All posts by Tom Teicholz

The Real Jerusalem (Nir Hasson’s Urshalim)

Tom Teicholz , CONTRIBUTOR
I write about culture and the cult of luxury
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Tom Teicholz
The Temple Mount
Nir Hasson covers Jerusalem for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz with particular attention to the residents of East Jerusalem. Hasson approaches Jerusalem very much as a city beat reporter, although the municipal issues in Jerusalem concerning real estate, zoning, water, power are, more often than not, political and at times even existential. Hasson’s reporting reflects the ongoing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians and as to Jerusalem itself. Last summer Nir Hasson published his first book “Urshalim: Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem 1967–2017,” which will be published in English in 2018. We spoke first two years ago about his perspective on Jerusalem (Nir Hasson: Mr. Jerusalem, Forbes.com) and met again recently to continue the conversation in light of his new book and recent events.

Tom Teicholz: When we spoke two years ago, you told me how the residents of East Jerusalem were increasingly working, shopping, becoming educated and sending their children to be educated in West Jerusalem while maintaining an “Anti-Normalization” campaign against Israel [a refusal to participate in any activities that validate Israel or the status quo in Jerusalem or in the West Bank]. Is that still the case?

Nir Hasson: Yes. There is more non-cooperation. It’s more pervasive. But at the same time, in daily life there are even more Palestinians who move between the two sides of the city. These two developments are happening at the same time, like they go together. It’s very interesting.

Tom Teicholz: But at the same time, I feel like the Jewish residents of West Jerusalem go even less to East Jerusalem.

Nir Hasson: Of course. When we met last time, it was during the Gaza War of 2015. Or was it after?

Tom Teicholz: It was after.

Nir Hasson: Since then it’s actually never ended [the resistance of East Jerusalemites in the Anti-Normalization campaign]. It’s continued in waves-

Tom Teicholz: But do you see the recent Temple Mount protests in East Jerusalem as a turning point?

Nir Hasson: I think it’s a turning point in the sense of the Palestinian society of East Jerusalem. The way they act. The way they got this victory over Israel. This is something no one expected.

Tom Teicholz: What they seem to have realized, for the first time, is the power of nonviolence.

Nir Hasson: Right.

Tom Teicholz: To have people protesting by praying in the streets was powerful … and effective.

Nir Hasson: Yes, but it worked because it’s Jerusalem, and because it concerned Al-Aqsa [the mosque that is the third holiest site to Muslims]. The Palestinians tried to do a non-violent protest in the West Bank in Bethlehem and it didn’t work because there was no media there. It worked this time because Israel was really afraid of violence at the Temple Mount – and not only there. During the protest in Jerusalem there was a bloody terror attack in the Halamish settlement in Samaria. But the big question is, will it work for other protests in Jerusalem, like when there are house demolitions, or can it work only when it concerns Al-Aqsa?

Tom Teicholz: Two years ago, I went to the Temple Mount and it was very unpleasant. From the moment we were on the Temple Mount, there were groups of women and children screaming “Alu Akbar” at us – there was nothing solemn, spiritual or meditative about the experience. By contrast, I went again the other day, coincidentally, on the same day as the Members of Knesset (MK)’s [members of the Israeli Parliament] went, and it was completely calm and quiet.

Nir Hasson: Since the agreement between Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan at the end of 2015, the situation on the Temple Mount is pretty quiet. The police hold back the Jewish religious activists. And they didn’t let the MKs go there for almost three years. What happens on the Temple Mount affects East Jerusalem and it affects the West Bank. Even though the Mount is quiet, what happened two months ago was amazing, because so many people went out in the streets to pray – And the people were nonreligious. These were young people who have never been … I believe the Al-Aqsa protests have made a very strong impression in the hearts and mind of the Palestinian Jerusalemite. But the question is: Can they take this new-found power to other areas?

Tom Teicholz: And there is also the question of the Palestinian leadership. Palestinian Authority President Abbas is in his 80s.

Nir Hasson: You have to understand that the situation in Jerusalem is different than in the West Bank. More and more lately, you hear people in East Jerusalem saying that the Palestinian authority does not represent us.

Tom Teicholz: Really?

Nir Hasson: Yes. In East Jerusalem I hear people saying that: We are part of the Palestinian people, of course, but the Palestinian leadership is not our leadership. We need our own Jerusalem leadership.

I wrote an article during the Al-Aqsa events that said: “As of this writing it’s hard to know how the crisis over the Temple Mount will end. But recent days have shown that the real sovereign on the Temple Mount is not Israel, Jordan or the Waqf, the site’s Muslim custodial trust. The real bosses are the Palestinians of Jerusalem.” [ https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.802402 ]

The article was translated into Arabic just hours after it was published, and so many people came up to me on the street to say it’s a great article, it makes us feel so much pride. And so, it’s not the Palestinians’ fight, it’s the Jerusalemites fight.

Tom Teicholz: The present Israeli government seems to get more provocative each day – and, at least in the U.S., one gets the sense that there is nothing that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or his ministers could do that President Trump and his administration would object to. And I think we’ve seen, since the moment of Trump’s election, Netanyahu is more and more unrestrained to do as he pleases. The U.S. won’t object.

Nir Hasson: Right. You can see it in Jerusalem. You can see it in what’s happened – since the night of the U. S. election — as regards homes of East Jerusalemites (Over 80 % of the houses in East Jerusalem don’t have permits). Even though Obama was still in the office, they started to demolish those houses. Trump’s election has had a dramatic effect on the way the Israeli authorities behave, on their sense of freedom to build wherever they want, to demolish what they want, to do whatever they like in Jerusalem. Absolutely. This is absolutely true.

You know, Hillary Clinton was in Jerusalem, I think it was in 2009 [when Clinton was Secretary of State] and she had a very short meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. And after that meeting, house demolitions dropped dramatically, from about more than 100 per year to less than 10. And it stayed that way until the end of the Obama Administration. And since the election we’ve already seen the numbers rise again.

Tom Teicholz: And last week Netanyahu declared that “the settlements will stay in the West Bank forever.”

Nir Hasson: Exactly. Just now there’s a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, because the Shamasneh family are being evicted [they have lived in the house for 53 years – but Israeli authorities and right-wing activists say the house was never properly registered as owned by them]. We haven’t seen anything like this in years.

Tom Teicholz: When we spoke two years ago you told me that when you covered the opening of a new movie theater in East Jerusalem, none of the East Jerusalemites wanted to be quoted by name in an Israeli newspaper – even one like Haaretz which is very left. Which is a long way of me asking if, as a journalist, you’re able to develop good sources in East Jerusalem?

Nir Hasson: Some will not go on the record. However, they will if you are writing about their daily life, or the problem of house demolitions; violence against them, and all the ways that the police act in their neighborhood or their problems with the settlers. What they are not willing to do is to cooperate with you if you are writing about culture.

The thing about the anti-normalization movement is that it’s not black and white. This principle that ‘You have to have no connections with Israelis’ – is the same obligation for Palestinians whether you live in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. But it’s very difficult for someone to live in Jerusalem and have no connection with Israelis. So, the more aware among the East Jerusalem residents make certain distinctions regarding daily life. They try to hold the line between daily life and other non-necessary activities. They say: I have to work in West Jerusalem, I have to get my Israeli visa to deal with the authorities, but I will never go to a movie in West Jerusalem. I will never go to an evening discussion event or a conference in West Jerusalem. This is a privilege, I don’t have to do it.

Tom Teicholz: Right.

Nir Hasson: But it changes. It changes very quickly. For example, a few years ago it was taboo to ask for Israeli citizenship. Today, there are thousands of Palestinians and East Jerusalemites who ask for Israeli citizenship, a full Israeli citizenship, and an Israeli passport. Today it’s okay. If you’re a businessman, or if you are a student who has to go abroad for studies, it’s okay if you ask for the passport. That’s no longer considered a normalization of the occupation.

So, the question is: what’s going to happen in the next election? Will they break the taboo of voting in the municipal election? Because voting is a recognition of the occupation. But there is a lot of debate around this topic, saying that maybe it’s about time for the Palestinians in Jerusalem to step into the Israeli political field.

