The Jerusalem Biennale for Art

Contemporary Jewish Art finds its home at last/ Lior Phillips

13 באוקטובר 2015

In the homeland of milk and honey, hummus and sabras, contemporary Jewish art doesn’t occupy enough of a home in the land. Without a real Jewish museum, some believe that it doesn’t attract enough attention; others prefer turning to traditional art as a basis for the religion.

Whatever side of the panel you find yourself on, this year’s second Jerusalem Biennale is here to show just how symbolic contemporary Jewish art is for Israel, in 2015. For six weeks running until November 5, nearly 200 Israeli and international artists will showcase their work across 10 exhibitions throughout 7 city center venues.

Tickets cost just NIS 45 – an affordable chance to experience different artistic forces unveiling themselves to the public of Jerusalem. The Biennale charges through the clutter to exhibit the most wide-ranging selection of exhibitions and events, forcing a challenging dialogue about diversity within a country that acts as the foster child for variety. If the nationwide sensation of the first installment in 2013 and its 60 artists is anything to go by, The Biennale 2015 revives the spirit of Jewish identity from an ultra-Orthodox to a secular viewpoint.

Lilith's Lair and Other Stories of Deception, 2011, Triptich, Siona Benjamin.Image courtesy the artist and Flomenhaft Gallery New York

The artistic scale equalizes because the regenerative spirit of non-Jewish artists are involved too, balancing out the weight of religion and merging it with a fresh interpretation fit for the 21st century. But the spotlight reaches far beyond the sheer amount of exhibitions and participating artists involved – though impressive – it truly represents a conversation we’re not frequently having. While it’s a stage for professional artists to comment on Jewish tradition, thought and spirit, it’s here to remind us that the concept of religion doesn’t end at its inception millions of years ago, but continues to tell a story across time. Video, installations, photography and performance build the foundation of this structure working with a “bottom-up” approach. In that, artists aren’t called to define what Contemporary Jewish Art is, but instead explore the creative responses that this union might enrich.

Salt Crystal Bridal Gown, Sigalit Landau, last of 8 photograph series, Credi Yotam From. Jerusalem.Passages exhibition

Throughout Israel’s holiest city, Jerusalem, the exhibitions will shine a light on the curators ‘crusade’ making sure each of the seven venues are within easy walking distance from each other: from the Tower of David Museum (Jaffa Gate) the host of the main exhibition, “Jerusalem.Passages,” with its ancient rooms housing five larger-than-life projects by five leading international and Israeli artists. The Van Leer’s Polonsky Research Institution on Hanassi Street, The Worldwide North Africa Jewish Heritage Center, First Station, Hechal Shlomo Museum, Achim Hasid Complex and The Hebrew Union College round up the lineup.

While the brevity and influence of this artistic endeavor is enormous, so are the 22 gifted contributors. Jerusalem will welcome Jewish Art Salon members from New York, Siona Benjamin and Tobi Kahn, Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California from Los Angeles and a thrilling exhibition from Buenos Aires. One scan of the titles and you’re enraptured into the spirit of Contemporary Jewish Art, “Women of the Book” and its commentary on the Torah, to “A Sense of Space/A Sense of Place”, and “New York/New Work:” showcasing some of the most established artists from the United States. Festivals like these allow the dichotomies of religion to unfurl and challenge the hierarchies that bind them, while elevating the Israeli art scene.

Through Nov 5, Jerusalem (058-7474356/jerusalembiennale.org)