The 'U' in Gustave
Homage to Samuel Bickels, the architect of Mishkan Le'Omanut, Museum of Art, Ein Harod
1994, room installation in the Column Hall, Mishkan La'Omanut, Museum of Art, Ein Harod, as part of Art Focus.
Curator: Galia Bar Or
oil-tempera, applied with squeegee and brush on canvas on wall; text: hand-printed in oil-tempera with rubber stamps; 10 units, dimensions: 5 units – 290x293 cm, 5 units – 370x295 cm
Assistant: Boris Yevdayef
Sponsorship: Mishkan L'Omanut, Museum of Art, Ein Harod
Photographs: Avraham Hay
Installation: The 'U' in Gustave was conceived especially for the Column Hall of Mishkan Le'Omanut, Museum of Art, Ein Harod. It was inspired by hunting scenes and Arcadian-pagan themes decorating the halls in the classical 18th- and 19th-century galerie. The painting series is based on overexposed ("burnt") snapshots borrowed from the Valley Archive at the Haim Sturman Museum, Ein Harod. Most of the flash photographs were taken running, during a nocturnal chase after deer and ibexes that escaped from the kibbutz's wildlife reserve. Executed by means of a rubber squeegee, the act of painting partially and crudely responds to the data of the projected photograph. Each figure was built by all-over takes, worked rapidly with a limited number of highly diluted color layers dragged and squeegeed over the entire surface of the image (rather than painting locally); each unit – a young man carrying an ibex or a doe on his shoulders – is thus handled as one unified "piece," appearing like a rip or a hole in the ultramarine support. The photographic "fusion" of youth and ibex generated by the uncontrolled flash of light is thus intensified on canvas. The images' monumental dimensions demanded grandiose arched body movements, at times also the use of massive broad floor squeegees with long poles. This work mode reduced the images' likeness to their photographic origin, enabling the invention of new features for each figure. Each wall was given a different direction: the five images on the lower wall, left of the entrance, are all frontal; the other five, on the right wall, all turn (in profile) to one side. This layout lends the series the appearance of a festive procession, and maintains a dual affinity to the implied archaic decor as well as the archaic ritual air of sacred farming underlying the annual socialist interpretation of the Jewish Pentecost – one of the most illusive customs fostered alongside the invention of the Kibbutz.
Text: Hand-printed on the margins of the paintings, the text adds to form a semi-fictitious testimonial recounted in first person, containing two references – from different times and places – to a painting by Courbet absent from view, and to the body of a male painter and a female painter absent as well. The viewing/reading process runs clockwise around the Column Hall. In the turn from one wall to the other, the story takes the spectator from the 20th to the 19th century, progressing counterclockwise in relation to both the spectator and the orientation of the painted procession. The first, "modern" part of the story, accompanying the frontal figures (the relation: 'I-you', 'here and now'), offers an introspection following the whitewashing of a wall painting executed in Los Angeles shortly before this series. The second, "pre-modern" part of the story, accompanying the profile figures (the relation: 'I-him', 'here and there'), tells of a woman painter observing Gustave Courbet at work from the deep rear of his atelier.
The title of the installation: Designates a relation of cultural inclusion, either real or imaginary pertaining to the self-understanding of Israeli painting from within European painting. Thus, the 'U' may be read as the 'You' in Gustave, or it may suggest the one looking at him; the painter or the visitor to Ein Harod. The 'U' refers also to the actual turn in the installation space, marking Painting in its relation to History, the Kibbutz, and Modernism.
At a place where the tradition of painting is young, and its prestige – sparse, the aspiration for high art becomes a utopian yearning.
Gustave is the name of a painter. It is also the name of a service bull.