Tom Teicholz: But didn’t they get greater representation in the last election?

Nir Hasson: No. Less than 1% of the voters from East Jerusalem- went to vote. Less than 1%. It’s the lowest percentage since ’67. This taboo is still very strong.

However, a young teacher from the Al-Tur neighborhood, announced a new party about four months ago, the East Jerusalem party, a Palestinian party and that he would run for election, and that he would try to promote this new party. However, he was asked not to talk about politics – he can talk about social services, street cleaning (garbage pickup), that’s all.

But since the Al-Aqsa event, this movement seems to have gone under; no one knows anything about it. I believe there will be a very strong debate around voting in the Jerusalem Municipal election next year. They have a lot to lose by voting because then the Israelis will say, “Here you go, even the Palestinians recognize the Israeli sovereignty of East Jerusalem. So, what do you want from us?”

They have a lot to lose — so they will only vote if they can make a very strong showing. If they get two seats on the city council, that’s nothing. It will make no change. But if they get real political power on the city council then…. Still, I think we’re still very far from that happening.

Tom Teicholz: At the same time, those Israelis on the Left who are the most sympathetic to the concerns of the people in East Jerusalem, have seen their power shrink. Right?

Nir Hasson: Today, so few Israelis want to know about what’s going on, or even understand what’s going on, or want to change anything. The only thing the Israeli mainstream media speak about is the terror, and the violence. The day I decided to write this book was the eve of the general election in 2015, when a very well-known prestigious journalist in Israel called me and asked, “Can the Palestinian Jerusalemites even vote tomorrow?”

And I said to myself, if he doesn’t know the simple fact that the Palestinians who live in Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens and that they have no right to vote in the general election for the members of the Israeli Parliament, what’s the point? I decided right then that either I’m going to quit my job or I’m going to write a book.

Tom Teicholz: Both in the United States and Israel, we’re in this crazy period where governments speak in half truths. So, for example. the Israeli tourist office advertises Rainbow Tel Aviv as this place where gay life thrives – which is true. And yet in Israel gay couples can’t get married. Those facts don’t make it into the popular perception or discussion.

Nir Hasson: Right. The Israeli government covers up those facts. Do you know what the name of the book, Urshalim means?

Tom Teicholz: No.

Nir Hasson: In September ’67, three months after the Six Day War, the Israeli government had a meeting where one Minister said, ‘It’s impossible that on Israeli radio, we use the name Al-Quds. Al-Quds is the name of the city in Arabic. It’s connected to the city’s Islamic heritage. it’s not connected to its Jewish heritage. We have to find another name for the city.’ And they found the name Urshalim, a name that had been used in translations of the Christian Holy Bible… They didn’t want to use the name Al-Quds, so they used the name Urshalim – Jerusalem.

Tom Teicholz: Really?

Nir Hasson: I write in my book that: “On your way from Tel Aviv, or Ben Gurion Airport, to Jerusalem you could notice the point where the landscape changes from the lowland to the Jerusalem hills. This is Shaar Hagay, the Gate of the Valley, about 30 kms before Jerusalem. However, not only the landscape changes at that point of the road, the names on the road signs change too. Till Shaar Hagay, the name of Jerusalem is Jerusalem in English, Yerusalaim in Hebrew and Urshalim Al Kuds in Arabic. After Shaar Hagay, the names in English and Hebrew stay the same, but the Arabic name becomes only Urshalim.” In the last years a new road has been built and new signs were posted – and the name Al-Quds was deleted.

The strange thing is that no place called Urshalim exists. It doesn’t exist in the Hebrew Bible. No Arabic-speaker uses that name. For him, it is considered to be an artificial and even insulting name whose sole purpose is to delete the Islamic and Arabic heritage of the city. In the ears of the Palestinian residents of the city it is also a daily reminder of the occupation

This is exactly the kind-of Israeli Government cover-up of facts which the Israeli population should know about, but doesn’t. Israelis think they know about Jerusalem, but they don’t know anything. Where else can you find a capital with two names, one used by the people, the other by the government?

This is exactly what I wanted to describe in my book: There’s a huge gap between the daily life, the reality of Jerusalem, and the cliché image of Jerusalem in the mind of Israelis. It’s two different places. The Israelis really believe that Jerusalem is just like other cities. They don’t know that 40% of the people who live here are not Israeli citizens.

This is the simple fact that every Israeli has to know. What Israel did in ’67, is that it annexed the territory. But it didn’t annex the people who live on the territory. And until today, it’s the same situation. What I tried to do in ‘Urshalim’ is to explain the real Jerusalem.

Tom Teicholz: It’s an existential problem.

Nir Hasson: Exactly. I mean the way the Palestinians in Jerusalem see it, they will always use the verb, the word, occupation. That is the point. The Israelis will never use the name Al-Quds. And if they do, it’s to make fun of it.

For the Palestinians, the occupation is the air that they breathe. That is their reality. They live under a regime that they have no part in it. It affects them in many ways. And this, too, is the occupation.

And if you say occupation to Nir Barkat, he will make fun of you. ‘What do you mean? There’s no occupation here’. It’s like when Netanyahu said that Jerusalem will never be divided again, and there is nine meters of concrete wall that divides Jerusalem today. The Israeli politicians of Jerusalem are not connected to reality.

Tom Teicholz: Are there any reasons for hope?

Nir Hasson: The last chapter of the book is about this question, is there a place for hope? I don’t have a clear answer. But, my conclusion is that even though the city today is more united than it was ever before, the situation in Jerusalem is not stable.

The fact that 40% of the residents of Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens cannot last. I analyzed a few solutions. The solution will be, I hope sooner than later, some kind of sharing of sovereignty without a fence, with no border line.

Sometimes I think that the only good thing that Netanyahu did for the State of Israel is that he withheld finding a solution for so many years that maybe there will be a technological solution.

Have you heard about the organization, “Two States One Homeland”? (http://2states1homeland.org/en) It’s a very interesting, intellectual idea of how to solve the problem. It was established by two guys, an Israeli Journalist Meron Rapoport and Palestinian activist Awni Almsni who say we can solve the problem without having to move anyone and without a border between Israel and Palestine.

Tom Teicholz: Virtual Nations? That’s interesting. Like the way my phone knows where I am. The minute I’m in the West Bank it says, “Welcome to Palestine.”

Nir Hasson: Right. Exactly. It knows where you are. And when you are driving on Road Number Six that cuts across Israel from North to South, there’s no checkpoints, no tolls but at the end of the month, you get an invoice to pay – the road knows where you are.

And what they say is that if you have 400,000 settlers, then you have to take 400,000 Palestinian refugees into Israel. They will become citizens of Palestine, but residents of Israel. In the same way that some of the settlers would become residents of Palestine but remain citizens of Israel. In addition, they would create both property compensation panels and a reconciliation process. It’s very interesting. They don’t solve all the problems but it’s gone on for a few years now.

But the main obstacle we must overcome is the mind of the Israelis — to have them trust the Palestinians to maintain their own security in their territory. Because, 35,000 plus Palestinians work in West Jerusalem, and they go into work every morning, — they don’t want to cross a fence or go through a checkpoint. But the Israelis fear that if there are no borders then all the Palestinians will come through Jerusalem to live in Tel Aviv.

The last negotiation was in 2008. It’s been 10 years now, and many things have changed. It’s even more complicated to solve the issues in Jerusalem. But at the same time… Let me tell you what I wrote on almost the last page of the book. I tell a story about Nelson Mandela.

On Christmas in 1986, he was in jail, when one of his prison guards asked him, “Would you like to see the city?” He’d been in jail for more than 20 years. Mandela agreed and the prison official drove him around Cape Town. Mandela saw people walking in the street, and the officers bought him some juice. They brought him back to jail, and it was as is nothing had happened. No one knew about this trip. But it was about only three years later that he was released, and only four years later that there was free elections in South Africa. And what I say is that things started to change in South Africa when the white people started to understand the situation is not stable and cannot last.

No one can say when this change started to happen. And the last words I write are: I don’t know if Nelson Mandela has traveled around Jerusalem yet but I I can’t say it hasn’t happened.

