A Summer Exhibition in Israel Doesn't Have to Revolve Around the Sun

Instead of popular themes like watermelon in Israeli art or the history of bathing in the Mediterranean, Tel Aviv's Tempo Rubato gallery offers an exhibit that is sexy, pop-driven and unpretentious.

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Here’s proof that a summer exhibition in Israel doesn’t have to explicate the theme of the watermelon in Israeli art, the sun in Middle Eastern culture or the history of bathing in the Mediterranean. Nor, by the same token, does it have to include sales of random works from the gallery’s collection. Guillaume Rouchon, who runs the Tel Aviv-based exhibition space Tempo Rubato, has curated a light, sexy, pop-driven show that projects a pleasurable aesthetic coolness. Effectively, he’s built an installation from the works of six different artists, not all of them from his gallery. Some of the exhibits are simply things he had at home. The result is a marvelous mashup.

Most of the gallery is empty, void of objects and images; the exhibition is compressed into the inner third of the space. Rouchon has placed his desk in the crowded area, adding computer, documents and catalogs to the artistic inventory. The experience consists of entering a bare space and walking toward a rear wall that functions as a backdrop curtain, or as remnants of a vacated site. The visitor contemplates the signs of what the occupants left behind.

In the center is a photograph by Oran Hoffmann printed on large sticky wallpaper and pasted straight onto the wall. It’s of a palm tree soaring into the ethereal blue heights, which have condensed like a Photoshop cloud, creating an artificial, hyper-realistic, dreamlike effect. It’s a logo of a palm tree, of perfect weather, of summer vacation. Below it is a brown vintage bureau to which an elongated mirror is attached, making the viewer part of the exhibition as his observing image is reflected against the empty space behind.

On the bureau is a small colored-pencil drawing by Lital Lev Cohen titled “Cubist Slut #4,” from 2013. The work is of a naked woman, her hair a red-orange blaze, four anonymous hands – two of them holding bananas – spreading her legs. She’s a demoiselle from Avignon in a porno version. Also on the bureau is a framed photograph (with an autographed inscription) of Rouchon at 16 with Michael Jackson and the 1980 soundtrack record album from “Xanadu,” with Olivia Newton-John and the ELO band. The purple frame on the album cover matches the gold decoration around the bureau handle. The result is a fine artistic joke about childish yearnings and outdated innovativeness.

There are two excellent, elaborately compressed drawings by Matthew Chambers. One, from 2007, titled “There’s a Couple of Reasons to Turn Up Missing (Keeping Up),” shows a crowd at an abundance of demonstrations. It’s a richly detailed Woodstock: a naked woman with “Sassy” tattooed on her arm is inhaling a bong, another woman is holding a sign that reads, “He’s not dead he gave up heroine [sic].” Another sign urges, “Leave Britney alone,” and there are more odd characters, evoking Saul Steinberg’s style, with a second and third look turning up small hidden details amid the general brouhaha. Chambers’ second work, also from 2007, and titled “There’s a Couple of Reasons to Turn Up Missing (White Daddy, White Momma, Black Baby),” shows two white mothers, back to back, breastfeeding two black babies, below them the cuckolded white man, his wedding ring removed, an untanned, pale area on his index finger. This drawing is not as dense as the other, and it is centered on the page, but here, too, the foundation is a background drawing, detailed to microscopic in character, of dozens of tiny figures that comprise the base of the scene. A drawing of a wholly different type is Gil Marco Shani’s “Bather,” from 2013. Done with sweeping pencil strokes, it depicts the undetailed contours of a young man masturbating in the shower, his hands between his legs, his gaze lowered toward them.

Susanne M. Winterling presents “Space Sounds,” a sound work that is actually a record album consisting of bands of atmospheric sounds from an array of places and from various sources,: a sea breeze, birds in Berlin, heavy traffic, female drummers in Shanghai, Virginia Woolf quotations, Mexican dogs and planes flying over. Together they create the soundtrack of the artist’s life, which is marked by frequent moves from one place to another.

Eli Posner / Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The word “Oi!” stands out in one of the four oils by Tomer Aluf in the exhibition, along with painted almonds that are pasted onto the canvas, two skeletal women’s feet in heels and a hand striking a triangle. One of the paintings hangs solitary on a wall, another is hung diagonally and touches the drawing next to it, while the third and fourth are placed on the floor, wrapped in plastic, one leaning on the other against the wall. Taken together, they add up to a small lexicon of pleasures – from food, from sex, from music, from the weather, from informality: small, harmless sensual pleasures.

Fantasizing about LA

This is the important thing: The exhibition is greater than its parts; its essence is the juxtaposing of the different works; and the freedom taken with them is more like an arrangement of objects than a gallery approach that’s easy on the eye. Rouchon says he wanted to create the atmosphere of the room of an adolescent fantasizing in Kiryat Malachi about Los Angeles. Indeed, it’s this image and ambience that the installation projects.

Rouchon has created a small but intensive inventory not only of mediums but also of modes of exhibition – a photograph as a large slice of wallpaper, a photograph as a signed and framed souvenir on a bureau. A domestic vintage bureau as a sculptor’s stand. A white door lying on its side on the floor next to a record player with a record on it as a kinetic sculpture and a sound work. Sound as defining space; space as choreography; choreography as drawing and painting. Paintings hung crookedly or lying as in a storeroom.

This is the gallery’s twenty-second exhibition, and hence its title, “Twenty-two.” Again, a number as a small, unpretentious title. Like the exhibition itself. This is its gladsome aspect: it’s not pretentious, has clearly been assembled happily, is mounted with rational considerations mixed with aesthetic intuitions, and its design plan is modulated by capricious freedom of action to a degree. The result is an exhibition brimming with personality and vitality. There is nothing fateful, there’s no element of tragedy, no world-sorrow and no artistic perspiration. In the face of weighty, formal exhibitions that try to embrace the world, this show has a precise, pleasant, punch-banana quality.

“Twenty-two,” Tempo Rubato Gallery, 9 Segula Street, Tel Aviv; Friday-Saturday 12-2 P.M., Tuesday-Thursdat 4-8 P.M.; until September 3.