Critics’ Picks

Tel Aviv

Tamir Zadok

Tel Aviv Museum of Art
27 Shaul Hamelech Blvd, POB 33288 The Golda Meir Cultural and Art Center
September 19–December 16, 2017

Nothing is what it seems in Art Undercover, 2017, the centerpiece of Tamir Zadok’s solo exhibition. The video traces the artist’s quest to find a lost oil painting by Charduval, purportedly a French artist who lived in Egypt in the early 1950s. With only a poor black-and-white reproduction of the piece and some anecdotal evidence, Zadok heads to Cairo to see the collection of the Egyptian Museum of Modern Art—what follows is a chronicle that reveals more via its meandering progression than any conclusive discoveries.

Viewers eventually learn that the artistic persona of Charduval provided cover for an Israeli intelligence agent named Shlomo Cohen Abarbanel while in Cairo. What better role than that of “artist” to avoid tricky questions about one’s agenda when traveling or living abroad? As Zadok searches for traces of the “French” painter’s legacy in Egypt, he begins to perform a variety of stealth research tasks himself. With a fresh haircut and a new suit, he approaches a Western curator at an exhibition opening about presenting his own work in Egypt. At first hesitant, the curator becomes more receptive once Zadok subtly switches the accent on his name, changing its pronunciation from the Hebrew, Tamir Zadok, to the Arabic, Tamer Sadek.

The artist’s earlier work also plays with the boundaries between political realities and fictional narratives, such as in Gaza Canal, 2010, a mockumentary (also on view) of an Israeli-run visitor center in Gaza built after the Israeli government pushed the territory into the sea. This Swiftian satire gives way in Art Undercover to internal reflection about art, nationalism, authenticity, and the mixture of exhilaration and trepidation that accompanies border crossings and secret missions of all kinds.