Tel Aviv

Larry Abramson, 1967 (Ha’Aretz) (detail), 2011–12, oil, crayon, and graphite on newspaper, fifty-two sheets, each 20 1/2 x 16 1/2".

Larry Abramson, 1967 (Ha’Aretz) (detail), 2011–12, oil, crayon, and graphite on newspaper, fifty-two sheets, each 20 1/2 x 16 1/2".

Larry Abramson

Givon Art Gallery, ltd.

Larry Abramson, 1967 (Ha’Aretz) (detail), 2011–12, oil, crayon, and graphite on newspaper, fifty-two sheets, each 20 1/2 x 16 1/2".

The title of Larry Abramson’s recent exhibition “1967” inevitably evokes the Six-Day War, which took place in June of that year. The two works it included raise questions about the ideological conditions that made this campaign conceivable as a national endeavor as well as the implications of the decisive geographical expansion following Israel’s victory. At the same time, thanks to Abramson’s sustained exploration of the tensions between figuration and abstraction as they intersect with the genre of landscape, the show was firmly grounded in an art-historical investigation of the ways in which pictorial idioms perform locally while maintaining broader legibility.

Fifty-two sheets of newspaper saved by the artist’s father during the charged months of May through July 1967 serve as both support and surface for 1967 (Ha’Aretz), 2011–12. Arranged in the form of a large grid, though not chronologically, the texts from the left-wing newspaper of the subtitle become the polyphonic expression of a distinct historical moment in which national myths about the Land of Israel were turned into political realities. Abramson brings text and image into a productive friction by using each piece of newspaper as a landscape upon which to inscribe abstract and representational markings while emphasizing the role of publicity and public opinion as means to construct a landscape that is at once topographical and cultural (a landscape, one might add, that materially and discursively establishes itself upon other cultures). Thus, by applying black paint along some of the newspaper’s columns, Abramson turns this matrix for rational discourse into formal metaphors of political tension, whether as a series of fissured lines that meander senselessly, much like today’s national borders, or forms that become fixed like one of the most controversial regional monuments, the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank. Elsewhere, entire sections of print are covered by planes of white oil paint or alternatively buried under black paint, transforming historical speech acts embodied in print into artistic ones enacted by the monochrome. Here, the seminal visual paradigm of the European and American avant-gardes is intertwined with the narrative of Israel’s postwar history and elicits reflections about the processes of aesthetic, cultural, and ideological transfer and reception—specifically, the monochrome’s signifying power in the Israeli context.

In Flora of the Land of Israel (after Ruth Koppel), 2011–12, Abramson screenprinted black silhouettes of indigenous flowers, identified in a standard botanical book from 1949, onto newspapers from 1967 primed with white oil paint. Here, Abramson conjoins the term Yediat Ha’Aretz (Knowledge of the Land) with the ideological mission of the newspaper Ha’Aretz (The Land), suggesting that botany was an integral mechanism for the transmission of socialist Zionist ideology. The Zionist dream of building a Jewish state was diffused into every aspect of daily life, including a national culture linked to the identification of local flora and fauna. While other artists, most notably Tsibi Geva, have worked with this theme Abramson’s choice of screenprinting considers the role of mass reproducibility in the dissemination of collective ideology. Though infinitely reproducible, each black flower appears as a singular decorative motif hovering on a white surface that partially erases that day’s news. The Israeli landscape is not simply a background upon which politics unfold; as both an artistic genre and a physical locale, it is complicit in the crafting and obfuscating of political processes. Following Abramson, we may ask whether it is possible to continue using such idioms in Israel except critically.

Nuit Banai