NYU’S Grey Art Gallery presents contemporary Israeli art in
“Desert Cliché: Israel Now—Local Images”
New York, October 17, 1997—”Desert Cliché: Israel Now—Local Images,” a provocative exhibition of contemporary Israeli art at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU, inaugurates New York City’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. Sharp, witty, and highly critical, “Desert Cliché” includes the
work of eighteen contemporary Israeli artists, working in diverse media, who deconstruct the myths and stereotypes of Israeli cultural identity: the desert metaphor; the militarist climate; the sabra cliché of prickly-outside-sweet-inside for native Israelis; holy sites; traditional memorial ceremonies; courageous Israeli-women-soldiers; and heroic macho men. The exhibition opens November 20, 1997, and will remain on view until February 4, 1998.
“This exhibition was born in ‘exile,’ ” observes co-curator Tami Katz-Freiman, a native Israeli and former Tel Aviv Museum curator who now resides in the United States, “it allowed me to consider ‘Israeliness’ from the outside.” Her American collaborator, Amy Cappellazzo, curator of exhibitions at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Weatherspoon Art Gallery, explains, ” ‘Desert Cliché’ is about how a nation casts itself in an international hall of mirrors. When you address clichés, you deconstruct the obvious and popular to reveal essential and inherent realities.”
The artists in “Desert Cliché” intentionally raise questions about Israeli identity rather than answer them. The work of the eighteen artists in the show, who range in age from 27 to 55, conveys multiple views of Israeli life in the ’90s. The youngest, Nir Hod, creates paintings of sensual-looking women soldiers who are actually men in drag. Other artists who tackle military clichés include Gil Shachar, Meir Gal, and Pinchas Cohen Gan. Ariane Littman-Cohen’s installations undermine the cliché of Israel as the Holy Land. Dganit Berest’s paintings, based on a Time magazine photograph, highlight the omni- present threat of terrorism. Two Arab-Israeli artists, Asad Azi and Asim Abu-Shakra, incorporate Arab references and subject matter in their works. Gilad Ophir questions the validity of the “blooming desert” myth through his photographs of banal suburban housing developments.
From their post-Zionist viewpoint, the artists address the numerous tensions inherent in contemporary Israeli life, including holy places that function as tourist sites, the multiple layers of Israeli identity, and the symbiotic relationship of Arab and Israeli. Using humor, cynicism, irony, and pain to expose the social and psychological conditions of a life fraught with dangers and contradictions, they limn a contemporary Israel stripped bare of picture-postcard clichés and idealized preconceptions. The exhibition requires that, as Amy Cappellazzo notes, “one check sentimentality at the door.”
“The Grey Art Gallery is very pleased to host this timely exhibition, which provides American audiences with a rare opportunity to view a significant body of works— including paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, and installations—by some of the most prominent and promising artists working in Israel today,” states Lynn Gumpert, director.
“Desert Cliché: Israel Now—Local Images” was organized by The Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Florida, in collaboration with the Israeli Forum of Art Museums. Support was provided by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Consulates General of Israel in New York and Miami; El Al Airlines, Ltd.; The Friends of the Bass Museum, Inc.; State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs; and the City of Miami Beach Visitors and Conventions Bureau. Additional funding was provided by the Abby Weed Grey Trust.
An illustrated 138-page bilingual catalogue in English and Hebrew accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue includes essays by co-curators Amy Cappellazzo and Tami Katz-Freiman, and by Yael Zerubavel, Director of the Center for the Study of Jewish Life and Professor of History at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.