preoccupying him for years – line, volume, object, wall, floor, viewer – while stubbornly turning his back on artistic fashions. His work draws on the spirit of American Minimalism, adhering to principles of leanness and formal reduction. At the same time Gitlin is identified – like other Israeli artists who worked in New York in the 70s – with the Post-Minimalist trend that started to emerge into prominence in those years. This generation of artists sought to widen the range of artistic possibilities and challenged the strict rules of Minimalism, which yielded industrial-looking and neatly polished objects. They preferred using simple materials such as paper, plywood and wood, and externalizing the artist’s handprint. Against this background, Gitlin’s energetic work is characterized by a range of basic actions – tearing, breaking, cutting, displacing and splicing – which are embodied in the material and which confront the viewer as part of the tendency to expose the working process. Gitlin’s violent gestures, like his use of axe strokes as both sculpting and drawing tool, go back to the tradition of Modernism and draw their energy from the American Abstract Expressionism of the 40s and 50s, while creating tension between immobility and quietness on the one hand, and a movement carried out by the viewer on the other.
The exhibition travels from the past to the present, from drawing and two dimensions to sculpture and three dimensions, from the linear to the lumpy and from the sensory to the conceptual, in an attempt to assemble Gitlin’s myriad procedures and concepts and create an “image bank” from an archive in danger of being forgotten. It includes sculptural installations and works on paper from three broad bodies of work, which serve to illustrate the development of Gitlin’s art over more than four decades. In recent years Gitlin has been expanding his range of materials, and his works have been characterized by a physical lightness not evident in them in the past. At the same time, over the years his body of work has reflected the wish to go beyond the material object and even approach the spiritual in art. It is a wish devoid of pathos, even ironical, but always committed and sincere.
Massive green painted wooden beams, around 45 meters in length, comprise the large-scale installation Broken Infinity, first exhibited in Germany in 1988, and now reconstructed by Gitlin for the Petach Tikva Museum of Art’s space. The work prompts reflections on the relations between line, volume, object, space, and viewer, offering a key for interpreting the Post-Minimalist move in Gitlin’s work, from the formalist conceptuality of the 70s to the poetic conceptuality that has characterized the amorphous works made of soft materials of the last years. The green path winds its way in and outside the purpose-built white room, creating a kind of double Mobius ring whose arms meet on the threshold of the space. This environment presents the viewer with a rupture of consciousness, since it is impossible to reconstruct the mathematical sign underpinning the work (∞ – infinity) other than through a gaze from above, from a viewing angle that is inaccessible to us. The result is a fractured experience of advancing and stopping, a physical experience that shatters against the option of rational inference, a material reality versus a theoretical model of infinity. For the viewer, the only way to rebuild the sign, the concept, is to reconstruct it by mentally walking backwards, re-stitching together the pieces of the fractured physical experience.