Participating artists: Orly Aviv, Adi Brande, Guy Goldstein, Sharif Waked, Shahar Yahalom, Nevet Yitzhak, Shachar Freddy Kislev, Hila Tony Navok, Eran Nave, Ran Slavin, Ohad Fishof, Ariela Plotkin, Naama Tsabar, Talia Keinan, Gabi Kricheli, Jossef Krispel, Barak Ravitz, Alona Rodeh, Roee Rosen, Osvaldo Romberg, Avinoam Sternheim
Curator: Naomi Aviv
Assistant Curator: Nohar Ben Asher
The affinity between plastic art and music is ancient, rich and complex, and it has often been speculated that the two aesthetics derive from a common origin, whether as a theoretical derivation or as a mental, spiritual expression. The relationship between the two poetics has had numerous manifestations, most of them leading to the inner soul. From there they branched out together to ceremonies, rituals, celebrations and houses of worship. Since one of these modes of expression is related to time, and thus tends to disappear without a trace, while the other is related to space and leaves behind its products, it is not rare to find throughout history evidence of a mutual inspiration, manifested in images of musical instruments and rhythmic intervals appearing on Greek urns, in architectonic constructions, in paintings and in sculptures. The music embodied in musical instruments that have appeared as images in visual art has fulfilled various roles, mostly intended to create an atmosphere – elated or melancholic, pastoral or gloomy, erotic or morsial (thanatic) like the chill of night and the terror of death. Multidisciplinary artists have tried to have it both ways, drawing energies from one as well as the other. The greatest multidisciplinary artist was Leonardo Da Vinci, who was known as a professional musician no less than as a painter. Not only did Da Vinci specialise in playing various string instruments, but he also invented several of them, and was interested in music theory as well. A persistent legend claims that when he worked on the portrait of the Mona Lisa (for 4 years) he gathered in his studio a group of musicians whose role was to lift the model’s and probably also the painter’s spirits. About three years ago the fantasy about Leonardo the musician led to the deciphering of another Da Vinci code, when an Italian composer presented his musical interpretation of “The Last Supper” in a book (on YouTube I found a 40-second musical piece that followed the “composition” connecting all the bread loaves on the elongated table. A requiem, of course). Whether Leonardo really hid a musical key in his painting is uncertain, but with the emergence of modernism and with it abstract art, cubism, futurism and dadaism, the visual work of art was enriched by ideas about simultaneity and polyphony, tonality and atonality, by colourful sounds, by harmonic and disharmonic tones, by mathematical compositions (the mutual relationship between music and mathematics had already been noted by Pythagoras) and by geometric structures, rhythmic, repetitive movements, and noises and dins that came from living under the first and second industrial revolution and through the twentieth century and on to the inherently interdisciplinary twenty-first century and the new media aesthetic. The list of plastic artists who are also musicians includes Kandinsky who played the cello and Schoenberg who painted expressionism, Luigi Russolo who built noisy machines and Klee who played the violin and Cage who taught us that silence is also a kind of music.
Art at the beginning of the twenty-first century still builds on the achievements of the early twentieth-century avant-garde. Media hybrids are very common and everyone seems to be going with the flow. The Beatles’ leaders actually studied painting, and Bob Dylan now shows in exhibitions. Laurie Anderson still breathes music and makes video art. Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy arrive complete with punk-rock bands and the British artist Martin Creed releases compact discs with musical gestures to Andy Warhol.
Music breathes life into everything, as Plato already stated. The spectrum of the seven colours echoes the notes of the musical scale, as Newton already discovered. Harmony, composition, rhythm, temperament and counterpoint are terms used in the plastic realm as much as in the musical realm. The affinity between the two arts reached its apex during the literally purified formulation of modern art. It is impossible to think for example of cinema and video art without referring to the effect the soundtrack has on the viewer. The very act of film editing requires sound in order to appear “smoother” to the viewer's eye. The contemporary art scene has discovered more and more young multidisciplinary artists whose visual art is influenced by their musical skills, and maybe also vice versa. Moreover, the Tate Museum’s Turner Prize winner for 2010 was the artist Susan Philipsz, whose installation consisted of loudspeakers playing nothing but her singing.
“Electric Garden” is a group exhibition of young Israeli artists who are active in the two disciplines. It aims to celebrate a contemporary moment which seems to bring together more and more fortunate cases of high-quality multidisciplinarity. It should not be forgotten of course that Israeli modernism also gave rise to two energy channels or two major inspirations that, even if they did not deal directly with music, enriched their paintings with more than a musical mood. Rafi Lavie never forgot that as a child he dreamed of becoming a composer. His sophisticated ear seemed to have had a hand in the compositions he wrote on canvases and pieces of plywood, compositions that became a basic pattern for understanding the Israeli collage. Moshe Gershuni has also been blessed with a keen musical ear, his work evoking the sounds not only of Brahms and Mozart, who for him represent the pinnacles of European culture, but also prayers and chants from Jewish and Israeli folklore and culture, from “Yad Anuga” (delicate hand) whose words were written by Zalman Shneur and whose melody is an adaptation of a Syrian Arab original, to “Avinu Malkeinu” (our father, our king) from the Yom Kippur service.
I happened to visit Moshe Gershuni while working on this exhibition. Abstract and monochromatic paintings were hanging, still wet, on the walls of the room. Powerful and dark fields of colour raided the canvas with bright red or green. Of course you could listen to them. The soundtrack was deep and clear. I could see the paintings fitting into the planned exhibition, functioning as a bass weight. The act of curating is often likened, rightly, to an act of orchestrating or conducting. Gershuni was feeling unwell and found speaking difficult. For that Saturday afternoon he had summoned a few other women, as has been his custom in the last year; yet despite his promise, embodied in the invitation itself, to tell us something important, his words refused to acquiesce and in the end he mainly apologised for not being able to convey any message to us. Instead he asked Juan for the remote control and played us a Schubert musical moment. The room filled with notes as fresh as springtime. We listened quietly and then he apologised and asked to be left alone. As we parted I bent down and whispered to him that if that had been his message, then it had been optimistic, young and full of joy. “Music is a miracle”, he managed to say, lifting his head towards the sky. Later he asked to let me know that he would have been happy to take part in this exhibition and show a glass of water. He had already installed a simple and clear glass of water, exactly half-full, for an exhibition entitled “Hunger” that I curated at the Kalisher Gallery (2005). Is there a greater metaphor for the sheer need to create?
“Electric Garden” is a simple tribute exhibition; to the founding fathers and mothers, whoever and wherever they may be, to Israeli art, that has never known days as intensive and full of momentum and freedom as these, to fruitful collaborations between the disciplines, to the effacement of borders and the expansion of languages, to the enrichment of the relationship between the two sister arts. The show also seeks to simply examine the suggestive force felt by the viewer in front of a visual work made by a musical artist (and all the participants in this show are at least endowed with musicality). The exhibition does not presume to explore the sound art that developed as a result of the industrial revolution, nor the various methods to visually illustrate a soundtrack known to us from video clips. The plastic art of these musical artists, which finds expression in a variety of artistic means including video art, new media, sculpture, painting, photography, drawing and performance, emits multi-layered frequencies, at once dense and transparent, busy and lucid, concrete and abstract.
Now imagine Gershuni’s half-empty glass of water and add a soundtrack to the simple installation, and next time you visit the Louvre, try to listen to the Mona Lisa. Don’t be surprised if your lips stretch into a kind of half smile, as you smile to yourself and smile to art, be it lasting or ephemeral.