Suzanne Landau, a senior curator at the Israel Museum, will curate the Israeli Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in June 2007. A Culture Ministry committee selected artist Yehudit Sasportas six months ago to represent Israel at the event; Sasportas, in turn, chose Landau to curate the exhibit.
Landau is the second woman since 1948 to be appointed to curate the Israeli Pavilion. She was preceded by Sarah Britberg Semel, who curated on two occasions: Michal Neeman and Tamar Getter's exhibition in 1982 and Yossi Berger, Sigalit Landau and Miriam Cabasa's exhibition in 1987. A committee selected Britberg-Semel at the time. Landau, who was selected by the artist herself, has spoken out against the selection method that was instituted in 2001. Until that year, the committee chose the curator, and he or she was responsible for selecting the artist.
"I have a problem with this method, in which a random group sits and selects an artist," says Landau. "It seems abnormal to me. I think this group could have irrelevant interests, and there have already been cases in the past that proved this. I have also mentioned this more than once to Idit Amichai, the coordinator of the Culture Ministry committee."
What would you suggest instead?
"That the committee choose a curator, as is the practice in other countries and as was done here in the past."
There were also ethical problems in the past with regard to the selection of curators.
"Then perhaps the problem is that Israel is a small country and there is nothing that can be done about that."
Nevertheless, it seems Landau believes that choosing a curator ensures more proper procedures - she is among the few Israeli curators who are both highly respected and do not belong to any clique. Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why Sasportas approached her to curate the exhibit.
However, Landau did not rush to accept the offer. This is, undoubtedly, a flattering offer and a great opportunity to participate in one of the most prestigious art events on the international scene. Nonetheless, her work keeps her very busy. Among other things, she travels on behalf of the various Friends of the Israel Museum associations in Israel, the United States and Europe. Landau's goal is to convince members of the associations to acquire the art for different collections.
An honor to be exhibited
Some 40 pieces acquired over the last three years by these associations are now on display in the exhibit, "Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art."
Is having a work displayed in an Israel Museum collection good for an artist's resume?
"Certainly," she says. "It's considered an honor. One of the artists, Julietta Wiczyk, of Poland, even promised not make additional copies of the video work if the museum would acquire her work." Her amusing piece is featured in the exhibit: The artist, in housewife garb with a kerchief on her head, draws a scenic painting according to the instructions of a man in the background.
And yet there are still some in the art world who are not eager to cooperate with the national museum, particularly in the wake of a war.
In the second Lebanon war, Landau received a letter of resignation from Wasif Korton, a contemporary art curator from Turkey and one of three outside curators Landau enlisted for a curators committee (together with Doron Rabina and Galit Eilat) to refresh the way of thinking at the museum. In the letter, Korton stated that he was not willing to cooperate with a museum "that collaborates in the crimes Israel is perpetrating in Lebanon."
Did you identify with the content of the letter?
Landau prefers not to comment.
Did you try to contact him after the war?
"I think it has to come from him."
Is it a loss for the museum?
"Yes, I regret it. I think that he's a smart guy and it was interesting to listen to him and see things through his eyes."
Because of the war, the Art Biennale she was scheduled to curate in Tel Aviv was postponed until late 2007. "The idea for the biennale came from Tel Aviv gallery owners, who approached me and suggested the idea," she says. "I thought that something interesting could come out of it, even comparable to the successful biennale in Istanbul, and the Cairo Biennale, which is now opening; and the Athens Biennale, which they are already talking about. Something interesting could have been produced, from a geographic perspective, with people traveling from one biennale to another in the Middle East. The war postponed it, not only for economic reasons but, of course, also for political reasons."
The postponement of the Art Biennale is the reason she was able to accept Sasportas' offer. "I didn't know Yehudit personally, and I also had never presented her [work]," she says. "But I like her works and she is a super-professional artist."
Because Sasportas lives most of the time in Berlin, and Landau is in Israel, their first meeting took place at the Israeli Pavilion in Venice.
This is also where she first heard about Sasportas' work, about which she is unwilling to provide any details other than that it will be an installation sprawling across three floors and including notes, sculptures and the screening of slides. "It will be Yehudit, but a slightly different Yehudit," she is willing to concede.
The second meeting took place not long ago in Israel. "I'm very curious about what will the biennale will feature this time," Landauw says. "It just so happens that many countries are being represented by women. Tracy Amin is representing Britain, Isa Genzken is representing Germany and Sophie Calle is representing France."
As always, one of the key problems with regard to the biennale is budgets. The culture and finance ministries are allocating NIS 800,000 (NIS 750,000 for production and NIS 50,000 to be divided between the artist and the curator).
The Bracha Fund, whose director is Martin Weil, has already donated $50,000. Now they are awaiting additional donations.