There has never been a shortage of inspiration for Israeli artists. Its rich history and political strife have served them to grow and deliver inspiring and rich works of art. Rich societal contexts and their deep engagement helped them flourish in various branches of art, from photography, painting, sculpture to performance and film. The 20th century gave many Israeli artists who became popular and renowned not only in their homeland, but also in the western world. Even though contemporary Israeli art scene has been overlooked for many years, it developed into a provocative and dynamic environment, interrogating political and national issues.
Here are the top seven artists worth knowing and checking their art when on tours in Israel.
1. Guy Ben-Ner
Born in 1969, Guy Ben-Ner, a video artist, lives and works in Tel Aviv. In his long career, Ben-Ner has filmed a range of short videos of his family and himself, often in home intimate spaces as an impromptu studio, set and imaginary playground. In his Stealing Beauty (2007), the artist portrays himself and his family in the showrooms of Ikea where they act as if they were in their own home. Lounging on the couches, doing the dishes, showering, and holding discussions about private property- all this being done among the displays while other Ikea’s customers walk around.
2. Guy Yanai
Another artist from Tel Aviv. Yanai is a painter whose works are characterized by simplified shapes, bold colors and shallow field depth. His subjects are everyday spaces and objects. He often abstracts and flattens them; his style faux-naif and geometric. He draws inspiration from the old masters to the contemporary ones, photography, advertisements, television and many more. He loves to simplify and edit things to their basics and that way make them more personal and intimate.
Guy Yanai has had exhibitions at Gallery 33, A.L.I.C.E. Gallery, the Jerusalem Studio School Gallery, Rothschild 69 project, and in Velan Center for Contemporary Art in Torino, Charlotte Fogh in Denmark, La Montagne Gallery in Boston, Milan, Belgium and many other respected galleries across Israel.
3. Sigalit Landau
Israel’s representative at the 2011 Venice Biennale, Sigalit Landau engages in installations, objects, performances and films, examining political and philosophical questions of her country. Her work can be best described as poetic and perverse, yet challenging- scratches, bruises, pain. She puts salt on open wounds, then adds sugar and covers them in papier-mâché. She bathes them in the Dead Sea. But the wounds and injuries are still there. She has been extensively performing at fairs and venues in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the Tel Aviv museum, Israel; PS1 MoMA, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, Japan; the 1997 Venice Biennale. She had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and Kunstwerke Institute for Contemporary Art, Germany.
Some of her most famous works include Barbed Hula (2010), where the artist swings a barbed hula- hoop around her hips. Yet another video from 2005, DeadSee, shows her floating in a pool of swirling watermelons.
4. Ariel Schlesinger
Born in 1980, Ariel Schlesinger belongs to the group of emerging young Israeli artists. Schlesinger incorporates utilitarian, mundane objects- socks, cigarette lighters and paper. He brings life to seemingly lifeless objects rearranging and repurposing them. In his The Anguish of the White Page (2007), the artist puts two sheets of white paper on a low wooden table with a hidden motor underneath it. As corners of the papers are pressed against each other, while rotating, they seem to be engaged in an endless sad dance. Schlesinger employs explosives and mechanics, making his works perpetually transforming and changing. In the past few years, he exhibited his work at the Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv and Dvir Gallery, Brussels.
5. Ilit Azoulay
Ilit Azoulay, born in 1972, is famous for her panoramic photo montages. She depicts various arrangements of materials and objects. Azoulay visits buildings before their demolition, examines the walls and explores the rooms. She returns to the rubble site after demolition and gathers pieces of the remains. The collection is then taken into her studio, where she sorts and catalogues the objects and materials. She takes photos of them separately, using them for the preparation of collage. Her solo exhibitions took place at Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art; Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York; Braverman Gallery, Tel Aviv. She also exhibited her work with other artists around the world.
6. Ori Gersht
Ori Gersht, several times awarded fine art photographer from Tel Aviv, immerses himself in the themes of life, death, violence and beauty. He mostly chooses historically significant modern sites, to name a few: Sarajevo, Auschwitz, Ukraine’s Galicia region and Judean Desert. Such places usually bear the war caused physical and emotional trauma. He successfully translates the grief of refugees and their melancholy. In some of his still life series, Gersht explores the bond between technology, photography and optical perception. His exhibitions took place across the United States, Europe and Israel.
7. Tal Shochat
Tal Shochat is an Israeli photographer, born in 1974. She takes photos of trees at their peak of ripeness, isolated from the landscape. She presents them as monuments against black background. She cleans the trees and leaves before shooting them, in order to present their power as symbols of fertility, abundance and endurance. The photos are of a storybook, stylized quality. Trees that the artist used for her project include apple, almond, peach, persimmon and pomegranate. Her artwork is permanently exhibited at Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK and Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, CA, USA. Her other work has been exhibited at the Art Gallery of the University in Haifa in Israel.