Maybe, in the mind of the Israelis, a solution has begun. When the Israelis will understand that their occupation cannot last, and they have to find a solution, and it can happen, then maybe … maybe that has already started.

All we can say is that Nelson Mandela was traveling in the streets with one of the officers.

Tom Teicholz: It’s a beautiful image. It reminds me of a breakfast with Shimon Peres that I attended about 15 years ago around the time of the second intifada, at the end of which someone asked: Is there any reason for hope? Peres answered “There’s always reason for hope. Imagine if you were a Jew in Europe in 1944, and someone said to you, “In four years, Hitler will be dead, Germany will be defeated, and there will be a state of Israel.” You would’ve said he’s crazy.

Nir Hasson: Right.

Tom Teicholz: Things can change and they usually do, fast, when you least think they can.

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Belonging to Jerusalem’s Season of Culture

Jerusalem is as much idea as physical entity, existing in history and in the present, in literature and in prayers, in hearts and minds, as the soul, the dream (and even at times the nightmare) of diverse peoples, as a place fraught with politics and nationalism, convictions and resentments that can be as transcendental as they are oppressive, as spiritual as they are mundane – which is a way of saying Jerusalem is eternal and ever changing.

Michal Fattal
Jerusalem Season of Culture audience for Kulna performance
Mekudeshet (which means belonging — as in each partner in a couple once married belongs to the other) the Jerusalem site-specific experiential arts festival that ran from August 23-September 15 is dedicated to exploring the complexity of Jerusalem. Their mission is, as per their press materials, “to seek out the source of common good and openness in Jerusalem that is at the heart of everything Mekudeshet does.” They know all too well that Jerusalem remains special to many and worth fighting for but they recognize that in the end, “Our Jerusalem is not really ours. We are hers.”

This is the seventh season of what began as the Jerusalem Season of Culture and is now a three- week end-of-summer event. Mekudeshet is supported by a host of Israeli, American and International foundations such as the Schusterman Foundation Israel, as well as individual donors. They collaborate, when relevant and appropriate, with a variety of cultural and Jerusalem-based organizations such as this year with the Israel Museum, Hansen House and the Van Leer Institute.

Naomi Bloch Fortis, Mekudeshet’s General Manager explained that they are searching for “What is sacred in our lives? What is a sacred moment?” Their answer is: “Sacred is when go out of your automated programmed response…. To break out of your shell.” Doing so, Fortis believes, can lead to a change in the mindset; and, in turn, she says, “a change in the mindset may lead to other changes.”

Among this year’s themes were ‘Above and Beyond’ and ‘Dissolving Barriers’ as well as a wide variety of experiences and musical events including a whole night of experiences and performances in the Tower of David and a 5K group sunset run to programmed content. The curators for “Above and Beyond” include Yehudit Schlossberg, Matan Israeli, and Mekudeshet Artistic Director Itay Mautner; the producers were David Kosher and Hadas Vanunu.

“Above and Beyond” took place over seven days on seven rooftops in Jerusalem and was a collaborative project with Muslala Group which founded a New Rooftop for Urbanism at the Clal Center, (Muslala is a nonprofit to create public art founded by artists, residents, and community acitivists in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem in 2009).

Although I did not visit all seven roofs, I had several unique and memorable experiences So, for example, one evening in the old city, not far from the Jaffa Gate and from the main drag of the souk, I proceeded up a set of metal stairs to the Galizia roofs, called “the roof of roofs,” There I found another world where pathways existed from roof to roof across the old city, that in all my years of visiting Jerusalem, I had no idea existed. People on bicycles pedal by (did they carry their bikes up to the roof? I don’t know); East Jerusalem teenagers do parkour there; Religious men hurry by deep in conversation while women with their afternoon food shopping also make haste across the roofs. At night lights come on and as students rush by and couples stroll, the roofs take on a whole new character, a terrace with an unobstructed view of the golden Dome of the Rock.

And it was on this “roof of roofs,” that artist Gili Avissar created a ceremony where each night for seven days between 6:00PM and 7:30 PM as the sun set, a solemn ceremony took place. A handful of men and women enacted a ritual of raising a series of flags, each an abstract design of Avissar’s. Then once all the flags were raised and fluttering in the evening breeze, they were just as ceremoniously taken down, folded and put away. This simple act in a place where many flags have flown over contested land for so many centuries was powerful, at once an act of respect for the sanctity of an everyday Jerusalem one takes for granted and still filled with the promise of a Jerusalem reborn flying flags of vibrant colors.

Youval Hai
Volcano – Above and Beyond
I went next to a designated roof on a building off Jaffa Street. There the artist Rafram Chaddad had turned the roof into a huge field of barley. We were invited, in small groups, to don slippers and walk over to a small circle beside a pool where Chaddad was sitting. As we joined him, he began to talk: about himself, his life, his work, about Tunisia where he lives part-time, and about drying food on the roof. As he spoke, his hands were busy serving us each a plate with black couscous and lettuce leaves from which to improvise a snack. And as we ate and talked, sharing something of ourselves, we communed with Chaddad in this unnatural natural world he had created on a rooftop in Jerusalem.

An adjacent rooftop held a number of other installations. Standing on top of the Clal Center (one of Jerusalem’s first attempts at an indoor shopping mall, it is now largely deserted) , I looked out at the ancient walls of the Old City and the teeming traffic of Jaffa Street. As I surveyed the panorama, I noticed on a nearby rooftop a mound, a mountain really, simulating a volcanic eruption. The sight of it makes one laugh awkwardly, because it is so incongruous there, yet speaks to the simmering tensions in Jerusalem that threaten to erupt at a moment’s notice. What’s all the more striking is that people on the street below either didn’t seem to notice it or did not think it strange that there’s a volcano on the roof.

Youval Hai
Sharon Glazberg “Neshama” Above and Beyond
On another side roof I found a strange-looking installation by Sharon Glazberg called “Neshama” (Soul). It is a mound of earth surrounded by seven persons who seem to be blowing into tubes that appear to make the earth itself heave up and down and who each assume a variety of positions as if enacting some ceremony.

To me, the sight of these silent tube-connected people and the living earth called to mind some “Alien”-type science fiction horror movie where humans have been tethered to an alien whose belly is rising as if to give birth to some new creature. However, Glazberg, who was present at the site explained that “Neshama” is a very personal work in which she wanted to create “an alternative ceremony for my grandmother who passed away five months ago.” Glazberg explained that her grandmother was in the hospital following surgery and had been put on a breathing machine. Glazberg was with her when she died. But even after she died her chest continued to heave because of the breathing machine. “This image stayed with me,” she said. “Of trying to bring something to life that no longer exists”

Glazberg decided for this project to create a Shiva-like mourning ritual in which she had seven people assume seven positions for seven days. At the same, Glazberg noticed that “In Jerusalem they are digging everywhere. It’s like an open wound.” So she arranged to have 2.5 cubic meters of earth that were dug up from under the Temple Mount archeological dig placed on the roof. She explained: “This is a counter-intuitive act—to raise earth, with such a rich historical past, up to a roof—a futuristic urban space. At a time when Jerusalem’s earth is being relentlessly dug up in an attempt to prove the different historical narratives, the earth undergoes a ceremony that breathes new life into it.” And so the earth of Glazberg’s ‘Neshama’ heaved up and down as the ritual was enacted.

Mekudeshet events occurred both during the day as well as at night. There was a sound installation in the Valley of the Cross (a park just below the Israel Museum) that I attended at night that was strange yet strangely affecting. Another event I wanted to attend but ran out of time was an all night group sleepover to music curated by Jerusalem’s Gilly the Kid (Gilly Levy), with music from midnight to 7AM decreasing in volume – then an hour break – after which there was more music as breakfast was served.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that when you are on a press tour hosted by Mekudeshet you are well cared for. And you are plugged in: Mekudeshet’s staff Motti Wolf and Kim Weiss seem to know everyone in Jerusalem and have great access among Jerusalem’s creative class. We were given a private performance by Sofi Tsedaka who sings haunting Samaritan prayers that are thousands of years old. We attended a rehearsal of the East-West Orchestra conducted by Tom Cohen with soloists from across the Levant. The folks at Mekudeshet are also foodies and know and are known at all the best restaurants in Jerusalem. Some of the highlights included a Lilach Rubin foodie tour of the Old City in search of the best hummus (many contenders); dinner at Anna, the new Nimrod Norman restaurant at the Anna Ticho House; Assaf Granit’s Yudale restaurant; lunch at the Offaim Café at the Hansen House. One meal was better than the next and each one was excellent.

