criticismExhibitions
Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Addressing Politics Poetically: Izhar Patkin at the Jewish Museum


Izhar Patkin: The Messiah’s glAss at the Jewish Museum

September 14 to November 11, 2012
1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street
New York City, 212-423-3200

installation shot of the exhibition under review, courtesy of The Jewish Museum

installation shot of the exhibition under review, courtesy of The Jewish Museum

Izhar Patkin explores history, memory and personal and collective reinvention in his powerful, fluid, illusionistic panorama, You Tell Us What to Do Act III at the Jewish Museum, the centerpiece of a show titled “The Messiah’s GlAss.” Painted tulle veils are embellished with haunting imagery, draped curtains that cinematically depict powerful stills drawn from’ the artist’sbackground. Israeli-born, Patkin has called New York home since the 1970s when he first came to prominence with his famous “Black Paintings.” Known for his monumental pieces, Patkin purposely kept a low profile since the closing of his gallery, Holly Solomon, although his work is now exhibited extensively throughout the world. In 2013 MASS MoCA will show the mid-career survey currently at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

installation shot of the exhibition under review, courtesy of The Jewish Museum

installation shot of the exhibition under review, courtesy of The Jewish Museum

His portrayal of the exotic Bauhaus-Orientalist synagogue built by his grandfather is juxtaposed with a burning ship, the Atalena (manned by Irgun fighters, the Atalena was famously destroyed in 1948 by their mainstream rivals in what would become Israel’s military). Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, looks very Freudian at a formal European table that contrasts with an adjacent, romanticized desert landscape peopled with Arabs in traditional costume. An ominous translucent red cloud floats an undulating, vacant beachfront. The bleached-out palette of turquoise, crimson, gray and ochre catenates the ethereal imagery. Patkin explains, “For me, the curtain is a canvas. It’s not meant to be a curtain over a window. It’s meant to occupy the space of painting.”

“The Messiah’s glAss”, an elaborate clear twelve-foot high glass sculpture, five years in the making, is the crystalline heart of this show. In an allusion to biblical references to the Messiah returning as a lowly ass, Patkin creates a flat tabletop, replete with hooved legs, translucent testicles and a serrated tail, reminiscent of a sativa leaf. Similar to the palanquin that transported the Ark of the Covenant, the table holds a handsome decapitated donkey’s head, crowned with a diadem of donkey ears. The crown gracefully echoes the classical laurel wreath, or perhaps a traditional Torah ornament. The alchemy of figuration mixed with fantasy adds to the sculpture’s potency.

Patkin has said this piece addresses the subjugation of secular Israel by orthodox Jewish fundamentalism. The title refers to the parable of the secular Jew who created the state of Israel, later to be ridden by the religious Jew. Patkin’s exhibition is as brave as it is beautiful, addressing politics poetically, without overt provocation. It is fitting that “the Messiah’s glAss” debuted the week of 9/11, and hopefully its eloquent message of tolerance will be embraced in the midst of the Jewish holiday season.

installation shot of the exhibition under review, courtesy of The Jewish Museum

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One Response to Addressing Politics Poetically: Izhar Patkin at the Jewish Museum

  1. R. Adler says:

    The description of Patkin’s exhibition at the Jewish Museum entices this reader to include it on the must see list. Though fundamentalists of all stripes are famously intolerant, I can only echo the author’s respectful holiday hopes.

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