“That is the Bunch of Live Flowers!”
Anat Betzer at Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art
In her new exhibition, Anat Betzer continues her in-depth exploration of painting and its realistic manifestations. The show is centered on women’s heads painted from the back—a delicate erotic image that transforms into a black hole of sorts, floating in a bright sky, detached from the body. Fauna and flora, both framing and framed, hover in a world which is empty yet ornate, fragmented, terrifying, but full of humor.
The images are acutely depicted in great detail, cut-cropped and placed in the middle of the canvas like a feverish vortex in the heart of the desert of nothingness; a wound (hole) or a scar (hill) left as a sign of something that once existed or as a seductive hint of a hidden face. The images leap out towards us or look at us. They are as sensual as the onset of the thicket, where something tried to take an orderly shape but became disheveled and underwent a near-surrealistic metamorphosis. Hair pulled-back becomes a rococo ornament; a braid is assimilated in a feather, like a montage concatenation of dreams. And the painting—its quintessential or latent axis signifies the center, the target composition kept in our consciousness, facing us like a mirror.
In other paintings the image falls to the bottom of the canvas and even beyond it. It is cut exactly along the line of the painted eye, leaving the focal point as an absent-present—an unexplained cut that confronts us with a cognitive dissonance: an occurrence of which we get only the “tail”; an event whose essence is external, taking place outside (as the cruel beheading performed by the artist on the chicken images in the exhibition), and its “plot” is derived from the assimilated habits of our perceptions, of the self-evident imprinted in us by observation of life.
In his book And It Came to Pass, Hayyim Nahman Bialik recounts the legend of King Solomon and the bee, featuring three main characters: King Solomon, the wisest of all men, the bee, and the Queen of Sheba. Having been stung in the nose by a small bee, and once his anger subsided, the Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon. As part of the teasing verbal exchange between the two, the queen proposes to the king the challenge of the living flowers: a bunch of artificial flowers (“the work of men’s hands”) versus a bunch of live flowers (“the work of nature”). His embarrassment at the inability to distinguish between the two by their appearance is solved for him by the (cheeky) little bee, who identifies the bunch of live flowers. Nature is wiser than man, even the wisest of men.
In the exhibition “That is the Bunch of Live Flowers!” Betzer looks directly at the politically, socially, and ecologically chaotic reality, addressing the question of representation in a unique complex manner. She delves into center and margins, back and forth, a gaze at and a reciprocated gaze, inviting the viewers to look at themselves, at their reflection, to peek at the world and at the woman.
The Covid-19 year, which has led many of us to realms of anxiety, helplessness, and loss of meaning, is conspicuously present in this new series of paintings. Their small scale, relative minimalism, modesty, silence, and sense of solitude (not to say isolation)—in addition to Betzer’s constant desire to find and create beauty, to cling to the flimsy, familiar and hackneyed image, reexamine it and reaffirm its power—yield a powerful statement about a moment of radical existence. It is a statement underlain by despair and profound concern alongside passion and great vitality.
 A quote from the legend of “King Solomon and the Bee,” in: Hayyim Nahman Bialik, And it Came to Pass: Legends and Stories about King David and King Solomon, trans. Herbert Danby (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1938), p. 92.