Another of Mekudeshet’s centerpieces this season was “Dissolving Barriers” which involved committing to a five-hour magical mystery tour of Jerusalem by minivan. We were each given headphones and music players, on which Jean Marc Liling (who by day is an immigration attorney) spoke in a rich and engaging voice about his passion for Jerusalem, and what it means to be a Jerusalemite while we were taken to a series of stops to meet actual Jerusalem residents who explode our pre-conceived expectations. There was Pesach, who for thirty years has been in drug rehab – as a doctor, that is – but whose treatment center aims to erase the difference and the stigma between patient and doctor; on another stop we met Pina, a Haredi woman of the Litvak sect, who lives in Jerusalem’s Nahalot neighborhood and is determined to run for Jerusalem City Council. We also paid a visit to JEST, an East Jerusalem startup technology incubator for the residents of East Jerusalem (and East Jerusalem women in particular) that offers training and courses and co-working space as well as an accelerator to help ideas become businesses.

“Dissolving Barriers” was not an art work, but it was an experience, and one that will stay with me, as I recalibrate in my own mind, how among the more than 900,000 people of Jerusalem who are a third East Jerusalemite, and a third Haredi, they can all, individually and collectively be “mekudeshet” to Jerusalem. Or, more to the point, how Jerusalem is what makes them mekudeshet. And it is that connection, and that lingering impact that makes Mekedushet: Jerusalem Season of Culture, which re-invents itself every year, worth attending and coming back to again. And again.

In the end I would say that if you are an Israeli who takes Jerusalem for granted and never avails him or herself of seeing the city with different eyes, Mekudeshet is the festival for you. Similarly, for American (and other) tourists looking for an alternative way to experience Jerusalem and feel a deeper connection to the diverse voices of Jerusalem, take in the Jerusalem Season of Culture and become Mekudeshet. For more information go to http://en.mekudeshet.com/

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Pop Culture in Carson, CA: A Galaxy of Fans for Manchester United

So there I was on a Saturday night, July 15th to be exact, at the StubHub Center, which is the name of the stadium in Carson which is itself a small city of 100,000, located 13 miles south of Downtown LA and about a half hour from Santa Monica. It’s a very nice stadium. It was opened in 2003 and was called the Home Depot Center for its first decade. It seats 27,000 and is both the second venue developed specifically for Major League Soccer (MLS) and the second largest MLS soccer stadium. It is home to the LA Galaxy, and the LA Chargers are playing there until their new stadium at Hollywood Park, in Inglewood near LAX, opens.

I was there for a match between the Galaxy and Manchester United of the English Premier League (MU). Although most often I write about high culture and cultural events, sitting with some 25,000 other people at an event was, at least to me, a worthy pop cultural event.

LA Galaxy
LA Galaxy vs Manchester United
Now, there’s also a little bit of backstory here: My father, once upon a time, played soccer – as legend has it that he played on the second string of the Polish National team. This is before World War Two in his native city of Lvov (now called Lviv), in a part of Poland which is now Ukraine. For my part, I played soccer on my high school team (I was a co-captain) and briefly my freshman year in college.

Once upon a time, playing soccer was counter-cultural. At my high school, soccer attracted neither the crowds, nor the support that the football team did. Our team was filled with guys with long hair and red eyes. It was a collegial sport – back then playing the sport didn’t improve your chances for any college. This was the era of the North American Soccer League and the Cosmos – a brave experiment that despite the soccer great Pele and hitmaker Ahmet Ertegun met with baffled reactions and little attention from American sports fans.

My daughter played soccer in high school and is herself a Manchester United fan. She has grown up in the era of World Cup winning U.S. Women’s Soccer Teams. For her playing soccer was an almost year-round event with club teams dragging the season out until April or May. To her, Beckham, Ronaldo and Messi were household names. She often watches MU games on her laptop or cellphone.

I had reached out to Galaxy management with the pitch that I wanted to write about a father-daughter night watching the Galaxy play Manchester United. I explained that I was more than willing to pay for tickets. I just wanted good seats without paying a scalper. Let me disclose that instead the Galaxy organization comped me for two tickets, up a bunch of rows from the South-East corner. I was all set to write about the evening.

That was the plan. That saying about best laid plans certainly applies to plans with my 19 year-old daughter who, in age-appropriate fashion — is prone to last minute crises, late arrivals and change of plans. Or in other words, she flaked on me.

Which is why I arrived by myself to the StubHub Center where the parking was reasonable — that is for stadium parking ($20) — and reasonably close to the actual stadium. And although I came alone, I found the stadium full (I had to dislodge squatters in my seat – who did not leave, just moved over) and very much a sea of Red– MU Fans.

The last time MU played the Galaxy the score was 7-0. This time, it was apparent MU was treating their games in the US as a sort of pre-season training vacation. They were well rested and had been winning most of their games.

By contrast, the Galaxy had been playing game after game in their season and had been on a losing streak. Curt Onalfo, the Galaxy’s coach, was skating on thin ice. Expectations were not great for the Galaxy, but MU defused disappointment by promising a “friendly game.” Also adding a little spice to the evening MU teased that the Galaxy game could feature the first appearance by Romelu Lukaku who joined MU on July 10th.

And so, the game began. From the first MU came off as more polished, with crisper passes and better ball control. Two minutes into the game MU’s Marcus Rashford scored his first goal. 19 minutes in Rashford was given a beautiful pass and pretty much ran the ball into the goal, scoring again. Then at 25 minutes, Marouane Fellaini, the Belgian player of Morrocan heritage whose been with MU since 2013 was passed the ball and off his left foot placed the ball deep into corner of the goal,. At Half-Time the score was 3-0. Brian Rowe, the Galaxy’s goalie, didn’t look very happy.

It’s funny, all the reasons why Americans wouldn’t watch professional soccer in its first American outing several decades ago – the game’s too slow, there’s not enough action, the scores are too low, games can end in shoot-outs – those are the very reasons watching the game is now enjoyable. The short pass game that has come to dominate soccer makes for what we now call “the beautiful game.’ And the internationalism of the sport (Belgians and French players on English teams; British ones on American teams) makes the game of interest to all. Soccer has become a common denominator among people of different cultures in the American melting pot – a bright spot at a time and in a country where the rhetoric leads in the opposite direction.

The second half didn’t start better. At 66 minutes, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (who is also captain of the Armenian National Team) found himself alone in front of the gall and was able to send the ball past the goalie. At 72 minutes, Anthony Martial got a great pass and with a strong right foot scored MU’s fifth goal. 5-0 was a disheartening turn of events for all. Just like a superhero movie is only as good as its villain, a soccer match needs two teams going at it full bore to create the tension and anticipation that each goal releases.

LA Galaxy
Giovanni Dos Santos courtesy of LA Galaxy
Finally, 78 minutes in, the Galaxy’s Gio Dos Santos took a shot and with his right foot sent the ball into the net. A great touch. The crowd was ecstatic – a little dignity regained. Then shortly thereafter at the 87th minute, the Galaxy got a corner shot. The kick floated above the goal. David Romney headed it in, bouncing off Santos into the goal for 5-2. “Makes the score look a lot better,” was one Brit’s comment. And then the game was over.

When you watch soccer on TV, the advances in image resolution and camera work, allow one to see the play and the strategy in the game up close. However, nothing can compare to the experience of sitting in a stadium with thousands of other fans, cheering (and on occasion screaming) at the players and the referees. That communal feeling is also in short supply in these United States these days.

