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Raffi Lavie: ‘In the Name of the Father’

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Raffi Lavie (1937-2007) Late Israeli artist representing Israel at the 53rd International Biennale in Venice.

A painter, educator, art critic, music connoisseur, and curator. The most central, charismatic figure in the art scene in Israel for the past four decades until his death in 2007.

Influenced by Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as by local artists such as Aviva Uri and Arie Aroch, he introduced the avant-garde of his time to Israel by adapting its components into a local discourse. Lavie was the founder of the “10+” group which started its activities in 1965 in a series of theme exhibitions that brought home current international trends.

He was also the key figure in the style that formed around him in the 1970s, which would become known as the “Want of Matter” due to its adherence to inexpensive, ascetic materials such as plywood, and the use of collage; a style associated with the city of Tel Aviv, conveying urban, secular, local values untainted by the narratives of any given ideology.

In some respects, Lavie succeeded in distilling an Israeli aesthetic; by giving it form, he reaffirmed the ethos of the place. His genius stems from the fact that his art reflects our values, ideals, and aspirations that have gone awry. An exhibition of Raffi Lavie’s work at the present Biennale attests to the yearnings invoked by his art, forcing us to question what is it that we wish to remember, and why this therapeutic memory has the taste of urgency.

Observing Lavie’s works, two qualities stand out: the child-like painting, and the obsessive erasure of images via scribbling, carving, and generous color strokes. These practices are connected to his perception of the periphery’s double role as an actual place and as a spiritual dimension. The acts of erasing and starting anew are closely related to Lavie’s cultural heritage as an Israeli and a Jew. Working from within a scopophobic tradition, far-removed from any center, he created an idiosyncratic language, specific to the place, its needs, and desires. (Biennale Information Note on the painter)

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Despite of bearing similarities and invoking comparisons to other artists and trends in the contemporary art (mostly to Cy Twomby, abstract expressionist art or Outsiders Art) Lavie’s works stand out as singularities – created outside the mainstream of art-world, by an alpha – individual, they got that sort of an authority and idiosyncrasy about them, which makes them both commanding and closed to any simplified, superficial reading.

When I entered the Israeli Pavilion in Giardini I saw these works as a manifest of pure, raw creativity without any superfluous conceptual or political scaffolding around them. Their  predominant whites and reds brought to mind the troubled history of the land they were created in, the simplicity of the technique and modest materials (plywood) had the power of some explosives, instead of undermining the message. Some of the paintings were arranged on a wall as a sort of an assemblage in paint telling a story perhaps, or just supporting each other in the common struggle for the survival in viewers’ eyes and minds.

All that felt fresh and inspiring after some hours spent in the national pavilions of the 53rd Biennale. I saw Raffie Lavie as one of those really good artists, which are rare to be found nowadays, partly because they don’t necessary seek any wider recognition. I read his paintings as a personal statement, personal one-man exhibition and as a comment on his and his land human condition. A that was a sort of a relief to experience in Venice, among the sea of (just) entertaining, ‘smart’, in parts dull and often painfully self-conscious art about art…

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‘Making Worlds’ by losing your way…

That is a surprisingly romantic title for an enormous international art show – ‘Making Worlds – Fare Mondi’… Right from the day it was announced I knew I got to see it.

In a strange way that name referred to my own idea of art as a device for creating universes, for inventing new realities and new ways of perception of what is ‘known’ and ‘familiar’… To see how very different artists from tens of countries address this very issue right now; and to experience it in one place within only few days of an intense take – that sounded like a dream-come-true opportunity.0

Then I made my way to Venice… A group of us – final year fine art students – we spent half of a night and most of a day getting ourselves from a tiny, misty Irish airport right to an artistic epicenter of the 53rd Biennale. And then – the true challenge had begun… Being a first time visitor to Venice – one has to invent ways – quick and efficient:  of avoiding crowds, of finding ways in an omnipresent maze of lanes and canals, of keeping cool when faced with a wondrous strangeness and beauty of the place and, finally – to get the most (and the best) of the shows presented – tens of them blown around the city like some erratic parts of a huge machinery; often in places that even locals found difficult to find…

I can be pretty sure not to be the first and the last of the 53rd Biennale visitor, who was immensely tempted to dismiss the entire pandemonium and to spend some quality time in one of the Irish or English pubs; just drinking some wine and staring at Venetian light reflected from the Grand Canal… So tempting…

Anyway, I went through it all in a less indulgent way, which means: I stuffed myself, my cameras and my notebook with the visions of ‘Making Worlds’… Facing it all, and reflecting on it afterward looking for a compendium, links and any order – that is a sort of making yet another world – so diverse, rich and demanding the whole experience is. Yet, it does not necessary mean, that the Biennale was/is a miraculous, creative Wonderland…quite to the contrary – but by its intrinsic qualities like the size, inter-nationality and the inherited prestige – it’s born to leave a clear mark on one’s artistic psyche; not matter how critical and contemptuous one becomes when addressing it.

