A Night at the Museum

For three years, Jack Faber fought a legal battle against Tel Aviv Museum over whether his film could be screened. Now that it has, no one knows what the fuss was all about.

Friday afternoon in downtown Tel Aviv. Jack Faber stands at the entrance to the former Braverman Gallery, nervously smoking a cigarette. He waited three years for this moment to arrive and now he cannot enjoy it. He is concerned about technical matters. In a few minutes, he will screen his film, "Watchmen," which consists of footage from the Tel Aviv Museum's security cameras, for whose use he did not receive permission. Once the images will flicker across the screen, he will be able to mark the end of the fight between the Tel Aviv Museum and himself, an unknown and starting artist.

Three years ago, Faber filmed a movie in the museum in the middle of the night, together with his friend, Gadi Sprukt, who worked there as a security guard. Sprukt covered his face with a mask and roamed around the works disguised as a thief, while Faber followed his moves via the security cameras. Originally, they had planned to show the film in an exhibition, but Mordechai Omer, the director of the Tel Aviv Museum, quickly filed a restraining order against them. Omer claimed that screening the film would damage the museum's reputation as a secure place and testified in court that Sprukt had "humiliated the works." On December 31, following legal procedures that lasted three years, the court rejected the museum's complaint, ruling that only in very rare instances can freedom of expression be denied.

While one might have thought that Faber would jump at the opportunity of finally being able to screen the film, he did not rush to exercise his right to show "Watchmen." Omer asked for the court's decision to be delayed, so he would be able to launch an appeal. And so, instead of rushing to screen the film before a decision against him is reached, Faber, who calls himself "a guerrilla artist," responded in a manner befitting the last establishment artists. He chose to wait for the court's decision and in the meantime tried to find a suitable exhibition space. After waiting three years, Faber wanted the screening to turn into a public relations extravaganza.

After a week, the court rejected the museum's petition and it seemed as though Faber would finally be able to screen the film. But then he encountered another obstacle: Gallery directors were not returning his calls. "I felt like the art scene was giving me the cold shoulder," Faber says. He claims that everyone is afraid of upsetting Omer. Even the Braverman Gallery, which allowed him to use its space to show "Watchmen," agreed to do so only after all other activities in the space had come to an end. A sign reading "For rent" was hung at the door as the film was being screened.

After the nine-minute screening, it was unclear what all the fuss was about. True, one can discern a hint of a challenge when Sprukt looks directly into the security camera. And the audience did indeed burst out laughing when Sprukt was shown jumping over a bench in a gallery in slow motion. Some spectators squirmed uncomfortably when he put his face mask on a statue. But the greatest discomfort was caused by the thought that years of legal battles were spent on this production.

The screening was followed by a discussion between Faber and the audience. By now, Faber is already used to and prepared for every question. He spoke about supervised spaces and about "the architecture of fear," about the use of public funds for censorship by an institution that is supposed to be a spearhead of freedom of expression. Someone asked him about the ego fight between him and Omer and whether he considers the court case to be an inseparable part of the work. The questioner couldn't have been more correct. The legal battle did nourish Faber during the past three years and everything he did revolved around it. Once the audience has left, Faber stacks up the chairs, exhausted. What will he do now that the tension has subsided and there is no one left to fight? Faber says he is working on a film that will document the fight.