The Galaxy fans were troopers. The MU fans were for the most part fun and revved up – save for the occasional Hooligan wannabe – whose volcanic screams and incitements to violence I could have done without (or found at a poltical rally). That being said, I was happy to be outside on a warm beautiful night in a comfortable stadium at a friendly soccer game in Carson. Which makes me think that in the words of the immortal Johnny Carson, “We’ll be right back.”

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LA’s Modern Art Maven: Galka Scheyer

Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena through September 25, 2017

At the Norton Simon Museum it is easy to be distracted by the many Rodin sculptures at its entrance or to be seduced by the Museum’s beautiful outdoor sculpture garden set in its backyard with a pond that surely would have captivated Monet, or be transfixed by the Van Goghs and Impressionist masterpieces in the galleries, or even the Adam & Eve by Cranach that is the subject of a Holocaust restitution dispute. However, if you make your way down the stairs to the basement galleries, past the Asian art, hidden in two windless rooms, you will find a wonderful exhibit well worth your time on Galka Scheyer, a German Jewish refugee whose passion for the work of her fellow artists made her one of LA’s premiere salonists, art lecturer, consultant, collector and art dealer.

© Nolde Stiftung Seebüll, German
Head in Profile, 1919, Emil Nolde (German, 1867-1956) Watercolor and India ink on tan wove paper 14-1/2 x 11-1/8 in. (36.8 x 28.3 cm) Norton Simon Museum, The Blue Four Galka Scheyer Collection
Scheyer was an extraordinary personality. Born in 1889 in Brausnschweig, Germany, to a middle class Jewish family, she studied art in London and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, prior to painting full time. However, in 1921 she organized an exhibition in Lausanne, Switzerland, for Alexei Jawlensky, the Russian artist who she had known for several years. Jawlensky, in turn, introduced her to Lyonel Fenninger, Paul Klee and Vasily Kadinsky, all of whom were teaching with Jawlensky at the Bauhaus in Germany. This meeting proved to be fateful for all four as well as for Scheyer.

By 1924, Scheyer was representing the quartet in the United States, having branded them “The Blue Four” (A nod both to their being post-Fauvist artists and the Blue Rider German art movement Kadinsky had founded in 1909). Scheyer arranged exhibitions (and sales) of their work in New York, the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Scheyer also launched herself as a modern art expert, giving lectures on Modernism and Art, and affiliating herself as an art consultant to the Oakland Museum of Art and the County Museum in Los Angeles. It was in Los Angeles that she met the collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg, and decided to plant herself there, to thrive near her best clients. She lived in an art-filled Hollywood home built by Richard Neutra (and later photographed by Julius Shulman).

Scheyer had a great eye, a very entrepreneurial spirit, and a gift for friendship with artists and collectors alike. The Norton Simon exhibit features works artists gave her as gifts, including Jawlensky’s “The Hunchback” and Klee’s “Possibilities at Sea,” a 1932 work that Scheyer called “one of the most amazing pictures I have ever experienced.”

C Norton Simon Museum
Plants in the Courtyard, 1932, Paul Klee (Swiss, 1879-1940) Oil and gouache on heavy wove paper mounted (not by the artist) on board sheet: 14-3/4 x 21-1/8 in. (37.5 x 53.7 cm) Norton Simon Museum, The Blue Four Galka Scheyer Collection
It goes without saying that Scheyer was a life saver to these artists whose work (if not their lives) Hitler sought to erase from the earth.

Each of the artists featured in “Mavens” is worth spending time with. In Jawlensky, who is little known in the United States, we see the progression from figurative drawings to paintings where emotion is expressed in color; and from there to cubist and formal abstractions; and, finally, distinctive abstracts. Feninger’s watercolors seem to float out of the frames. Kadinsky is the master of abstract art. Here, we see Kadinsky’s Russian constructivist and suprematist influences leading to works of pure abstraction. The Swiss painter Paul Klee presents yet another variation on cubism and abstraction, producing works more mysterious, and psychological that seem to sprout from the unconscious – both Klee’s and ours.

In addition, the exhibit features work from Scheyer’s not insubstantial collection, a very good Picasso, and works by Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Alexander Archipenko, El Lissitzky, Lazslo Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, Kurt Schwitters, Diego Rivera and photographs by Imogene Cunningham and Edward Weston.

“Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California” is well worth seeing for its art, curated by Gloria Williams Sander, intelligently and with great empathy, but also as inspiration drawn from the life of a woman who made a living of Art, made artists a living, and who gave life to the Modern Art so well displayed at The Norton Simon.

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney

David Hockney who turned 80 on July 9, is being celebrated by major exhibitions traveling the globe. The Tate Modern held its comprehensive exhibit about Hockney’s work from February 9 through May 29th which is now at The Pompidou Center in Paris (June 21-Oct 23) before ending its run at New York’s Metropolitan Museum (November 26- February 25, 2018). It’s the kind of career-spanning retrospective to warm an artist’s heart and please his fans. It is the kind of exhibition that, being held at three of the world’s most prestigious museums, is frankly hard to top or even match.

David Hockney at the Getty Center
London, Paris and New York are not, however, home to Hockney who has lived part-time in Los Angeles for the last 50 years. So the Getty Museum has thrown David Hockney a celebration with two small but well-considered and curated rooms of exhibits, one of self-portraits chosen from Hockney’s own private collection and foundation; the other, a room of photocollages surrounding the Getty owned and rarely exhibited Hockney masterpiece, Pearlblossom Highway, both of which Timothy Potts deemed, “Two of the most important aspects of his work and what he’s achieved.” And The Getty invited Mr. Hockney to attend the opening last week (which he did, looking charmed by the exhibit and exhibiting tremendous grace in the face of all the attention).

Julian Brooks, senior curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum had the enviable task of working with the artist’s archive and the David Hockney Foundation to select the Hockney self-portraits which range from age 17 to age 75 (in 2012), and are done in a wide variety of mediums, from pencil to Ipad, demonstrating Hockney’s incredible creativity, dexterity, and his own self-identity as an early adopter and lifelong learner of new technologies adopted in the service of his art. The portraits, Brooks explained, “were never intended for commercial sale and have instead remained with the artist. We are privileged to be exhibiting these rarely seen, intimate works.”

The 16 featured works begin with a pencil drawing made when Hockney was at Bradford Art School, and is the basis for a lithograph he made soon after, which itself reveals Hockney’s flair for color and texture (and it is worth noting that in this self-portrait Hockney’s hair was still dark black – he was years away from turning it blond). There is a photograph from 1975 that Hockney took while on vacation in France that is just his legs, socks (one bright yellow, one bright red) and shoes jutting out over the water which speaks to how well Hockney, consciously or unconsciously, branded himself – (so much so that we can recognize him just by his socks!). There are charcoal drawings, and oil-painted experiments in Cubism (or in homage to Picasso); a self-portrait made with Xeroxed images; watercolors, and most recently, large format IPad drawings.

Looking at the self-portraits one sees not just the passage of time, but Hockney becoming and being Hockney. Taken together the room shows Hockney “confronting himself as he aged,” Brooks said. At the same demonstrating Hockney’s constant curiosity and appetite for exploring new mediums and his quick intelligence in seizing on the artistic dimension each new medium offers him.

A second gallery features a selection of Hockney’s photocollages from the 1980s. As, Virginia Heckert, department head of the Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs, explained, Hockney got his hands on a polaroid SX-70 camera on February 26, 1982, and he began using up his stock of polaroid film, and arranging the white bordered images into a grid. In one of the first images he conveys the porch at his home in a flattened 360 perspective; in another, he charts the trajectory of a dive into his pool, much like Edward Muybridge’s motion studies of a horse running.

Richard Schmidt
David Hockney “Jerry Diving Sunday Feb. 28th 1982”
Composite Polaroid, 10 1/2 X 24 1/2,C David Hockney
With photography, Heckert says, Hockney wasn’t interested in what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “The Decisive Moment,” For Hockney it was not about seeing a moment and seizing it, it was about exploring the ways in which to see a moment. Hockney was more interested in composing the images and redoing them if necessary to arrive at his desired effect. One of the interesting features of the early Polaroid collages is that every element in the picture remains in focus – obliterating renaissance notions of perspective and offering a modern way of seeing – in which a multiplicity of focus conveys present reality.

