Avraham Ofek, The Fisherman and His Wife, 1970s, oil on cardboard mounted on wooden panel, photography: Ran Arda
A Personal View
A Selection of Works from the David Azrieli Collection
January 29 - May 22, 2011
Curator: Irit Miler
David Azrieli began collecting art in the 1970s. The collection numbers about 350 works, spanning more than a hundred years of artistic creation. Most of the works are from Israel and a few are from Europe, paintings by Jewish artists from the first half of the 20th century. The collector's taste and perception are an important key to an understanding of his artistic preferences. A historical awareness of Israeli art and its affinities with late 19th-century Jewish art is discernible in his choice of works. The Azrieli Collection highlights the phenomenon of art collecting in Israel and the place of collectors in the local art discourse.
The main part of the collection focuses on painting done in this country between the 1920s and the 1950s by artists who laid the foundations for modernism in Israeli art. Beside artists whose works have been documented, studied and presented in comprehensive exhibitions in the major museums, we will find works by artists who do not enjoy the same reputation and prestige. The exhibition's structure blurs the canonical hierarchy: artists who have been forgotten or who were active on the margins of the artistic arena, are represented next to the well-known artists. The collection offers "samples" from Israeli art.
The central axis that connects the works in the exhibition is The Home. This is a concept and a symbol that is charged with spiritual and material meanings that touch on civilization, the nation, and the individual. The home is the basis for man's place in the world. It provides shelter and protection, security, a sense of belonging and family life. The home is a private and intimate place, and a symbol of homeland and of collective identity. An art work, too, can be perceived as a home - as a consciousness-based environment created by an artist.
The exhibition is organized in four sections that designate a transition from the general and the public to the particular and the private.
The first and central section is devoted to landscape painting that embodies the home in the broad sense - territorial and geographical, conceptual and spiritual.
The second section deals with the gaze to the East, with the fascination with the landscapes of ancient towns and villages and the local customs.
The third section constitutes a transition from external nature and landscape to the interior of the home, and includes the gaze sent out from the interior to the exterior.
The fourth section focuses on the human figure, at work, at war and at leisure, on personal and social conflicts, and representations of masculinity and femininity.
In the Azrieli Collection, landscape painting is represented in all its multifaceted character, and includes the many subjects and approaches characteristic of landscape painting in Israel from landscapes of historical sites, through landscapes of pastoral and rural settlements, to aggressive and alienated urban images. The landscape is represented in figurative modes close to a topographical approach, in visionary and romantic vistas, and in abstract images of free rhythms and divisions into planes.
Landscape painting is a major genre in Israeli art, through which the artists express their connection with the Land. The encounter with landscape and nature was from the outset charged with religious, ideological, psychological and aesthetic meanings. Paintings of ancient sites such as Jerusalem and its hilly environs, the holy cities Safed and Tiberias and the shores of Lake Kinneret, are imprinted in the historical memory and in the cultural myths. These paintings express the longing for rootedness and for continuity with the ancient Hebrew past, and augment the feeling of national identity. The paintings of new landscapes - of colonies (moshavot), kibbutzim, and newly-built urban neighborhoods - mostly lack a local distinctiveness, although they were in line with the Zionist ideology of pioneering, settlement and "building the Land". From the 1950s on, with the influence of the Lyrical Abstract, the landscape also served as a basis in abstract painting. The landscape is a reflection of the artist's state of mind, of inner contemplation and articulation of energies aroused in the presence of nature.
The East, especially North Africa and the Holy Land, has fascinated artists since the 19th century- with its landscapes, its ancient and sacred sites, the exoticism of its noisy bazaars, its characters, its light and its colors, its foreignness and its distance from European ways of life. The Eretz-Israeli artists, too, were captivated by the charm of the landscapes of Arab villages, romantic ruins, courtyards of houses, camels, peasants (fellaheen) riding on donkeys, fishermen, or maidens with almond eyes. They believed that the Arabs - in their appearance and their way of life - were close to the ancient Hebrew forefathers, and they looked for their connection with the Land through them. The local color these artists sought to express was suffused with romanticism and expressed social ideals that rejected the diasporic past and emphasized the return to the sources, to a mythical past populated with scriptural figures. This approach, which crystallized in the 1920s, is discernible in later paintings as well.
Still-Life, Table and Window
A transition from outdoor nature and landscape to the private space of the home is characteristic of a large group of works. The interior is mostly designated by a still-life - a table with a vase of flowers, a plate of fruit, or a group of pitchers on it. Still-life enables the artist to explore intra-artistic problems, both by means of the selection and arrangement of the objects, foodstuffs and plants, and by exploring the relations between forms, volumes and colors, between image and background. At times the still-life touches personally on the artist and on the intimate space of the home or studio in which he lives and works. In some of the works the selection and the mode of representation of the objects point to the artist's spiritual world and at the same time to the experience of life in this country.
The motif of the window appears in many of the works, as a link between the private space and the public space. The window opens the home to the outdoors, to the landscape, the light - or, alternatively, blocks and separates the interior from the exterior. Like an eye, the window is an opening into and out of the home. In some of the paintings the window is a frame for a landscape painting, drawing the landscape into the home. In some cases the interior of the house that opens onto the landscape is foregrounded, while in others the boundary between interior and exterior is blurred.
The Individual and Society
The human experience is reflected in the figures of people engaged in diverse activities. In some of the works the emphasis is on the affinity between the experience of life in this country and the historical context. These works relate to collective values of Zionist and pioneering realization, of manual labor and of "building the Land", and to symbolic depictions of the kibbutz as a model of social harmony. Portraits of men represent the image of the Israeli as a participant in the settlement project, one of the ideals of the renascent Israeli society. Beside these appear images of the handsome Israeli defender or soldier, on guard duty or during a respite, in scenes relating to the War of Liberation. In contrast, there are also paintings that engage with the experience of being uprooted and with wandering, with memories of the Holocaust, and with the immigrant's difficulties in adapting to his new environment.
The focus on the arts - the figure of the artist, the experience of playing music - draws the gaze inward to the imagination and the spirit, to the creative process, to the encounter with art and to reflections on its essence, its functions, and its importance for the individual and for society.