Ultimately, the main culprit in the story of Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen’s removing David Reeb’s painting from the Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art is Reeb himself. And not only Reeb, but the art world as well. And not because of the painting that is the ostensible center of the argument. Clearly not.
That Reeb is a significant artist who wishes to formulate a brave view of Israeli reality is almost unnecessary to mention. Reeb’s fault is in his response, in his reckless rush to court, in his – appallingly naive – statement that the Ramat Gan mayor has no right to determine which piece of art will be exhibited or removed from the museum.
After all, this is one of the signs of the new fascism: naive, blind submission to the state’s old promise, while ignoring the fundamental changes taking place around us. When Reeb went to court – and it hardly matters what the ruling will be – he in fact announced, consciously or not, that Shama-Hacohen’s cynical use of art to make a name for himself is something unusual.
But is that really so? And here lies Reeb’s self-delusion, just like the-self delusion of the artists who asked to have their works removed from the display “until Reeb’s work is returned” – not permanently – and just like the self-delusion of all those who cried out against the injustice.
In this case, the outcry is no longer relevant. The relationship between the art world and politicshas long passed this stage. In a reality where the quantity of free possibilities at the art world’s disposal is so extensive, where the technological revolution offers so many new spheres for creation and meeting and conversation, in a reality that in fact redrafts the question, “how is art made,” the art world is clinging to the big, white walls funded by the state. These walls – whether we like it or not – are vulnerable to the state’s manipulation. In such a reality, the clinging and the outcry are no more than self-indulgence, not to say collaboration with the injustice.
Make no mistake, Shama-Hacohen’s statement against Reeb’s work is no more than hollow kitsch. Just as he is exploiting art, he’s exploiting and corrupting the Jewish sentiment too. After all, if Shama-Hacohen disqualifies works that call Jerusalem “shit,” what would he do with the Bible, where this city is called “harlot” over and over again?
In an era characterized by “the end of the politics,” a loss of relevance and the crumbling of the old order and its symbols and stories and power hubs, we will see the state using more and more force and cynically exploiting everything that had allegedly existed alongside it in peace over the years. The art people should be the first to understand that.
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The root of the sin is clinging to the old order the way large theater halls do, with museums being especially guilty of this. This clinging is not only the root of the sin, but, heaven forbid, could be the root of destruction too. If David Reeb was really loyal to his art, he’d remove all his work from the exhibition and announce from an autonomous, independent place that he would no longer exhibit in a museum supported by politics.
If the art world really cared about itself, if it was really connected to the spirit of the time and understood that the changes taking place around it, in art, in the relationship between the artist and their audience, and between the artist and the world, if the art world really thoroughly understood the new possibilities, it would do the same. Like the French Impressionists in the second half of the 19th century, when they defied the crumbling, decaying order of their time and founded the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, Etc. launching the next chapter of the art world.