97.XM.39
David Hockney,”Pearlblosson Hwy., 11 – 18th of April 1986, #2, April 11-18, 1986, Chromogenic prints mounted on paper honeycomb panel, 181.6 X 271.8 cm (71 1/2 X 107 in), The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
C 1986 David Hockney, 97.XM.39
“Pearlblossom Highway” is the most elaborate (and one of the most famous) of Hockney’s photocollages consisting of some 700 photos and it took Hockney nine days to make (the most of any of his photocollages, Heckert said). On assignment for Vanity Fair magazine, Hockney was tasked with retracing Hubert Humbert’s path from Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel “Lolita” and found himself at this desert intersection in California’s Antelope Valley. Hockney’s technique immediately draws you into the photo while presenting every detail, every piece of roadside garbage in hyper-realistic detail. The artwork is quite fragile. It is not glazed over to preserve it and has only been exhibited twice in the past by The Getty. Go see it now before it is archived again!

The self-portraits and the photo-collages are both small tributes but like bites of molecular gastronomy they deliver a ton of the flavor of Mr. Hockney. He has been at home in Los Angeles for some 50 years, and the LA that appears in his work, swimming pools, bright colors, desert landscapes, a land where time and perspective are obliterated, have only become more true over time (or become the identifiers of present day LA).

In organizing this birthday tribute to David Hockney, it must be said, the Getty was not without its own somewhat selfish motives, as Timothy Potts freely admitted. The museum hopes to acquire more Hockneys and strengthen their relationship with the artist as his hometown art institution of choice. Also, as Hockney is a contemporary artist and vastly popular and recognizable one, I imagine that this exhibition will leverage Hockney’s own appeal to the Getty’s benefit with collectors and younger patrons and visitors. The exhibit’s opening celebration was filled with Getty board members, Los Angeles’ roving art cognoscenti, prominent collectors, and a liberal dose of the venerated, as well as a dash of LA’s young(er) and upcoming strivers. Hockney seeming somewhat frail (walking with a cane and inhibited from extensive conversation by his hearing problems0 nonetheless seemed pleased to be there and for this fuss to me made over him.

And in the end, who can blame the Getty for doing so? It made for a lively and well-attended birthday party for one of the greatest living artists LA claims as its own.

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Rauschenberg: Making Art “Among Friends”

For those of us who came of age in the second half of the 20th Century, it was dogma that the greatest artist of the 20th Century was Pablo Picasso – he was everywhere, at the forefront of transformative artistic movements such as Cubism and he worked in almost every possible medium, in some cases revealing never-before-realized artistic potential in painting, collage, sculpture, and ceramics. He was constantly creative and prodigiously prolific, leaving footprints on the art scene that most thought would be difficult to matched or fill but certainly would remain relevant far into the future.

Cover of Robert Rauschenberg, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017useum of Modern Art
Cover of Robert Rauschenberg, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017
However, by 21st Century reckoning, it is Andy Warhol who is the most important artist of the 20th Century. Not only did Warhol also work in every medium but his appropriation of images, use of silk screens, his series of multiples and use of a “factory” model to produce his work, resonates strongly as an influence for artists today who see themselves more in Warhol, whose work is itself easier to appropriate than the singular artistry of Picasso.

Yet Warhol’s coronation may prove short-lived. The current Rauschenberg retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends” (through September 17) makes a convincing case for Rauschenberg as the master of bricolage and father of the collaborative, inventive, artistic practice that so dominates and inspires contemporary art and artists. The Rauschenberg exhibit is a paen to creativity and art-making which as the exhibit amply demonstrates can be fashioned from found object and images and the detritus of our lives.

“Rauschenberg: Among Friends” presents over 250 works in a variety of mediums (there is even a work made of bubbling mud!), that span Rauschenberg’s six decades of work. There are drawings, prints, photographs and sound and video recordings, all of which give testament to Rauschenberg’s inclusive and collaborative spirit. They are paired with works by Japser Johns, Cy Twombly, Jean Tinguely and others.

Peter Moore. Performance view of Robert Rauschenberg’s Pelican (1963), 1965. © Barbara Moore/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © Barbara Moore/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Peter Moore. Performance view of Robert Rauschenberg’s Pelican (1963), 1965. © Barbara Moore/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Among Rauschenberg’s earliest collaborations was with the painter Susan Weil whom he followed to Black Mountain College, an art school that stressed artistic collaboration and where Merce Cunningham and John Cage were also, at times, in residence. With Weil, whom Rauschenberg married in 1950 and with whom he had a son before divorcing in 1952, Rasuchenberg created artworks and dances (Rauschenberg even performed as a rollerskater).

In the show, we learn that it was Andy Warhol himself who showed Rauschenberg how to silk screens images onto canvas incorporating the detritus of personal life – photos, newspapers, postcards, drawings and use color and grids to organize the elements, yielding some of Rauschenberg’s iconic works over the decades. However, afraid to ever rest on his laurels, Rauschenberg had the screens destroyed so he wouldn’t repeat himself.

Robert Rauschenberg. Retroactive I. 1964. Oil and silk-screen-ink print on canvas. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. Gift of Susan Morse Hilles. Photo: Allen Phillips/Wadsworth Atheneum © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Robert Rauschenberg. Retroactive I. 1964. Oil and silk-screen-ink print on canvas. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. Gift of Susan Morse Hilles. Photo: Allen Phillips/Wadsworth Atheneum © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Rasuchenberg expanded of notions of what art could be. As opposed to the great man theory of Picasso, and the leaders of Abstract Expressionism Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko, Rasuchenberg was a scruffier magpie. He took a bed, stapled the pillow and covers to it, placed it upright and painted on the quilt. His “Combines,” three-dimensional collages, included a tire and a taxidermied goat.

Robert Rauschenberg. Monogram. 1955–59. Oil, paper, fabric, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe-heel, and tennis ball on two conjoined canvases with oil on taxidermied Angora goat with brass plaque and rubber tire on wood platform mounted on four casters, 42 × 53 1/4 × 64 1/2 in. (106.7 × 135.2 × 163.8 cm). Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Purchase with contribution from Moderna Museets Vänner/The Friends of Moderna Museet. © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation© 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Robert Rauschenberg. Monogram. 1955–59. Oil, paper, fabric, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe-heel, and tennis ball on two conjoined canvases with oil on taxidermied Angora goat with brass plaque and rubber tire on wood platform mounted on four casters, 42 × 53 1/4 × 64 1/2 in. (106.7 × 135.2 × 163.8 cm). Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Purchase with contribution from Moderna Museets Vänner/The Friends of Moderna Museet. © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
What comes through so strongly in the work, which is not always “pretty”, “finished” or even coherent, is the importance of the creative impulse itself. Rauschenberg’s work tells us that anything can be the material of art – found objects, discarded items (a tire, a taxidermied goat) Rasuchenberg even made an artwork of bubbling mud.

In this way, the artist himself is at the center of the work – it is his conception, his eye, his combinations and his execution that make the work art. At the same time, the importance of collaboration in Rauschenberg makes plain the message that all art is, in essence, a collaboration – and the notion of Picasso’s singularity is demolished.

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Paul McCarthy’s Summer Shock

The new Paul McCarthy exhibit at Hauser & Wirth in downtown Los Angeles, “WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos,” triggers a set of opposing emotions and reactions: McCarthy’s large scale wooden figurative creations and abstract wall hangings are as sensual and gorgeous as they are hideous and transgressive. They are deeply thought-out and yet strangely impulsive. Provocative and rule-breaking yet completely within McCarthy’s canon.

© Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Fredrik Nilsen
Installation view, ‘Paul McCarthy. WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017
© Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

What comes to mind when viewing them is the French saying “Epater les bourgeois” (to horrify the bourgeois middle class) which was the rallying cry of the French Symbolist poets such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine, and was later adopted by aesthetes such as Oscar Wilde, and later still by Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealists. It is a declaration that artists must explore excess and decadence and that art itself can’t be safe but rather should shock the consciousness of the too comfortable middle-class establishment. This would seem to well apply to McCarthy’s work.

