2015-11-11 / Home

Major exhibit of contemporary Israeli art at Rutgers-Camden


MARTIN ROSENBERG… co-curator of “Visions of Place.” MARTIN ROSENBERG… co-curator of “Visions of Place.” When Rutgers University Art Professor Martin Rosenberg started planning a major exhibition of contemporary Israeli artists four years ago, he had no preconceived notions about the works he would encounter. Although religious jewelry and other Israeli crafts are found everywhere from upscale jewelry stores to synagogue gift shops, very few modern artworks have made their way to stateside museums or galleries.

Still, he was not at all surprised that the theme that resonated the most in the works of modern Israeli artists was geography. Surrounded by hostile neighbors, Israel is the Holy Land for three of the major world religions as well as a modern, industrial Western democracy. Despite its diminutive size and tiny population, the Jewish state has undeniably been cast as a geopolitical focal point of the modern world. In other words, there is much fertile ground for the creative community to explore.

And that’s why an unprecedented exhibition of 51 works of contemporary Israeli artists now on display at Rutgers University-Camden’s Stedman Gallery is so visually gripping. “Visions of Place: Complex Geographies in Contemporary Israeli Art,” which runs through Dec. 17, represents a diverse range of perspectives and views from the Israeli arts world.

“The issues these artists are dealing with are not just the issues of Israel; they’re the issues of the world today,” said Rosenberg, chair of the Department of Fine Arts. “How does the past shape our view of the present? Whose history? How are we going to live together in an increasingly diverse, interconnected world? How do we relate to place and what is the importance of place? These are all in the exhibit in very, very powerful, compelling ways.”

Rosenberg and co-curator Susan Isaacs, a Towson University professor, visited Israel four times over their four-year quest to find the 36 artists whose work made the cut. The exhibition includes paintings, photographs, videos and sculpture. Mirroring the population of the country, the majority of the artists are Jewish. But they also include Arabs who are Muslim, Christian and Druze. Half the artists are women.

No doubt the works will challenge conventional ideas of Israeli life, said Rosenberg, a Cherry Hill resident and Temple Emanuel congregant. Among the artists, Pavel Wolberg, a Russian-born photographer, draws attention to the uneasy status of outsiders in Israel in his 2012 “Moses, Tel Aviv Center Station.” The black and white photograph shows a man absurdly dressed as Moses presiding over what appears to be an itinerant crowd of African asylum-seekers.

Tamir Zaok’s “Gaza Canal” is the fictitious Gaza Canal Souvenir Center, replete with spa towels and branded t-shirts that evokes both laughter and sadness over the reality of Gaza. Meanwhile, journalist Rina Castelnuovo’s work sensitively depicts three religiously observant women practicing Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. With their faces barely perceptible, the women praying at their respective holy sites emphasizes the commonalities of their experiences.

“This is the real Israel,” said Rosenberg. “This is 36 insiders’ view of Israel. If we want to have a cardboard cut-out Israel that is only what we think it ought to be, number one we’re not going to be very well equipped to defend Israel and, number two, we’re not going to appreciate the richness and complexity of the place.”

To schedule a guided tour of this exhibition, contact Miranda Powell at (856) 225-6202 or Miranda.powell@rutgers.edu.

Among the events being held during the exhibit, is a “Tour, Talk & Taste,” 6:30-9 p.m. Nov. 18. It will feature a private tour, talk with Israeli artist Natan Dvir, and reception. The event, which is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Catholic Muslim Dialogue of SNJ, costs $10 in advance, $15 at the door. To register, call (856) 751-9500, ext 1191 or visit www.JCRCSNJ.org. 

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