When I was approached by the Center for Israel Education to compile a list of 75 works of Israeli art I was honored and also a bit daunted. The compilation is part of a larger project by the Center—namely, to showcase “75” in various fields of endeavor in honor of Israel’s 75th anniversary (75 significant personalities, etc.), and it is only fitting that 75 works of art – including works created before 1948 – should be part of this effort. Israeli art certainly deserves its place in the world’s pantheon of creativity, and a website that makes Israeli art accessible to a wide audience is in itself a worthy endeavor. And while there are many gallery, artist, and museum sites, no one site attempts to tell the overarching story of Israeli art. Furthermore, one can learn much about Israel through the history of its art and monuments.
How were the works chosen? A combination of factors was taken into account. The list is not meant to be a parallel history to the two most important historical surveys of art by Gideon Efrat and by Yigal Zalmona, respectively. Those comprehensive, indispensable works tell the history of Israeli art from an art-historical perspective (see below). Fittingly, many of the artists included in those works are included here. My focus, however, was to choose works that reflected or shaped the spirit that led to the building of the State, its growth, and the experience of living in Israel today. As such, the list encompasses works (from both public and private collections, including outdoor monuments and important buildings) by both women and men, who live (or lived) in the State of Israel, from as far north as Tel Hai and as far south as Beersheva.
Israel has had and continues to have a very rich art scene and a high per capita population of artists, so it was impossible to include or represent everyone. The artists featured hail from a variety of backgrounds: European, North African, North American, religious and non-religious, Jewish and non-Jewish, immigrants and sabras, from different sides of the political spectrum, but the list is neither evenly divided nor proportional to the population. The early years of artistic creativity were dominated largely by Jews of European origin, but this has shifted over time, and this list attempts to be more inclusive. Some works were included that are not traditionally considered great works of art, but have a significant presence in the public arena and speak to a wide audience. Some works are more recent and therefore, lesser known. Some works have stark political messages, while others are in a more gentle or even humorous vein. Some works were chosen because I think they deserve a wider audience. The variety here is meant to highlight, on the one hand, the freedom of creativity and expression in Israel, but also, the hope expressed in Israel’s art for improving our society and for peace.
I conclude with “Ars longa, vita breva.” While life is short, art endures. It is my hope that these works will inform and inspire, provoke conversation and ultimately, help celebrate the richness and strength of the fabric of Israeli society.
For further reading:
Ofrat, Gideon 100 Years of Art in Israel (Westview Press:1998)
Zalmona, Yigal A Century of Israeli Art (Lund Humphries:2013)