Art

Beuys, Beuys, Beuys

by Ross Belfer | 02.12.15

A new multi-gallery group exhibition featuring the works of Israeli artists inspired by the acclaimed German artist Joseph Beuys is now on display at Contemporary by Golconda gallery in Tel Aviv. The aptly titled “Beuys, Beuys, Beuys” exhibition focuses on the impact of the German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), undoubtedly one of the most influential figures on the Israeli art scene, beginning from the 1960’s up until today, and is divided into several gallery displays throughout Israel – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Sderot. Featuring the works of 75 artists who are in turn grouped and showcased together based on their conception of a different aspect of Beuys and Israeli art. At Contemporary by Golconda, art enthusiasts will come across the works of some of Israel’s most talented minds, past and present, including Itzhak Danziger, Avital Geva, Arian Littman and Alon Andorn, among others.

We took the time to sit down with Liav Mizrahi, curator of “Beuys, Beuys, Beuys,” group show at Contemporary by Golconda in south Tel Aviv, which is running now through December 12 2015.

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Would you briefly describe your background and how you began working as curator for Contemporary by Golconda?

I am 37 years old. I studied Fine Art and Art History from 1999 to 2008 at three different Art Academies in Israel. My final degree was an MFA from Bezalel Art Academy, Jerusalem.

I am an artist, curator and an art history teacher. I began curating in 2006 and since then, I curate two-three times per year in Israel and in Germany. My main focuses are on art and sociology. Often times, I curate through intuition while paying attention to art movement and margins of the artist or subject. The Beuys exhibition is the third show I have curated in the Golconda space. The first exhibition (three years ago) focused on Orthodox Jewish women and their relation to sex and passion. The second exhibition was last year and brought about a bit of scandal. It focused on the refugees in prison cells in Israel and abroad.

Ariane Littman,Sea of Death 2010,Performance at the Dead Sea, video, Photograph_Jim Hollander

Can you explain the connection between German artist Joseph Beuys and his influence on the Israeli art scene?

It began in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with young Israeli artists that admired Joseph Beuys’ work. Without asking any questions about his biography, they blindly admired him at their art academies during those years in Israel. At the beginning, Beuys became the answer for the young artist in search of revolt and for new modes of expression. Later, I believe it was Beuys that gave the Israeli artist a “cure” through creating art. The similarity I see between Beuys and the Israeli artist is that they both belong to a society sick from war. The Germans from World War II and the Israelis from The Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Both societies fail to address the trauma they endured. The cure is the art, as well as the transformation from persecutor to victim. Once we understand this issue we see how Beuys’ influence on Israeli art is unique and permanent.

What deductions can be made about Israeli society, if any, in facilitating Joseph Beuys to be a major influencer?

The society in Israel is an immigrant one and hard to crack. Also there are many religious issues and many different sects of faith. Beuys appears to be an example for a person that has endured trauma and wants to fix himself and the society he is a part of. I think the Israelis are the same.

The traumas from the wars of 1967, 1973 and beyond have made our society sick. We can see it in the media. But the art and culture in general can be our cure. Even 70 years since World War II, our societies are still connected.

Gidon Levin, Superman, 2012, Lambda print, 100 x 70 cm

Joseph Beuys’ influence extends into the social and political sphere as well. Can you describe how that has manifested?

If the question is related to Israel, there isn’t much to say. The sociopolitical influence of Beuys wasn’t apparent in Israel as it was in Germany. However some expressions can be seen in Israel. In the 1970s there were artist demonstrations against the army/government and against the “old” academy. There were a few artists that started to work with other people. In most cases, the artists in Israel were also art teachers, so they began to work in nature, natural correction and education and so on. This was the spirit of the world that included Beuys. But in Israel, art and politics were never very much involved. The influence was more in small social fields, or in the works of one or two artists like Avital Geva and Yizhak Danziger in the 1970s and 1980s. Youcan see individual artists that have been influenced by Beuys’ spirit in the performing arts and less in the political issues. In the social sphere, there is a similarity between the artist and the art teacher. Some artists that teach in the art field in Israel take their lessons and transfer it into the art sector.

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How were the Israeli artists chosen to be exhibited at the “Beuys, Beuys, Beuys” exhibition?

This is also a very deep question, I will try to answer it in short. First, I took out all the artists that identified with Beuys. Artists from the late 1970s early 1980s became the “canons”. So I began to find “old” and unknown artists that worked and studied in the 1970’s. Then I started to collect more and more artists with either a deep relationship to Beuys or some a bit farther away from the concept. My way of curation is more intuitive and eclectic. Being an artist as well, sometimes the curation process is like painting. Some things have a more intense color, some are marginal while still maintaining importance. I also had a few topics: material, spirit, and body. These ideas helped me choose the artist and organize them.

In the beginning it looked like everyone could be in this show – a reference to the fact that “everybody is an artist”. However this was not the case. I chose the artists that spoke in the Beuys language but with a their own, new concept.

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The exhibition is split up and shown at different galleries. The 75 artists are grouped together and shown at a particular gallery based on shared adaptation of Beuys’ influence. What common thread connects the artists to one another at Contemporary by Golconda’s exhibition?

What happened in my mind at Golconda stemmed from the concept of the spiritual or spirituality. When I began my research, one of the things that come up was the anthroposophy current and the Rudolf Steiner Theory which Beuys incorporated into his own way of thinking. So I chose the contemporary artists that in some way deal with the mystical and spiritual way of thinking of art. You can see the painter that grew up in an anthroposophical village or an artist that paints in using the theory of anthroposophy. You can also see some artists that deal with life and death.

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Beuys was influenced heavily by the ideas encompassing anthroposophy, otherwise known as spiritual science originating from theosophy, or man-wisdom, which then has in turn also colored the scope of the featured Israeli artists. Can you elaborate on how the ideology has manifested itself in the Beuys exhibition?

The anthroposophy movement or theory has a “bad” stereotype. In Israel it has only now become popular. For many years it was a very tiny thought and was expressed primarily through education and less through the visual arts. The people who had connected to this way of living were hippies. This was a small minority in the Israeli militaristic society. So, the theory of anthroposophy came out in few different ways. Some artists implemented spiritual movement in their work while they work in nature, in the forest, in Carmel mountains or in the Dead Sea. Some of them take one color and research it over and over again. While others, with their own body give something back to the nature.

Hadas Ofrat, crisis of the object, 1996-7, Okome wood, Sapele wood, lead, brass 2

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