McCarthy’s delight in challenging cultural norms is well-documented. In recent years McCarthy has unveiled a giant sculpture in Paris that many felt was best described as a “butt plug” as well as exhibits of paintings or sculptures of Snow White, or WS (White Snow as McCarthy calls his creation) having anal sex.

Stacen Berg, Senior Director of Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles described McCarty as a “Hometown Hero” and “a spirit guide” for Hauser & Wirth. McCarthy is, like Los Angeles itself, a jumble of contradictions (the establishment bad boy, the singular collaborator, the prolific obsessive, the deeply thought-out attention to cartoon characters) and all these are on display in the current Hauser & Wirth exhibition.

In remarks at the press preview for the exhibition, McCarthy said the WS spinoffs were just that, projects that “twirled out of this major piece.” The figurines were all constructed from scanned objects that were reconfigured in the computer and then carved of black walnut on a monumental scale. They are, in McCarthy’s telling about “entanglement and immersion, singularity, the disintegration of identity.”

White Snow appears as conjoined mirror twins bound by a garland of flowers. There are “Dopey” heads, grotesquely disproportionate; and even WS on a horse with her Prince. The Brown Rothkos, McCarthy explained, were made as a byproduct of the White Snow project. When making the 20 foot trees that are part of White Snow’s forest, the pieces were placed on stands on carpets and sprayed with foam and resin. These carpets became the “Brown Rothkos.”

Installation view, ‘Paul McCarthy. WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos’Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017 © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Fredrik Nilsen © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Fredrik Nilsen
Installation view, ‘Paul McCarthy. WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017 © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Fredrik Nilsen
The two series, comprising almost a dozen of the spin-offs and nine of the Brown Rothkos, are shown together in the same cavernous room with the wall hangings surrounding the wood sculptures. Together, they present a study in opposites: The WS Spinoffs are figurative and made very intentionally, in this case, of walnut, which is, in its way, a natural and organic matter. The forest of trees, and the large headed “Dopey” figures dominate much of the room, while the Brown Rothkos receded into the walls on which they hang. The Brown Rothkos are abstract and are very much the product of chance and not natural and are made of non-natural fibers, resin and foam.

The dark wood WS spinoffs are things of beauty crying out to be touched. They represent the asexuality of Snow White and Disney characters, while at the same time being imbued by McCarthy with their own dark sexuality. By contrast, the Brown Rothkos are repellent – you wouldn’t want to touch them. One can’t avoid that their brownness recalls fecal matter – a subject often present in McCarthy’s recent work. And the Rothko reference is itself a call to consider the obvious differences between the two artists’ works. While Rothko’s large-scale color field paintings are deliberate and meditative, pulling the viewer into their deep pools of color, McCarthy’s improvised wall hangings repulse introspection and seem themselves petri dishes from which the inorganic material on its surface might arise.

© Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Fredrik Nilse
Installation view, ‘Paul McCarthy. WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017 © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Fredrik Nilse
There is another artist who McCarthy’s show also brings to mind – as an opposite. Looking at the WS Spinoffs and Dark Rothkos, McCarthy presents as the Anti-Koons. Where Jeff Koons’ work is polished to perfection, McCarthy wants you to see where the seams are. Where Koons recreates childhood and childhood playthings, McCarthy uses figurines “from childhood” that have been distorted, subverted, and even perverted (for example the wooden Siamese twin WS “Flower Girls” reveal on their back seam the outlines of a vagina).

Koons’ work wants you to focus on its surface and defies finding greater meaning beyond its polished exteriors. By contrast, although McCarthy is not one to reveal the exact meaning of his work, at the press preview he did discuss how they are the byproduct of many years of deep explorations of the various questions that have engaged him.

McCarthy’s wooden figures and brown abstract wall hangings provide a sharp contrast to the bright sunny days of a California summer – it is this very interplay between expectations and the hidden realities, between surface beauty and inner darkness which is at the heart of McCarthy’s work. One might also say that it is that tension that animates Los Angeles itself. If you find McCarthy’s work disquieting or troubling so much the better. He has done his job. Which is why it makes for such a good summer exhibit for Hauser & Wirth.

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Sternburg’s Photographs: “There for the Seeing”

Photographers don’t have eyes in the back of their heads. Janet Sternburg does.” -Wim Wenders on Janet Sternburg’s photographs.

‘Overspilling World’ (Distanz $55) collects the photographs of Janet Sternburg, poet, playwright, documentary filmmaker and producer, and memoirist. What is striking about Sternburg’s work, is not that she does all these different disciplines so well, but rather that she brings the same intellectual curiosity and deeply-felt artistic sensibility to each. For more https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomteicholz/2017/03/02/sternburgs-photographs-there-for-the-seeing/#1856f31c119a

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A Depression of One’s Own: Daphne Merkin’s ‘This Close to Happy”

In “This Close to Happy” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Daphne Merkin, novelist (‘Enchantment’) and essayist (‘Dreaming of Hitler’ and ‘The Fame Lunches’) has written a compelling chronicle of her traumatized childhood and an adult life marked by repeated bouts of severe depression.

Although it would be easy to characterize Merkin’s memoir as part of an established genre of books about surviving depression that includes William Styron’s ‘Darkness Visible’, Andrew Solomon’s ‘The Noonday Demon’, Susanna Kaysen’s ‘Sleep Interrupted’ and Kay Redfield’s ‘An Unquiet Mind’, Merkin’s work is unique in describing the mundane burden of a deeply felt and closely observed life lived with depression. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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The Genius of Bernard-Henri Levy’s Affirmative Judaism

In his latest book, “”The Genius of Judaism” (Random House), Bernard-Henri Levy revisits much of his early and recent public intellectual life to reveal that much of what he has done, where he has traveled to, and why he does it, is animated by his Jewishness. As a proud French Jew, Levy makes the case for a pointedly secular “affirmative Judaism” that is about actions not faith, ethics not belief. Levy calls it ‘messianic Judaism’ (which if I understand it, means not waiting for the messiah but actively doing those good deeds that will bring about the messiah).

In “The Genius of Judaism,” Levy elaborates on his credo by rebutting the pernicious and false logic behind current anti-Semitism and defends Israel as the world’s most successful multi-ethnic democracy created from scratch. Levy also makes the case for France’s Jews being integral to the establishment of the French Nation, the French Language and French Literature. And last, but certainly not least, he presents a striking interpretation of the Book of Jonah. It is a tour de force.

In a two-hour far-ranging conversation over lunch recently in Beverly Hills, I began by turning to the end of the book, whose last line is “The trip has only just begun,” – not only because Hebrew is read from right to left – but also because it begged the question of when Levy began the journey of reclaiming his Jewishness.

“It began 40 years ago when I wrote ‘Testament of God’ in 1979,” Levy said, “and I never stopped. I continued in parallel with all my other works.” However, Levy admits, his public persona was consumed with politics and polemics; while, in private, he pursued a less-seen education, “A second thread,” influenced by friends and mentors such as Emanuel Levinas and Benny Levy who inspired him to familiarize himself with well-known Jewish sources such as Maimonides and more esoteric ones such as the Malbim (a 19th Century Russian Rabbi, Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, known for his Torah commentary) and the Kabbalah. More recently, Levy explained, he has taken a teacher with whom, “on a more or less regular basis, I have tried to learn.”

When I asked if there was an event or moment that triggered his more recent deeper immersion in Jewish learning, Levy answered without hesitation: “The Libyan War in 2011.” Then he told me an amazing story: In Libya, as has been well-reported, Levy became more than an observer. He embedded with resistance forces and helped them plot strategy. Levy provided them material aid, most publicly by delivering direct messages to and from French Prime Minister Nikolas Sarkozy. One night, towards the end of the war, Johnny, one of his Libyan companions, asked if Levy if he wanted to meet “the radicals.” Johnny explained that Levy had met everyone else, the liberals, the fundamentalists, and the revolutionaries. Was he interested in meeting the most extreme Jihadists, those who pledge allegiance to Isis (Daesh)? Levy said “Yes.”

