Show Off Your Miniature Golf Skills at This Art Exhibit

A group show at the Bat Yam Museum of Contemporary Art presents sculptural installations that double as miniature golf courses, with visitors invited to play.

Gal Deren

“Mini Golf Bat Yam” is a fun, interactive, low-tech group exhibit that is based entirely upon audience participation. It is also wonderful to behold just as it is, and suits the Bat Yam Museum facilities perfectly. Guest curator Elad Rosen asked 10 artists to create sculptural environments that are mini golf courses, and the public is invited to come play amid the art.

The result is very enjoyable. On the entrance level there’s a booth where you can rent clubs and balls (for 10 shekels) and on the rotunda on the top floor there are 10 different courses waiting to be explored. The whole thing is very cheerful and inviting and genuinely attractive “for the whole family.”

The brief accompanying text to the exhibition states: “The game-playing interaction of the audience with the works on display enables visitors to enter inside the works and use them. The sculptures also get viewers involved as they wander around them, pass through them, bend down, use their hands and take measured steps.”

The text next to each work gives viewers dual instructions – explaining the various pieces as works of art as well as how to approach the game, and how to treat it as a mini golf course, too. The pleasure comes from the abundance of variations on one simple theme.

Here are a few examples: Drora Dominey created “Entry Permit” to resemble a traffic circle, made of boards and sheets of plywood, topped with mounds of sand with black rubber boots, rocks, pipes, cement blocks and tin traffic signs planted in them. At the center is the “Plaza Statue” – an odd-looking skeletal structure. “The plaza stands in the museum like a construction site,” says the text.

Goni Riskin

“This station looks like a stage in a computer game from the early nineties, or the set from a psychedelic movie,” says the introduction to the “Super Throughway” course, where several golfers can play simultaneously and there is more than one way to reach the final hole.

Gabi Kricheli’s work, “Almostsexual,” is painted black and illuminated with hothouse lighting and light boxes. It contains remnants from past exhibitions, work tools from the studio and an array of objects “with history and a future” that serve as obstacles for the player to navigate. “Try to hit a hole-in-one,” say the directions.

Ayala Landow has created a pool she calls a big puddle, where you have to try to move the ball between mountains and under a little bridge; “The game ends when the ball lands in the water.”

“The exhibition is a combination of environmental sculpture, monuments and models, kinetic and functional art, exercise equipment design and relational aesthetics that all blend together by bringing recreation into the museum context,” explains the accompanying text. “The museum is transformed from a place of observation into a playground.”

Something similar

The concept of an art exhibit as a mini golf course has been done before. The best examples are the courses designed by British artist Doug Fishbone. In 2012, he curated an exhibition entitled “Doug Fishbone and Friends Adventureland Golf” with the Chapman Brothers, David Shrigley and others. Each artist built a wily, comic course atop the same synthetic grass – and the plain green surface was covered with all sorts of creative inventions by each artist.

Fishbone currently has an exhibit at the Venice Biennale that is designed to look like a dilapidated tourist trap, with lounge chairs on the bank of a canal. The overtly political exhibit, entitled “Leisure Land Golf,” is comprised of works by nine artists and invites viewers to delve into political incorrectness. John Akomfrah, for example, built a course that leads directly to a black man in a hooded sweatshirt who is down on his knees with his hands up in surrender. The ball is supposed to hit him right in the face. Yara el-Sherbini built a gray course in which the ball has to circumvent concrete barriers, a barbed wire fence and an iron gate and finally enter a hole at the top of a separation wall. And Fishbone built a course that recalls the 2012 shipwreck of the Costa Concordia.

Elad Rosen says the Israeli exhibit “was born out of a joking conversation at a picnic two years ago near the remains of the defunct Golfitek mini golf course in Hayarkon Park. The idea came to me as something separate, not because of anything I’d seen in the art world. Later on, when I did some research, I wasn’t surprised to see that other people around the world had thought of this and done something like it, too. But since our exhibit isn’t meant to relate to them, the text that accompanies it is also very brief and to the point and doesn’t aim to be broad and interpretive.”

That’s too bad. Although it does sometimes happen that different people in different places come up with the same thing separately, even at the same time, it would have added something to have included the relevant references. A comparison of the various executions of the same basic idea could have told us something about local Israeli art, about the mood, the intended audience, the range of aesthetics, the type of humor and the political messages involved.

What is the difference between other mini golf artists the world over (including a project by media company Brand New History) and Fishbone’s project, and the Israeli artists? At first glance, the most obvious difference is the sloppiness of the Israeli work. Compared to the very carefully constructed set design of many of the other works, some of which tell a real story or clearly build a figurative mise-en-scene, the Israeli works are characterized by a slipshod level of finish, a skeletal appearance or something resembling a building site. Most of the courses are made of bare wood or plywood, some include lazy drawings and stickers on the walls, various nonchalantly put-together directive markers made of masking tape, and other street-type aesthetics. The use of leftovers and anything that comes to hand from the studio and the near environment is common, including modular bits that can be quickly taken apart.

The emphasis is clearly on the artist’s artistic temperament, on displaying a style rather than a story, whether realistic or fantastical. The mini-scenes mostly look like piles of different kinds of materials, and have less to do with any narrative, with the concept of a route, with the (tense, absurd, erotic, etc.) relation between the mode of travel and arrival at the destination, with degrees of difficulty, with visual and kinetic jokes, with the way the player must use his body. Instead, each artist appears to be concerned with displaying his or her concept of the space and its aesthetic. Another difference – a petty but important one for families contemplating a summer outing – is that in Fishbone’s exhibition, the equipment rental costs just one euro – less than half the Israeli price.

Artist Ro’i Rosen (no relation to the curator) wrote about the exhibit in the Israeli online magazine Benedicta: “Children will enjoy it just as much as adults, and not in a forced or ‘educational’ way.” Though he goes on to say that the Bat Yam exhibition doesn’t contain anything nearly as daring as the Chapman Brothers’ 2012 project, which included a likeness of a furious-looking Hitler that gave a straight-armed salute and said “Nein, nein, nein” whenever a ball passed through him, describing it as “a non-educational precedent, with a naughty sexual undertone (penetrating Hitler’s hole) and a gleeful vulgarity that’s hard to beat,” he concludes that “while lacking such exuberantly trashy Chapman-style touches, this is the perfect summer exhibition for the whole family.”

Mini Golf Bat Yam. Curator: Elad Rosen. Bat Yam Art Museum, 6 Struma Street, Bat Yam. Hours: Tuesday and Thursday: 12:00-20:00. Friday and Saturday: 10:00-14:00. Through October 10