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Alchemy of Words: Abraham Abulafia, Dada, and Lettrism on view at the Tel AViv Museum of Art
Max Ernst (1891, Brühl, Germany - 1976, Paris), typography and layout by Iliazd (Ilia Mikhailovich Zdanevich, 1894, Tbilisi, Georgia - 1975, Paris), Maximiliana ou l'exercice illégal de l'astronomie (Maximiliana or The Illegal Practice of Astronomy), 1964. Book published by Le Degré quarante-et-un, Paris with 34 etchings and aquatints, 41x30 cm (each folded page); collection Tel Aviv Museum of Art, gift of Charles and Evelyn Kramer, New York (1990). Photo: Elad Sarig.

TEL AVIV.- The exhibition, on the 100th anniversary of Dada, highlights the imaginative use of letters by artists, poets, and mystics. The three-part presentation brings together audio, video, film, and the plastic arts of Dada, begun in Zurich in 1916; Lettrism, founded in Paris in 1946; and the linguistic mysticism of Abraham Abulafia (1240–c. 1292). Abulafia served as inspiration to the Dada-affiliated poet Yvan Goll and to Lettrist leader Isidore Isou. Although arising from different historical circumstances, they share an agenda of operating on the fringes of society and a desire to change the status quo. Their goal was to circumvent reason and reach out on a level beyond words for a direct and visceral experience. By deconstructing sentences into words and words into letters, sounding them aloud and arranging them in unique typographies, they created early forms of post-modern sound and concrete poetry.

In a multi-cultural society deeply engaged in philosophical and theological issues, Abulafia (1240-c.1292) developed a “Kabbalah of Names,” a form of linguistic mysticism, wherein he took apart the divine name of God and recombined the letters, without recourse to semantics. His unique technique involved writing down the permutations, pronouncing them, and imagining them, In the process, his permutations read like visual or concrete poetry, very much like that of Dada and Lettrist artists. Abulafia’s thought filtered through the Renaissance humanists Giovanni Pico della Mirandolla and Johann von Reuchlin, impacting on contemporary discourse from Jacques Derrida to Umberto Eco.

On show are some 60 works of the leading Dada artists Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Jean Arp, Marcel Janco, Kurt Schwitters, George Grosz, Francis Picabia, Max Ernst, Ilizad, Erwin Blumenfeld, Victor Brauner, Marcel Duchamp; and Lettrist artists Isidore Isou, Gabriel Pomerand, Jean-Louis Brau, Gil J. Wolman, François Lemaître, François Duprêne; as well as the poets Henri Michaux and Yvan Goll; and works by Ladislav Novák, John Cage, and George Brecht. Israeli artists: Mirit Cohen, Yosef Joseph Dadoune, Ori Gersht, Eli Petel, Michael Sgan-Cohen and sound artists Victoria Hanna and Anat Pick. A special section of the exhibition is dedicated to Charlie Chaplin, an icon of the Dada movement.

Participating institutions in a joint Dada archive in the exhibition include the Kunsthaus Zurich; Berlinische Galerie, Museum of Modern Art, Photography and Architecture; the Merrill C. Berman Collection, New York; and the International Dada Library, University of Iowa Libraries.

The exhibition features works from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and public and private collections from Israel, France, and Switzerland.

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