Making Worlds… artistic (and curatorial!) calling, duty, obsession, wonder and a doom. Nothing more self-indulgent, nothing more pretentious. Nothing more marvelous, nothing more risky. In fact, I don’t personally believe that the most of Birnbaum’s show has stood up to its own challenge… And instead of some down-spine shivers and wide-opened eyes browsing a miracle of some new-born, never seen before worlds – one had to chew up, once again, the same familiar concepts and interventions  cooked and served in a way, which anyone even mildly accustomed to the history of the contemporary art has to know by heart by now…

In other words, there was a chance-taking, adventure -seeking, alternative-supporting attitude bitterly missing in all the curatorial effort of this Biennale. Each show of this type is a sort of an authorship (sometimes – dictatorship); but if a good author hides his strings he is pulling to make his personal vision to be appreciated, Birnbaum made it all too predictable and dull as a whole. One has to allow to risk it all, to be completely lost in order to make entire world out of this self-implied or provoked chaos. There is no other way of creating new world than the one which faces chaos and a gulf; otherwise we got ‘re-making’ old worlds or ‘recycling’ the existing, but worn out ones…

I lost my way dozens of times in Venice. Venice is the space to be lost and to be found, and this very process goes in circles and in-finitum… One has to throw away all maps, one has to trust his instincts and follow no path other than the one which cuts across the old ones instead of re-drawing them…

Making worlds is the most human of all human dwellings… And it is possible, yet not easy – to make a new world out of this too-familiar, too-excessive, too-indulgent entropy of art today.  By losing one’s way in it – one will find the way out of it…


“First step…” – Western Contemporary Art in Poland

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Phillip Taaffe, Artificial Paradise (Loculus), detail,  2008, oil on linen

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Miquel Barcelo, Des Meduses, detail, 2000, mixed media on canvas

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Eric Fischl, The Bed. The Chair. Touched, detail, 2001, oil on canvas

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Andreas Slominski, Untitled, 1993-94, bike/plastic bags

Well, this exhibition may serve perfectly those who know, how the bipolar disposition works.

One moment – one is proud and full of gratitude, tasting great art in an unexpected setting… only to go mad in the next second, when realizing some obvious organizational and curatorial flaws.

“First step… Towards a Collection of Western Contemporary Art” in the National Museum in Krakow (Cracow) is the show of ambition and potential with some recent works (mainly paintings, photos and prints) by  Nobuyoshi Araki, Miquel Barceló, Francesco Clemente, Eric Fischl, Mike Kelley, David LaChapelle, Sherrie Levine, Andreas Slominski, Philip Taaffe and Andy Warhol on a display. On the other hand it is, indeed, ‘the first step’ , which had to be done in order to learn how to walk.

Creators deserved credit for overcoming many practical and theoretical problems – it’s still not as easy as it should be – to borrow and even temporary import artworks to Poland, red tape and financial reasons are the main obstacles. And theoretically speaking – it’s all in the title – Polish art lovers had to leave for Paris, London and New York in order to see contemporary art in a compendium, in moments – to… see it at all… Some sort of an  ideological attitude, then lack of the proper connections and even specifically driven individuals made that ‘first step’  difficult to be accomplished.

But it’s been finally done. With the choice of artists, which, unfortunately, looks accidental – one cannot help thinking – that whatever was comparatively easy available – has been put on a list, and then – on a display. Sherrie Levine’s conceptual sculptures and Andy Warhol’s prints – all from early 80s look outdated and out-of -place next to Eric Fischl’s or Philip Taafee’s recent paintings from the last decade. Francesco Clemente is represented by a series of moderately interesting pastel drawings only, mentioned Warhol by his hardly revolutionary prints/collages taken from one private collection. On the overall, one faces an acute sense of hunger, of an insufficiently experienced encounter, aesthetically and historically speaking.

Then, those who paid for the privilege of photographing artworks get to realize, with all the surprised uneasiness, that it borders impossible to capture some of the works in their full glory. As for an example: P. Taaffe’s mesmerizing “Artificial Paradise” in two uncovers, each at least 4 x 4 m. has been put in a small passage, corridor-like space; to experience these artworks properly, not to mention to document them in this very setting, is a task for a superman. The same relates to the most of the paintings presented in Krakow – it appears like, quite unsurprisingly, the communist designers of the Main Building of the National Museum didn’t allow enough space to comfortably fit in something bigger than folk artifacts.

