Dina Shenhav | MERKAVA
When Paolo Veronese was accused of blasphemy in his paintings, as he appeared before the Holy Tribunal by the Holy Office he said in his defense: “Painters take the same poetic license that poets and madmen take.” A winning argument, and to a large extent, a prophetic and groundbreaking one. Indeed, future generations of artists have increasingly allowed themselves strange, absurd, enigmatic things, while we, the viewers, have learned that we do not necessarily have to solve every conundrum.
For me, Dina Shenhav’s whitish, almost ivory-like, foam sculptures are such unsolved conundrums. Why foam? What does it signify? And actually, why stone, wood, or bronze? Foam is not sacred, that much is clear. And it is not really solid: a brittle rather than hard solid, perforated, airy, maybe even ugly? Touchable or off-putting? Perhaps both. Foam is a modern material, but Shenhav works with it as if it were traditional. She carves the material, whittles, the artist turned craftswoman. Indeed, for years Shenhav has been creating work areas out of foam – kitchen, a shoemaker’s desk, a corner in the home of the hunter, the woodcutter, the caretaker. so many masculine work spaces.
Is the work about gender? Of course, gender too. The facial features of the Soldiers in the paintings could have been of young girls. The masculine tank is “feminized.” The large cannon is softened. Still, it bursts through the wall. Where does this aggressive scene take place? This is an Israeli tank … Is the work political? Of course. The ghost of war. A soft rumor about tough things that go on. Indeed, alongside the white work areas, Shenhav also presents dark apocalyptic environments of sooty ruins and charred desolation. Are these works post-traumatic or pre-traumatic? In this unsolved conundrum of producing foam replicas of familiar objects, there is an absurd stubbornness that we do not need, and perhaps cannot, solve “completely,” a determination that bursts into the mind like a tank. Is the piece a self-portrait of sorts? A great violent force broken down into a diligent “cut and paste” action. Seemingly everything is exposed, yet a lot is concealed.
At first, the paintings seem abstract – wide shots of diffuse, saturated, or dilutedstains –like an aerial view, satellite images, or perhaps a map that offers an abstract representation of the terrain. At second glance, the abstract space comes into focus and becomes clearer. The eye skips from site to site and starts recognizing figurative images: snowy ridges, steep slopes, serpentine creeks, or possibly tangles of thin capillaries and open cuts of bleeding paint. A more careful look reveals small figures and other concrete images scattered in the torn landscape –figures in action, events that offer a foothold of sorts.
The work process is completely bare and exposed. Washing, squeezing, cutting, pasting, brushwork, drawing. But despite its unplanned nature, it also seems considerably controlled. Further treatment instills meaning in the accidental. Random stains, cracks in the paint, a faded wash – all these serve as the starting point for deliberate interventions. Pieces of canvas cut from one painting are pasted onto another, but also reworked and integrated into the space, elevating it like a topographic map. From a different perspective, these supposed ridges, these strips of canvas, these patches look like bandages meant to heal the wounded, bleeding surface; to mend the blemishes inflicted on the landscape. And in-between there are pauses. Empty, quiet, seemingly “undone” areas, territories formed by their own concealment.
Wandering past the works may generate a sense of disorientation, in the absence of anchoring elements to hold on to. One’s ability to be in uncertainties, mystery, and doubts is a “negative capability,” wrote the Romantic English poet John Keats in one of his most quoted letters. How can a negative be considered a capacity? Keats understood that any good artwork feeds on these “adverse” ingredients. Where there is no silence there is no sound.
Naomi Leshem’s new body of work marks a departure from her long-time artistic practice, in which her personal biography served as a starting point. Ostensibly, the photographic subjects in the new works are not associated with her or her personal history, but rather drawn from the history of others – figures, objects and places. She taps into them and turns them into a body of work that while visually eclectic, maintains conceptual coherence.
The visual information presented in the photographs entails human stories, only a fraction of which was known to Leshem. The little she did know was the impetus that drove her to take the picture. The photographs capture a moment of observation, creating a disturbance in the timeless continuum of the serene place and forming a new eternal being that becomes a part of their biography.
Alongside places with a known history like German and French WWI trenches in Alsace or a building in Germany that used to house young Polish girls abducted as Aryan “breeding material,” Leshem also photographed anonymous objects like a 1930s Swedish plate or a Belgian pendant from the 1950s. Without knowing any of the thirty thousand soldiers who perished in the photographed trenches, nor any of the young Polish girls who were imprisoned in the building. Without knowing who were the owners of the objects, without being able to guess who ate off the plate, and whose neck the pendant adorned. The unknown will never come to light. The photographic act freezes a moment in the ongoing history of the place or of the object, and at the same time formulates a new biography. With that, the photograph becomes another link in the historical continuum, recounted through the artist’s transitory perspective and shaped by the influence that the content may bear on her impressions and imagination.
Gizela, the owner of a Zurich hotel housed in a fifteenth-century building, is an inseparable part of the hotel – like a living ghost that wanders through the building. The hotel itself hosts people and stories that will become ghosts with the passing time. Two photographs taken at the Swiss-German border, a historically fraught place with an almost pastoral present, also embody contemporary global dilemmas.
