Critics’ Picks

Sigalit Landau, Barbed Hula, 2000, still from a color video with sound, 2 minutes.

Sigalit Landau, Barbed Hula, 2000, still from a color video with sound, 2 minutes.


“Imaginary Coordinates”

Spertus Institute
610 S. Michigan Avenue
May 1–June 21, 2008

In the second exhibition presented in its new building, the Spertus Museum courts controversy by exploring the loaded question of how the land of Israel and Palestine is defined, both historically and in the present. The organizing framework is a dialogue between maps of the region dating from the sixteenth century to the present and contemporary art by nine Israeli and Palestinian women artists, but while the recent works successfully negotiate the reality of life’s precariousness there, the maps—though visually absorbing—add little to a furthered understanding. Moreover, the near-exclusive femaleness of the artists is never adequately explained. Gender is expressly addressed only through replicating a conventional link between women and the land, which comes through most strongly in embroidered Palestinian maps.

Despite these shortcomings, a handful of works offer more nuance. Shirley Shor’s Landslide, 2004, projects a dizzying pattern of colored squares onto a sandbox, with constantly shifting boundaries that suggest the malleability and impermanence of national borders. For What Everybody Knows, 2007, Ayreen Anastas collaborated with Iranian artist Rene Gabri (the only exception to the women-only rule) on a series of documentaries in which Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian territories relay their everyday experiences, using maps as tools with which to talk about abstractions of space in material terms. Sigalit Landau’s video Barbed Hula, 2000, conjures the raw relationship between residents and the land as a ring of barbed wire tears at her naked skin on the shore of a Tel Aviv beach. These works would make a compelling exhibition on their own, but in combination with the maps, they reflect the Spertus’s struggle to reconcile historical material culture and contemporary art.