New York

Menashe Kadishman

Working with cutout forms—an approach that has attracted talents as diverse as Julio González, Henri Matisse, and Alexander Calder—veteran Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman employs the Modernist idea of sculpture as drawing in space.

The cutout brings together Kadishman’s interests in the mediums of sculpture, drawing, and painting. Cutting and bending thin sheets of steel into fantastic human and animal forms, he creates small-scale compositions characterized by his signature expressionistic style in which boldly simplified anatomies and gestural contours are strikingly pictorial. A consummate storyteller, Kadishman charged each imagistic tableau with strong narrative qualities. Among the themes explored were the myth of Prometheus, the biblical tale of the sacrifice of Isaac, and the subject of birth.

Birth is a topic well suited to Kadishman’s elemental view of life, and he subjects this primal drama to intense scrutiny by focusing in almost obsessive fashion on the moment when the baby emerges from the womb. Each of nine sculptures entitled Birth, all 1990, offer a different perspective, and while some versions are more literal in the representation of biological processes than others, they all deal with the physical as well as the psychological ramifications of parturition. In one piece, a woman is shown lying on her side, and the expression of her face, along with the downward curving lines of her head, neck, and arms, speak of exhaustion, while a child lying at her side looks decidedly content. In another vignette, the woman is shown in a squatting position, and the agitated silhouette of her tension-filled torso becomes a metaphor for the expulsion of energy necessary to force the baby into the world. In yet another piece, featuring a curved base reminiscent of the bottom of a cradle, Kadishman offers what was perhaps the frankest and most heartrending treatment of the birth theme in the show. Here mother and child are presented as mirror images, the exultation of each reflected in the schematically rendered physiognomies of the other. The flailing, flame-shaped limbs, which suggest the whole of man’s evolution from amphibian to mammal, capture the visceral process of birthing.

Ronny Cohen