Art in Israel

by Aviva Beigel
  Aviva Beigel       artist

It When we deal with art in Israel, we must ask the question: Is there an “Israeli art,” or is it simply works of art that are made in Israel but could have been done in any other place on the globe? The fact that Israel is in Asia near Africa but connected to the West (Europe and the U.S., especially in cultural matters) and that most people living in this country were born all over the world, make the question even harder to solve. There has always been a conflict in Israeli art between the need to develop art that combines internationally and the need to express a connection unique to the land and nation.

In the first decade of the Israeli state (1950-1960), we can find two mainstreams in Israeli art: one concerned with nature and landscape but in a non-figurative or nearly abstract style that was connected to universal painting; the other more social and national. Only very few were not part of these two groups and dealt with Jewish mystical themes.

In the sixties, there was estrangement from nature and traditional painting and sculpture. Artists were dealing more with photography, performance, and video art in political and personal contexts. These tendencies developed in the seventies, where more works connected to geo-political matters together with personal and artistic identity, usually in conceptual and minimal art.

The phenomenon of a “return to painting,” color, and expression occurred in the eighties in Israel and in other art centers in the world, as seen in such exhibitions as “A New Spirit in Painting” in Britain, and “Zeigeis” in Germany. There was more connection to art everywhere on the globe and the feeling that everything is possible, everything is allowed.

In the nineties, installation and video art dominated the major international exhibitions – for instance, the Venice “Biennale” and the “Documenta” in Kassel - and caused painting to be pushed aside in Israel, too. We can also find in this period traces of the need to be connected to the spiritual, mystical, and hallucinogenic tendencies.


In recent years, painting and sculpture are back in the center. However, the works do not have a clear and defined stylistic character. Artists mix various mediums, techniques, and disciplines - from painting to photography, video, installation and sculpture, from figuration and realism to abstraction: Basil Frank, Varda Carmeli mix photography and sculpture; David Gerstein, Gad Ullman, and Aviva Beigel mix painting and sculpture; Eduard Grossman, Yael Segev, Rosi Shaham and Liana Hollander-Gross move gently from figurative to abstract; Gad Ullman uses photographed images (old streets of Tel Aviv) from the popular media; Dudo Gerstein deals with cars and buildings from the world of computers; and from the news, Basil C. Frank images “The Wailing Wall.”

There is also the use of different cultural worlds: Eduard Grosman combines the Eastern culture of text figures and calligraphy; Vara Carmeli uses the egg as a symbol of birth; and Yona Levi refers to early Egyptian grape-harvesting and wine-drinking from Ancient Greece.


We see all kinds of references to science and nature: Uri de Beer uses spiral forms inherent to the organic and natural world; Varda Carmeli employs organic material – eggs; Sara Tandet-Ron deals with organisms and adjacent molecules, the raw material that is the origin of every living cell; Yona Levi combines a philosophical and scientific approach.

And there is the use of religious and historical national icons: Eduard Grossman makes “The Legends,” a biblical and mythological interpretation in light and color, using Hebrew letters and archaeological elements; Gad Ulman and Aviva Beigel use the “Magen David” Jewish sign; Uri de Beer deals with Jewish mystic tradition and spiritual dimensions.

There are no themes that can not be included: Sara Tandet-Ron’s personal, feminine themes, touching life and death; Erica Weiss’s revealing of her own soul; Varda Carmeli’s private world; the appearance of sickness and pain in Aviva Beigel’s cosmos; Dita Lyron’s women, concerning fertility and pregnancy.

The last tendency we can find is the return of the pleasure principal. Even if some of the works deal with hard and loaded themes, it is also allowable to “have fun,” to amuse. Yael Segev’s works combine humor and optimism, animals and human figures; Dudu Gerstein’s sculptures approach the child in every one of us; and Aviva Beigel amuses herself with cookie shapes taken from the child’s world, such as hearts and butterflies.

Contemporary art in Israel is not necessarily “Israeli art.” Looking upon the variety of the works, one can not find a special factor that identifies them exclusively as Israeli. They appear as if they could have been done anywhere, and today, when the technological era provides a direct and virtual access everywhere and the world is “a small global village,” the Israeli artist is also an international artist.

Aviva Beigel