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Issues fraught with complexity and emotion, as 21 Israeli artists reinterpret their land
Adi Nes, Untitled (from the “Soldier” series), 1999. Chromogenic color print, 52 x 86 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
PURCHASE, NY.- When it comes to the subject of Israel, nothing is simple; not its history, its geography, its politics, its peoples, or its multicultural and religious core. The points of view are as varied and passionate as the people who populate this land, a little smaller than New Jersey (8,000 square miles), yet large enough to rivet the world’s attention. It is a site of conflict, ancient and recent, and of promise. A new exhibition, The Compromised Land: Recent Photography and Video from Israel, organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, confronts many of Israel’s issues head on. Exploring the themes of coexistence and conflict, history and memory, and the importance of land, the work of twenty-one contemporary artists will be on view in this exhibition from August 11– December 1, 2013.

The Compromised Land revolves around the notion of land, which, in Israel, is regarded as a sacred as well as a geographical, economic, social, and political organism¬ – rooted in the psyche and culture of its peoples, and thousands of years of history. Israel’s conflicts, history, and culture shadow daily life and permeate artistic expression. The work of established and emerging artists, who are emotionally and intellectually invested in their country’s fate, gives voice to their sense of unease and threat, as they consider, reveal, interpret, and question Israel’s politics, culture, and future. The exhibition also examines Israeli photography and video, practices that dominate contemporary Israeli art and for which Israel is internationally recognized.

The featured artists include: Boaz Arad, Yael Bartana, Joseph Dadoune, Nir Evron, Barry Frydlender, Dani Gal, Ori Gersht, Dor Guez, Oded Hirsch, Miki Kratsman, Sigalit Landau, Dana Levy, Shahar Marcus, Adi Nes, Nira Pereg, Gilad Ratman, Michael Rovner, Lior Shvil, Sharon Ya’Ari, and Rona Yefman with Tanja Schlander.

The Compromised Land: Recent Photography and Video from Israel is curated by Helaine Posner, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, and guest curator Lilly Wei; and is accompanied by a fully-illustrated 96-page catalogue with essays by Ory Dessau; Ron Pundak, Israeli historian and chairman of the Israeli Peace NGO Forum; and the co-curators.

“The curators do not subordinate the art, forcing it to tell a national hegemonic story in a way that undermines the independent value the works display...[The] art is the outcome of historical conditions,” observes Israeli art critic Ory Dessau in his catalogue essay.

According to Ms. Posner and Ms. Wei, “The Compromised Land brings together a selection of works that underscore the shift from the utopian goals of the first generation of Israelis to the escalating complications and disillusionments expressed by present generations, as they grapple with a host of issues through the lens of the political, the nationalistic, the militaristic, the social, the religious, and the personal.”

A sampling:

• Yael Bartana’s Mary Koszmary (2007) explores a complicated set of social and political relationships among Jews, Poles, and other Europeans. Using the structure and sensibility of a World War II propaganda film, Mary Koszmary addresses contemporary anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Poland, the longing for the Jewish past among liberal Polish intellectuals, the desire among a new generation of Poles to be fully accepted as Europeans, and the Zionist dream of Israel.

• In Nir Evron’s video In Virgin Land (2006), the footage, some of it archival, is carefully manipulated, and different texts composed by writers, pilgrims, military men, scientists, and other travelers to Israel over the course of nearly one thousand years comment on the region’s tumultuous history.

• Adi Nes explores issues of Israeli identity and masculinity. His most famous image, Untitled from his “Soldier” series, depicts young male soldiers, talking, carousing, relaxing, and arrayed along a table that is reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. A homoerotic subtext underlies it all.

• Artist Dor Guez presents a portrait in his video (Sa)Mira, (2008–9) of a Christian Arab family that sheds light on Israel’s complex relationship with its Arab-Israeli citizens. Filmed in multiple takes, the repetition of Samira’s narrative ultimately leads her to painfully confront racism in Israeli society.

“These artists...offer something more than commentary—a complex vision, both factual and imagined, of what Israel has been, what it might be, and what it is,” writes Dessau.

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