Critics’ Picks

Amir Guberstein, Lamentation-6, 2015–18,
oil pastels, acrylic with sand from Israel and the
West Bank on paper mounted onto panel
stretched with canvas, cedar frame,
31 x 23".

New York

Amir Guberstein

FIERMAN
127 Henry Street
January 18–March 10, 2019

Interested in the “choreography that comes out of the prohibition of movement,” Israeli-born Amir Guberstein assembles a body of nine new paintings for “Lamentations,” his first solo show in New York. Guberstein’s 2017 exhibition at New York’s American Jewish Historical Society was canceled due to censorship, courtesy of right-wing Judaism: His pieces incorporate black and white gesso mixed with sand from Israel and Palestine, which is then pushed through a silk screen. Of course, the artist collects the sand himself. This is a crossing, but to some, it’s considered a transgression.

In his work, Guberstein, like Anselm Kiefer and Cy Twombly, appropriates phrases from literary sources. For the suite of paintings here, the artist turned to The Book of Lamentations, found in the Torah and the Old Testament, which tells the story of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Guberstein’s choice transcriptions (“O daughter Zion!”), alongside his use of sand, go beyond a singular “city lament,” as the Judeo-Christian tradition of poetic elegy for lost or fallen cities would have it, and instead mourn two different versions of the same city, fought over by fractious states.

Produced after a period of working monochromatically, the paintings in the “Lamentations” series, 2015–18, are refreshingly colorful and emotive, largely inspired by Chaim Soutine’s visceral and expressionistic portrayals of flesh. The forms in Lamentation-6, which stretch to the corners of its frame in strokes of yellow, red, green, and black, bear a likeness to Soutine’s brutal distortions. Similarly intense is Guberstein’s 2017 artist’s book, which features a collection of hate mail sent to a Manhattan synagogue, and three-dimensional renderings of the Jordan Rift Valley, which map the trajectories of the land grab. Guberstein conveys his deep-seated commitment to rendering violence—committed by and directed toward Jewish communities—as both spatial and rooted deeply in the land.