On the other hand – the biggest rooms has been taken to accommodate another international, simultaneously presented exhibition of American art and design. Who said that quantity over quality in art serves well or even to the acceptable level anyone – curators, visitors, artists and – art above all?

Well done for trying, not so well done for not trying even more. Looking impatiently forward to see further steps of Polish curators towards the Western Contemporary Art.

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All photos by K. Skonieczna. To see more pictures from this exhibition go here


Review of the week… (1)

What kind of work will be bought in 2018 ?
Happy Christmas, dear Art Club Members and Art Club Caucasus Readers ! I wish you some nice days with your family and friends, enjoy your time, relax from the “quite difficult” but still very good 2008.
Here is a question to you to think about, if you are in the mood for that:
What kind of art will be bought in 10 years from now ? Will it still be paintings, prints and drawings, or something else ?
Will it be digital media, video ? Will it be just an USB Stick with a work ?

Think, that the future collectors generation now growing up, look often to painting as some kitschy old fashioned thing, almost ridiculous and stoffy.

Will there be huge flat screens in houses, (on the places where now the huge paintings are), where are our works digitally displayed ?


Will it even be so, that collectors buy a whole blog like this, lets say for 250.000 USD ? But who should get the money then ? We share it proportional to the amounts of posts each of us did ;-))

But how to buy a blog ??

It’s very easy, 1st we take the money, 2nd with 2 clicks we make the buyer the Admin of this blog 😉
Will it be, that collectors rent artists for a certain contract/project ?

Will big media companies like Google pay groups of artists, just to play around and develop new visual concepts ?

We must invent the future by thinking it. We must prepare to the changing world around us and influence the changes itself.

Best regards, Hans
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Today’s post by Hans Heiner has been re-printed from The Art Club Caucasus (you can find the original here) as it launches my new series – Review of the week.
I think that we – private online ‘publishers’ should support each other by links, comments and lending a bit of our own space to promote work by other bloggers and artists. Quite often one can find excellent, inspirational articles on the web, much better than those in the ‘proper’ papers – which are read by a handful of friends and accidental visitors only. Let our thoughts and works circulate in the web-space, let them be seen and appreciated as they deserve to be.
My reviews will display the original texts/images, with the appropriate links and credits given to the  authors.
Though the posts are meant to publicize the quality material and to serve the writers/authors, they can be removed at any time, if the original publishers wish it.
Katarzyna Skonieczna

Strangers, Gods and Monsters?

Strangers, gods and monsters are the central characters of my story. Their favourite haunts are those phantasmal boundaries where maps run out (…) No man’s land. Land’s end. Strangers, gods and monsters represent experiences of extermity which brings us the the edge. They subvert our established categories and challenge us to think again.
(…) Figure of a ‘stranger’ (…) operates as a limit-experience for humans trying to identify themselves over and against others. (…) Monsters show us that if our aims are celestial, our origins are terrestrial. They ghost the margins of what can be legitimately thought and said. By definition unrecognizable, they defy our accredited norms of identification. Unnatural, transgressive, obscene, contradictory, heterogeneous, mad. (…) Gods are the names given by most mythologies and religions to those beings whose numinous power and mystery exceed our grasp and bid us kneel and worship. (…) Transcending laws of time and space, they readily take on immortal or protean status. Gods’ ways are not our ways. They bedazzle and surprise us. It is not ours to reason why.

“Strangers, Gods and Monsters – Interpreting otherness” (2002) by Richard Kearney. This book is a truly inspiring piece of a contemporary philosophy (with an emphasis on a cross-disciplinary approach) – fantastically written, and with a formidable erudition. The theme in itself can make a life-long passion for an artist, a writer or a philosopher alike. It’s universal, immortal, captivating, inexhaustible. A concept and an experience of the liminality of the humanness, the identity and the nature of being/existing as one of the species, being challenged by and/or … living as a ‘stranger/the Other’, ‘a monster’, ‘a deity’… What does it all mean and why most of us take such profound issues as if for granted (actually, not addressing them at all); letting only to be occasionally ‘scared’ by a horror-movie or bedazzled by a genius of a literary/artistic god? How about our true identity/nature, why do we need ‘strangers, gods and monsters’ at all – aren’t they something like projections of this part of our psyche/mind, which still remains – partly due to our own wish – “no man’s land”- Terra Incognita?

Think about that a bit, my dear readers, it’s a perfect brain-teaser for this time of the year. God comes as a stranger to defeat a monster – but – couldn’t be like that – these three  composing just one being – own being? Merry Christmas everyone. As a character of W. Wender’s film had said to an angel: I cannot see you but I know that you are here. Thanks for your attentive, well-wishing and open-minded company.

P. S.
Richard Kearney is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and University College Dublin.
Click at the title to read a review of this book. The fragment quoted comes from an ‘Introduction’, pp. 3-4


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