The inception of Israeli visual art can be traced back to the Bezalel School founded in 1906, which trained Israeli artists and craftsmen. When the 1950s came, two major groups were formed in the art scene of Israel, the New Horizons, who moved towards abstract art, and the social realist artists, who depicted demonstrations, workers, and industrial developments. With big names that we know today, such as Joseph Zaritsky, the leader of the New Horizons group, Reuven Rubin, and Yohanan Simon, it is difficult to pick only ten important Israeli artists, but, as we are focusing on contemporary art, we have comprised this list for all the lovely people who want to know more about the country of Israel and the creative Israeli people who are operating today. So, sit back, relax, and let us suggest ten names you should jot down in your to-know list.
Ilit Azoulay is an Israeli artist working in the medium of photography. She is most famous for her panoramic photo montages which portray various objects she has collected from the ruins of destroyed buildings in Tel Aviv. As she had explored these buildings prior to their demolition, she returned to the rubble sites and searched through the remains, collecting the pieces she was drawn to. Then she categorized all these items in her studio and photographed them in order to use them in her collages. The Tel Aviv-based artist had her works exhibited internationally, with the most recent one being at MAXXI Museum in Rome, in February 2016, as well as the exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York that ran from November 2015 to March 2016.
Ori Gersht is a fine art photographer born in Tel Aviv. He explores the themes of life, death, beauty, and violence. He often depicts sites of modern day historical significance such as Judean Desert, Auschwitz, Sarajevo, and the Galicia region in Ukraine, among others. These places become remnants of emotional and physical trauma caused by wars, and he manages to translate the feeling of their refugees’ grief and melancholy caused by the lost home. In his still life series, the artist explores the relationships between photography and technology, as well as the one with optical perception. He often alludes to the violent historical events, such as the French Revolution, the bombing of Hiroshima, the Spanish Civil War and the suicide bombers that he feared during his childhood in Israel. Ori Gersht will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Ben Brown Gallery in London in May, 2016.
Adi Nes is an Israeli photographer who makes very detailed images that are simultaneously autobiographical and witnesses of a life in a conflict-stricken country. His works remind of Renaissance or Baroque paintings, often depicting sexual tension and homoeroticism. His most famous image is the version of the famous Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, in which he replaced the biblical figures with Israeli soldiers. This photo was on the front page of the New York Times in 2008, and it launched Nes in the super-stardom of Israeli contemporary photography. His photographs are over-sized and often depict famous historical events and scenes from art history, which he masterfully combines with personal experiences as a young gay man in a small town in Israel.
Larry Abramson is a South-African born Israeli artist who emigrated to Jerusalem in 1961. The internationally exhibited artist has dealt with iconic symbols of modernist European art, especially Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square which he used to create his own blends of abstraction and figurative art. He is famous for his tsooba series of thirty-eight landscape oils on canvas, thirty-eight impressions on newspaper, and a collection of still life paintings. The tsooba series refers to the ruins near Kibbutz Tzova that Joseph Zaritsky painted ten years prior. Abramson has, unlike Zaritsky, painted the site realistically in order to criticize the Israeli agenda to erase the Palestinian identity from this controversial territory. He published an article titled We Are All Felix Nussbaum in which he tackled the tumultuous relationship of history and art in the era after the Holocaust.
Landau is an Israeli sculptor, installation and video artist born in Jerusalem. The artist has exhibited her works internationally and is considered one of the foremost Israeli artist today. She is a creative spirit whose iconic 11-minute video DeadSee is displayed at the Israel Museum. The video shows the artist peacefully floating in a spiral of watermelons on the surface of the lowest point in the world, the Dead Sea. The artist received her education at Bezalel, and has since used biblical references in her works. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including, but not limited to, the Jewish National Fund Sculpture Award, The Israeli Art Prize, and The Dan Sandel and the Sandel Family Foundation Sculpture Award.
When writing about Israeli artists, one cannot exclude the filmmakers and video artists. One of them is London-based, Jerusalem-born Tal Rosner. The Israeli filmmaker won a BAFTA award for Best Title Sequence in 2008 for the drama Skins, famous for its portrayal of troubled British youth. He is known for his collaborations with a variety of musicians such as New World Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas, Jennifer Koh, and Katia and Marielle Labeque, to name a few. Without you, his 2008 experimental film had had Rosner screenings at film festivals worldwide, such as the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and a screening in Tate Modern in London. The film explores the industrial suburbs of London and focuses on the color-coded imaginary circle outlined at a 10-mile radius from Charing Cross.
Joshua Neustein is one of the most prominent Israeli artists. He is a contemporary visual artist living and working in New Yok, and known predominantly for his environment installations, Ash Cities, and post minimalist paper works. In the 1990s, the artist turned his focus to large-scale installation, and created his famous series Five Ash Cities that tackled the notions of environmental art. The Ash Cities were maps of places built out of ashes on the floor of the exhibition space, with the large crystal chandeliers hanging low, just above the floor covered in ash. Joshua Neustein received numerous prizes during his long-lasting career, including the Jerusalem Prize, and the Venice Biennale prize at Israel Pavilion in 1995.
Keren Cytter is a visual artist and writer, who is not afraid to venture into the multimedia, with her involvement in the art of drawing, photography, performance, film, video installations, as well as writing novels, poetry, and theater plays. However, she is best known for her video art. She manages to personify the post-modern idea of self-awareness of the characters of her films in the narrative. Her unique style has placed her on the map of the most acclaimed artists of the generation. Her film The Victim (2006) is a frantic loop of a dinner party that converts into a mass suicide and then regresses back into a dinner party, creating a perpetual cycle of the adventures of the five characters included.
Yaacov Agam is one of the most renowned Israeli artists. He is a sculptor and an experimental artist, famous for his kinetic and optical art. Agam manages to integrate formalist art with the art of Kabbalah into his distinctive style, and he produced astounding works with which the viewer can communicate by transmogrifying the artwork manually or by simply walking by it, and viewing the image from another angle. The artist has shown his works internationally and had the pleasure of enjoying major museum exhibitions. He is the recipient of a number of awards, such as the Prize for Artistic Research, Medal of the Council of Europe, and the Jan Amos Comenius Medal awarded by UNESCO. In 1999 Agam produced the winner’s trophy for the Eurovision Song Contest held in Jerusalem.
Nahum Tevet is a sculptor and a conceptual artist. He often uses the minimalist approach in the process of creating his architectural and sculptural installations focused on the geometric shapes. Tevet is an artist whose understanding of creativity lies in the process of abstaining and diminishing. One of his most famous works is Corner (1974), an installation of three chairs covered with two pieces of plywood to create a blockade that prevents anyone from entering the corner these chairs make. What separates this work from the typical Post-Minimalist era is the coat of white paint that covers the plywood, breaking off from the conventional post-minimalist and minimalist rule of staying true to the materials.