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“It was August 2011. I was driven to a remote farm out of Benghazi at night. It was during the end of Ramadan.” He was taken before three well-known jihadists. “I spent the night with them discussing face-to-face, a very strong discussion on very intellectual and political and intimate topics.” Afterward, he was taken out of the armed camp and returned to safety. “It was strange. I wondered, “Why do I do that?” What impelled him to be in Libya and meet with these men who were avowed Anti-Semites?

Levy turned to one of the books he had with him, a volume that contained the Book of Jonah. “This was a spark.” He began to read the story again. “I said, ‘There is something [in Jonah for which] I have to go deep. Benghazi is not Nineveh but it is a place where men are like beasts in great number, not recognizing the left and the right.” He came to the realization that “What I’m doing there… has something to do with rescuing Nineveh … And this was the launch [for his deeper inquiry into his Judaism].”

I suggested that there was perhaps another significant trigger that forced Levy to confront his Jewishness: The 2002 murder of Daniel Pearl. Levy had spent almost two years retracing Daniel Pearl’s steps for his book “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” (2003) who, significantly, was killed by his captors after being forced to say on camera that he was Jewish, the child of Jewish Parents and that a street was named for his grandfather in Bnei Brak (an ultra-orthodox community in Israel).

Shortly after the book’s publication, I interviewed Levy who told me then that in history there are “hinge moments” — inflection points — where things change radically. Levy said that the murder of Daniel Pearl was one such moment and that it would be as significant a marker of the return of worldwide Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century as was the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus in the 20th. Levy proved right about that (I think about it often). To write a book about Daniel Pearl and for Levy to come to face to face with the reductionism by which journalist, musician, humanist, husband, father, and son Daniel Pearl was made to affirm his Jewishness along with his final words could not but have had a powerful impact on Levy, forcing him to face his own Jewishness, his Judaism and how it informed his life. Levy did not disagree:

“For sure, it was a shock for me,” Levy said. “This encounter with this liberal dead Jew who came from a real Orthodox Jewish background, a liberal who was very ready to extend his hand to the Muslim world. He was very much [a] Jonah.”

Levy finds great lessons in Jonah’s struggle. Levy makes the point that Jonah is a reluctant prophet: “even at the end of the story, he does not realize what he’s accomplished… He does not understand.. his role in the economy of the creation.”

That night in Libya, Levy saw himself as a Jonah. “By the bad side, yes, at least. I did a lot of things in Libya [that] I did not understand at the time why I did it.”

Jonah, Levy argues, is one of the few prophets commanded to save non-Jews and to save their great city of Nineveh, despite the fact that in Nineveh there are “more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals.” To Levy, what God is signaling to Jonah is the importance of the City.

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“What the text says and What I believe with all the fibers of my being,” Levy said, “is that… this way of inhabiting Earth, which is the way of the City, gives to humans a certain form of freedom: Freedom vis-à-vis Man, vis-à-vis God, vis-à-vis matters of substance, [even] vis-a-vis Idols, that is worth saving. That is the message given to Jonah by God. A city may be bad, but this way of creating community with the world that is what we call a City is a school for liberty that we cannot let be extinguished.”

In Libya, Levy realized that even if the outcome was unsure, even if those who followed were anti-Semites, he was compelled as a Jew to try to save those great cities from fascism and Urbicide (a term Levy uses for the destruction of cities). “Fascism… always has at its core the wish of urbicide,” Levy said, much as we’ve seen recently in Aleppo and Palmyra.

And so, in the Book of Jonah, Levy found the “Genius of Judaism” and this caused him to reconsider his own personal journey.

While admitting regret for his youthful embrace of Maoism in the late 1960s (and being blind, at first, to the atrocities of those regimes), Levy, looking back, now wonders: What did this moment have do with Israel? Why was it that so many of his fellow philosopher activists such as Emanuel Levitas and Liberation founder Benny Levy (then known as Pierre Victor) were Jewish? And why did they each turn to Judaism late in life to explain their world view; along with Jean-Paul Sartre the famous existentialist, and author of “Anti-Semite and Jew” who, shortly before his death renounced his early philosophical stances in favor of ethics informed by messianic Judaism. Levy now says this was the start of his journey back to Judaism.

Over the next 40 years, Levy’s work as a journalist and human rights advocate led him to many of the world’s troubled places and forgotten war zones to report on the atrocities and upheavals in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Angola, Sri Lanka, and Colombia. Which is how he found himself in Ukraine, mounting a production of his play ‘Hotel Europe’ in Lviv, addressing an audience of young Ukrainians who knew nothing of the history of anti-Semitism that ran rampant in Lviv during World War Two (and where in 1941, I might add on a personal note, my paternal grandparents, and four uncles and aunts were murdered). And why, in 2011, Levy found himself in Libya during the overthrow of Gaddafi, brokering the recognition of Israel by the opposition rebel groups (who would themselves fall in the face of more radical elements). And why he met with the Islamic radicals outside Benghazi.

It is why in this book, he gives an answer to contemporary anti-Semitism. As Levy sees it, there are three justifications propping up contemporary anti-Semitism (all three of which he finds present in the US): 1. Zionism is the problem (it’s not the Jews, it’s Israel). 2. Holocaust Denial (It’s not the Jews or Israel but the way they lie about the Holocaust in order to justify Israel and their own existence). 3. The competition between victims (It’s not that we don’t believe the Holocaust, it’s just that it should not be treated as or more important than other national tragedies). Levy effectively answers each arguing for the uniqueness of what occurred in Auschwitz and during the Holocaust, as well as mounting a strong defense of Israel.

Levy cites Israel as the rare example of a democracy built from the ground-up that successfully integrates a multi-ethnic society without abandoning its legal ethics and civil morality even during times of crisis. He also writes what I found to be a wonderful paen to Israel: “In a world so profoundly splenetic and disenchanted, that beings have managed to survive, that they have had to retain a vitality and a passion, both fanciful and practical, those achievements give Israel a dimension that escapes many contemporaries and makes its national epic an adventure in which, putting politics aside, part of humanity’s destiny is playing out.” And Levy adds, “There is no place, today, where the Arabs are as free as in Israel”.

Finally, in the face of a French Jewish exodus, Levy wants to reclaim France as Jewish. In counterpoint to the narrative put forward in every French Lycee of Catholic France and its Church-led history, politics, and literature, Levy proposes the Jewish counter-narrative: France owes its monarchy to the Jewish nobles of Septimania; its language to the French Rabbi and Torah Scholar Rashi; and the revitalization of French literature to Marcel Proust. (To which I added my own fourth: its sense of community, society and artistic cross-pollination to its Jewish salonists such as Genevieve Straus and Gertrude Stein). The French word for Levy’s argument is chutzpah. That being said, he is not wrong in the facts he presents or the overarching point of his argument.

What Levy wants France and French Jews to understand is that Jews were never guests or refugees in France. “They were really among the main builders of France.” And so, “The spirit of France owes them a lot.” Further, French Jews did not assimilate into French Culture – they were the ones who made French culture. “My conclusion was, clearly,” Levy said, “that if someone had to leave [France], it was not the Jews but the anti-Semites.” Point, set, match.

Although, Levy’s incursions in Libya and other places have led some to accuse him of having a messiah complex, in “The Genius of Judaism,” Levy argues that “the whole truth” is that he does so as a French Jew who believes in a Messianic Judaism. What is Genius about Judaism, Levy says, is “The absolute reluctance at any dogma, frozen thoughts, admitted truth [that is] not fake. It gives to no one person to own the formula of the perfect community in front of which each human should kneel down and accept and revere.” In other words, there is no Jewish Pope to rate, rank or pass final judgment on Jewish practice and observance. And while Levy feels this empowers him in the secular, liberal Judaism he embraces, he also asks his fellow Jews not to shun the Ultra-Orthodox, for their right to maintain their place in the large tent of Judaism.

Which brings me back to Levy and the line with which he ends “The Genius of Genius”: “The trip has only just begun.” Which begs the question: Where does it lead next?”

To which Levy answers, “To studying more and knowing more.”

Such is the Genius of Judaism.

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