On the Edge: New in the Contemporary Art Collection
Tel Aviv Museum of Art is marking its 90th anniversary this year. This festive occasion calls for a reflection on the significance of its art collections that have accumulated over the years, and their relevance to our lives. The exhibition "On the Edge" presents a selection of works recently added to the Museum's international contemporary art collection (either as gifts or on long-term loans).
Although the works were created at different times, by artists with distinct artistic visions and practices, they share a common ground: us, the viewers, who interpret them from our present historical moment, which is defined by a pandemic, shattered world order, and harrowing war scenes. What makes them contemporary is our Now, which charges them with ever-shifting meanings.
Thus, for example, Bruce Nauman's video works, recording actions he performed in his studio in the late 1960s, are read from our recent experience of isolation and quarantine; they project an acute sense of boredom verging on insanity, pointlessness, and profound loneliness. Paul Noble's large-scale drawings portray two empty spaces, Heaven and Hell, rendered somber by the pencil's grayness; heaven is surrounded by a fortified wall, with no gate or window, whereas hell is bounded by an open, decorated, wrought-iron fence (for entry? exit?). Other works in the show allude to confinement, reduction of the physical and mental space to a box, limitation of movement, and relentless monitoring or measuring.
The adjoining room offers a respite: Andreas Gursky's photograph features a monumental cylindrical space, covered with gilded orbs. It was shot in Japan at a site for detection and observation of subatomic particles. The photograph evokes a sense of awe—a human-made sublime, a physical embodiment of the acme of rationalism and science. Hanging next to it is Edmund de Waal's cell, a tiny temple of sorts, containing objects made of ultra-thin porcelain and a gold panel, perhaps a glimmer of hope for the fragile human spirit.
Three women—depicted by Claire Tabouret, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and John Stezaker—preside over the exhibition: one turns her head away, another looks down, and the third stares straight ahead, but her eyes are grooved. Our present, at which they refuse to look, echoes Charles Dickens's timeless words: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us."