What You See Is What You Get

The 'Flat' exhibit features post-minimalist and neo-minimalist works whose ascetic facts offer a sense of concreteness.

"Flat," the opening exhibition of the art season at Tel Aviv's Bezalel Gallery, is a positive harbinger. Considering the fact that many recent exhibitions showcased works that rely on words as if they were crutches, the choice of Israeli post-minimalism and neo-post-minimalism is praiseworthy. Much thought has been invested in this exhibition, which offers a broad view with no pretensions of covering the whole subject.

The exhibition features works dating from the 1970s until today. However, the distinction between minimalism and post-minimalism is not totally clear - but one can accept the working definition curator Gilad Meltzer has offered. The pervading feeling is that Meltzer chose post-minimalism and neo-post-minimalism because they create a broad conceptual range.

Historically speaking, this is an Israeli art movement that was contemporary to its period, part of the Zeitgeist and not a later derivative of it. Its artists include Michael Gitlin, Joshua Neustein and Nahum Tevet, all of whom have garnered international interest and recognition. Micha Ullman, a prominent post-minimalist artist, is not represented.

In the catalog Meltzer explains why this type of art has been marginalized in collective memory, citing the dearth of exhibitions featuring post-minimalism since the early 1970s - even before Israeli artists were recognized on the international scene.

"The post-minimalists," writes Meltzer, "tested the limits of their own medium, proposed new ways of visual expression and anchored their works in the history of modernism. Anyone whose heart and deeds were rooted, even if critically, in the Zionist effort, flourished splendidly. Anyone who was not, went into exile or left the game."

Meltzer notes that even in the international sphere, minimalism played a limited role and mainly manifests itself as a historical phenomenon. It is a pity that the catalog does not mention the contribution of Bertha Urdang, the Israeli gallery owner who brought this style of Israeli art to New York in the 1970s and is due credit for the recognition Israeli artists achieved there.

The strength, and to a great extent the weakness, of minimalism, post-minimalism and neo-post-minimalism is the lack of illusion; a kind of sobriety, or, to put it more bluntly, what you see is all there is. Nowadays, when dreams, illusions and images are marketed continuously, the movement's ascetic facts offer a sense of concreteness that is almost comforting. The way these works deal with formal questions (such as the relationship between work and space) today seems almost like a defense of art as an independent quality in a world of essence that is not subordinate, recruited or apologetic, but rather an alternative entity.

The beautiful works showcased in this exhibition include two acrylic and plywood on paper works by Michael Gitlin from 1977, titled "One Brush Stroke" - reminiscent of "One Hand Clapping," a concept used as a starting point for contemplating reality in Zen philosophy. Gitlin painted a line on the plywood, then broke it and glued it onto paper, creating a discrepancy between the title and what viewers see in the work, even though the statement remains valid. Thus this work touches on the sensitive and charming essence of minimalism at its best, shifting between sobriety and the need to preserve the enchantment in art.

Angela Klein is represented by two works from last year, both untitled. One, of the type identified with her for the past decade, consists of two black boxes hung vertically, such that only close inspection reveals that they are of different widths. The second work is two linked iron rings painted with gray industrial paint. This object deals with the essence of the paint, in its transition from being an object with volume to being a coating substance, which could be perceived as superfluous.

The exhibition raises an association with the "lyrical abstract," which contains an element of internal contradiction and indicates the inability to detach from the narrative in favor of unfamiliar nothingness. This term connects with the post-minimalist story Meltzer presents here: thus, for example, in "Untitled," a work by Ido Bar-El from 1999, at the bottom of which is a small red Star of David; or "With Love to Mom and Dad," by Anat Betzer - an oval and a circle of MDF (medium density fiberboard) with wood veneer.

A story can also be detected in the trapezoid works by Reuven Israel, particularly "Untitled," from 2002, which consists of two squares that look like two green hospital operating room doors, and circles that resemble black windows.

Other outstanding works at this worthwhile exhibition are "Heart of Gold," a new work by promising artist Maya Aton, and "Six Strips from One Sheet," a paper work by Joshua Neustein from 1971.

"Flat" Curator: Gilad Meltzer. Bezalel Gallery, Tel Aviv (60 Salameh Street). Opening hours: Friday and Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Until November 24.