Nan Goldin for Kids: An Exhibition That Is Going Places

'Journeys' at the Israel Museum's youth wing is a thought-provoking exhibition that will appeal to viewers of all ages.

Works by Nan Goldin, Uri Gershuni and Sharon Ya’ari are displayed on the ground floor. On the floor above, there are works by Ansel Adams, Guy Ben-Ner and Darren Almond. If this were a contemporary art exhibition at a prestigious gallery, it wouldn’t seem unusual, but there is something surprising about finding works by such artists at an exhibit meant (mainly) for kids. After all, “Journeys” (curated by Kobi Ben Meir), which traces the processes experienced during travel, is on exhibit at the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum. And while the theme is quite broad – the word “journey” could be attached to almost any image or work and easily slide into New Age territory – Ben Meir manages to avoid such pitfalls with an intelligent and thought-provoking selection of video works, photography, plastic arts, functional objects and more.

Outside the exhibition space, a segment of a work by Gil Bar is displayed. It’s from a photograph titled “Puncture” (the whole piece is presented inside). At the center of the picture, a young man dressed in black stands with his back to the camera at the edge of the Ayalon River in the center of Tel Aviv, an inflatable rubber boat next to him. How did he get there? Where did he set out from? Where did he want to go? What is the meaning of the work’s title? Did the boat get stuck in the middle of the trip? Did the young man lose his way in the busy metropolis?

Also in the exhibition: Tav Group presents a series of rocks painted with trail markings, of the kind found on hiking paths throughout the country, apparently to direct the visitor around and through the exhibition. The natural rocks placed inside the museum serve to accentuate the artificial, closed surroundings of the gallery. They remind the visitor that outside the exhibition are vast unfamiliar spaces. There is the “Home to Go” photographic series by Adrian Paci, in which he photographed himself in different poses, with a red tile roof attached to his back, making him struggle physically. The roof may express a wide range of meanings – it can be a backpack for travel, a heavy cross to bear, a place of rest or wings that enable one to soar.

Ofra Amit. Photo by Emil Salman

In the center of the entry space on the upper floor is Nadav Weissman’s “Snowball,” and the surrounding walls have been covered with a work by illustrator Ofra Amit, “Somewhere Out There.” The positioning of the works creates a crossroads from which one can turn in three directions, like a plaza where you stroll around and then choose a way to go out. Amit’s illustrations also encourage motion rather than stasis. She depicts a beautiful surrealistic journey of a young red-haired girl, and her unique style is evident: turtles fly among the treetops, raindrops fall from an eye onto a house floating in the water, a branch protruding from the girl’s heart sprouts leaves with another house inside, and much more. Viewers do not actually see the girl’s journey. Amit lets them imagine what the girl sees, what she feels and what she experiences during each journey she takes – big or small, with the head of a bird or a dog, and so on.

Ayala Landow, Untitled (Tent), 2013–14. Photo by Emil Salman

Curator Ben Meir has included some functional objects from the museum’s collection, like a small 18th-century Torah scroll from Poland; prehistoric tools that attest to the ancient initial human journey from Africa; a canoe from Papua New Guinea and more. The unusual choice of including objects of this kind in an exhibition with the feel of contemporary art adds extra dimensions, and the objects’ proximity to the artworks has the effect of turning them into artworks as well. These objects also underscore the timelessness of journeying as an age-old, basic and profound human need.

Ofra Amit. Photo by Emil Salman

Finally, since this is a children’s exhibition, there is also an interactive aspect, unlike what we usually find – screens that children can watch and touch like an iPad. Here, on the upper floor, to the left of the space in which Weissman’s and Amit’s works are shown, there is a simple red mailbox, and next to it a table with ordinary postcards that have pictures of some of the works from the exhibition on one side, and the other side blank. Visitors are invited to choose a postcard, address it to someone, write a few words on it and slip it into the mailbox. The museum staff promises to empty the mailbox, affix stamps to the postcards and mail them the old-fashioned way (as opposed to scanning and sending via e-mail).

From the Journeys exhibition. Photo by Emil Salman

Beyond the almost subversive act of sending a physical piece of mail, this is an opportunity to ponder how, before the advent of the digital age, we would buy a postcard and have to boil down into a few words our experiences of the most recent days of whatever journey we were on. What did we relate on the postcards we used to send? Whom did we send them to? In this age of constant and endless updates on Facebook and e-mail and so on, the idea of having to describe an experience in just a few unchangeable sentences, without being able to get an immediate response – obliges one to stop for a minute and try to focus on what really matters. If I had to write a postcard to tell people about this exhibition, I wouldn’t need too many words. I’d just write: “Great experience! I recommend a visit.”

Emil Salman
Ezra Orion, Towards Annapurna, 1981. Photo by Emil Salman