Some of the works were created using photographic ready-mades. Leshem collected postcards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries – taken and hand-painted by unknown photographers and exchanged between relatives or lovers. She chose to change their scale and mode of presentation – thereby instilling a new meaning into them, as they shift from an intimate and private representation to collective representation, immortalizing a human bond that breaks away from the local context.
The artist further used ready-made to compose a picture of six different photographs taken by a cell phone in Thingvellir, Iceland – the seat of the parliament founded in the early 10th where laws were legislated and implemented. In the spirit of Leshem’s current practice, the oldest place in the exhibition was treated with the most contemporary technology – in contrast to her usual technique – analogue photography of slides. With these photograms, Leshem wishes to present a history that is not completely known – neither to her nor to the viewer. The fraction of a second that she captures is a moment from the full past, the elusive present, and events that may come to pass in the future.
Noga Gallery marks 25 years of fascinating and challenging activity with the 22 gallery’s artists.
The core of Noga Gallery’s activity and essence has always been presenting Israeli artists, with a focus on emerging women artists, and promoting them in Israel and abroad, as well as exposing the local audience to international artists. The mission of presenting groundbreaking artists whose art combines a range of techniques and controversial themes has been a guiding light for us throughout the years. From the early days of the gallery there was an emphasis on creating an emotional and intellectual aesthetic experience, one that stimulates and undermines issues and sharpens our perception of the world. The gallery maintains a diverse and substantial exhibition program and supports emerging artists as well as artists in the more advanced stages of their career.
Noga Contemporary Art Gallery opened in 1994 on 34 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, after a two-and-a-half-year activity from a private house in Herzliya. It was founded by Nechami Gottlib, and with the move to Tel Aviv, Adina Alshech joined the gallery’s management. In 2002 it moved to its current location on 60 Ahad Ha’am street.
The inaugural show in 1994 was accompanied by a special exhibition of 12 billboards on the façade of Habima Theatre and a catalogue. The exhibition was divided into two installments and featured works by the artists Smadar Eliasaf, Tamara Messel, Irit Hemo, Rivka Potchebutzky, Belu Simion Fainaru, Orly Maiberg, Hadar Maor Dgani, Nurit Avidov, Morel Derfler, Michal Heiman, Tito Leguisamo, and Max Friedman.
In its early years, the gallery presented solo shows by Irit Hemo, Tal Mazliach, Galit Eilat and Max Friedman, Smadar Eliasaf, Joshua Neustein, David Ginaton, Marilu Levin, Michal Heiman, Hila Lulu Lin, Nir Hod, Yehudit Sasportas, Miriam Cabessa, Larry Abramson, Orly Maiberg, Mosh Kashi and others. For many of these artists this was their first solo show.
The gallery was ahead of its time and held exhibitions that pushed the envelope, such as Max Friedman and Galit Eilat’s installation that simulated a bordello in the gallery, the work of Hila Lulu Lin who presented a giant nude photograph, Nicole Eisenman’s installation that included a large mural, the works of Talia Keinan that combine drawing and video, Keren Cytter’s provocative films, as well as the display of photography and video works, which was rather rare in the early 1990s and the display of distinctly noncommercial bodies of work. We were the first to exhibit the students of Israel Hershberg’s Jerusalem Studio School in Israel, among them Aram Gershuni, David Nipo, Eldad Farber, and more. This pluralism, which nowadays sounds natural, did not exist in the artistic climate of those years.
The gallery organized and produced a large benefit event whose proceeds were dedicated to Meira Shemesh z”l who needed a heart transplant, but by the time a heart was found it was too late.
The international artist Ori Gersht had his first solo exhibition at Noga Gallery, from which his career catapulted to worldwide recognition.
In 2000 the gallery was invited by the British Council to curate a show of young British artists. The exhibition, curated by Nechami Gottlib, was on view concurrently at Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art while Noga Gallery featured works by Sam Taylor-Wood, Sarah Lucas, Sarah Jones, Gillian Wearing, and Mat Collishaw – some of the leading artists of the YBA group.
With the move to the space on Ahad Ha’am Street we opened a special projects room, which allowed artists who are not in the gallery’s roster to present unique projects and installations for over a decade. Another expansion was made possible by using the gallery’s display window facing the street for performances and various installations.
The gallery’s artists have had solo exhibitions and participated in group shows in leading Israeli and international museums and art events, such as the Venice Biennale, Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, the Guggenheim and the Whitney Museum in New York, Pompidou Center in Paris, Hamburger Banhof in Berlin and more. Their works are included in leading museum, public, and private collections in Israel and around the world. Many have won awards from museums as well as the ministry of culture and sports.
The international artists who exhibited at the gallery include Nicole Eisenman, a San Francisco based artists group, a group of Cuban artists, Felipe Cezar, Gillian Wearing, Sarah Lucas, Kara Walker, Shahzia Sikander, Kader Attia. The artists Nicole Eisenman and Kader Attia, who were invited to show at the gallery in the early stages of their careers, have since gone on to gain wide acclaim, win prestigious awards, and show their works at the world’s leading museums.
The gallery participated and continues to participate in the world’s leading art fairs such as Art Basel, Art Basel Miami, FIAC Paris, Art Forum Berlin, the Armory Show in New York and more.
And on a personal note, art makes us happy, it makes us think, and challenges us.
We came to art with love and with love we will go on.