Erfat Natan and Nahum Tevet present a ‘theatre of objects’ at Munich’s Museum Villa Stuck.
Museum Villa Stuck in Munich is holding a joint survey exhibition of two Israeli artists, Erfat Natan and Nahum Tevet, on display until 28 January 2018. Art Radar takes a look at their four decades long practice.
Both artists Erfat Natan and Nahum Tevet have been categorised as conceptual artists, employing a minimalist aesthetic to communicate and document profound philosophical, existential and communication or linguistic based enquiry. Both artists work with the material of their own lives, politicising memory and experience in the creation of a materialist poetics of the self as it moves through and is informed by diverse urban, domestic and rural settings in their native Israel. Key to the current exhibition at Munich’s Museum Villa Stuck are the actions the two artists produced together in the early 1980s and 1990s. Documents and artefacts of these actions will be on display in the exhibition, which presents key works from their artistic careers spanning more than fifty years.
Natan’s works are characterised by a minimalist aesthetic, which she has stated relate to the ethics of “making do with little”; her photographs, videos and happenings are often made using everyday materials, mostly in the range between the black and the white. In a series of documented performance works from 1979, called “Work on the Roof”, the viewer finds Natan on the rooftop of her apartment in Tel Aviv creating a kind of theatre of objects, mainly records and t-shirts.
Natan has worked many times with the white undershirt, which she associates with the Kibbutz workers uniform, relating to her childhood. Natan began her artistic activities in the early 1970s in the Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin in the Beit She’an Valley, where she was born. Motifs from her childhood environment serve as points of departure for many of her works: winds, the land and the star-studded night sky, the landscape of the Beit She’an Valley and the Jordan, the modest kibbutz houses.
In “Work on the Roof” she ties, stretches, tears or crumbles the material and with each action the familiar object takes on additional meanings. As Natan works with the shirt in the series “Work on the Roof”, the material moves through a host of possible meanings: celestial bodies, clouds, a man, a pioneer’s body, shrouds, remains of saints, tortured flesh, disintegrating material, a blind spot, purity and sacrifice, yearning for innocence, and the white flag of surrender. At a 2016 retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work at the Israel Museum entitled “Whitewash and Tar”, the curators opted for a reconstruction of this work, showing the upside-down squeegees leaning diagonally on a wall from which to hang the white undershirts.
Like the undershirts, other materials too – such as milk and dough, window netting, mosquito nets and records – stem from her childhood environment in the 1950s, and over the years they have accumulated meanings relating to topical events in this country, the local milieu and the history of art. Among her most important works is the Head Sculpture, a performance in which she built a T-shaped wooden sculpture that she wore as a mask on her head. Nathan wore the sculpture on the day following the IDF parade in 1973 and marched throughout Tel Aviv. In May 1974, in the Milk performance, she poured milk on the stairway of the HaMidrasha – Faculty of the Arts to the sounds of the howls and wailing of Stimmung by Karlheinz Stockhausen playing in the background, as an opposite to the saying “It’s no use crying over spilt milk.”
Nahum Tevet’s early works, made in the 1970s, are striking in the irreverent mix of conceptual strategies, minimalist sculpture, performance and constructivist architecture and aesthetics. Arrangement of Six Units (1973-74) are rectangles of thin plywood (roughly 2 by 5 feet each) resting on short wooden legs. In their original installation at Sara Gilat Gallery in Jerusalem in 1974, they were collected in a pile against a wall. The structures resemble warped tables, benches or sleeping cots – warped because they are too low to sit at, too fragile to sit on and too narrow and hard for sleeping. This dystopian furniture creates a scenography of discomfort and impoverishment, perhaps alluding to institutional or militaristic disciplining of the body.
In Corner (1976), Tevet’s minimalism and failed furniture design is even more punishing: three plain wooden chairs and two pieces of plywood are configured to block off a corner of a room. By modifying the gallery space in subtle but significant ways, Tevet rehearses the constrictions and regulations of the nation state, visibilising their disciplinary effects on the body, mind and imagination.
In the 1980s Nahum Tevet focused on exploring the legacy of Constructivism and other European avant-gardes. In his work Painting Lesson, a series of objects and structures referencing constructivist architecture and sculpture rise up from the floor as if the works of Tatlin, El Lissitsky and Rodchenko were endowed with a natural, organic force.
During this period Tevet’s sculptural language also became increasingly chaotic and populated. The works emerging throughout the 1980s were huge, chaotic, sculptural wall paintings and installations consisting of found material, furniture and domestic objects. The increasing tumultuousness and cyclone-like forms of his arrangements run parallel to increasing political tension and violence across the region. In 1979 Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty; however, in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon. Borders in the south were redrawn for the new ‘security zone’ as Israel withdrew from Lebanon. In 1987, the first intifada began in the West Bank and Gaza and when the Israeli army retaliated, more than 20,000 people were killed or injured.
By the mid 1990s, as Tevet was creating his floor-based sculptures, such as the acclaimed piece Seven Walks, a sprawling installation that Tevet worked on from 1997 to 2004. Seven Walks consists of a great number of individual parts, smaller “sculptures” which in some cases are reminiscent of stored furnishings built of plywood. Inevitably one feels the urge to enter the interior of the arrangement, but is prevented from doing so. The environment only reveals itself by circumambulating it and viewing it in the process. This takes time, as different perspectives present almost endless repetitive versions of arrangements in which painting (colour), sculpture and architecture (form and material) engage in a dialogue: an intriguing interplay between formalism and functionalism.
In a text published by Museum Villa Stuck on the relationship between the two artists, the curators state:
In the work of both artists the expansion of the artwork through the shift of functions or the use of materials charged with meaning is combined with plain, basic forms and a powerful visual vocabulary. This goes hand in hand with an artistic stance that rejects ideological positions and encourages, if not demands, dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
“Efrat Natan / Nahum Tevet” is on view from 26 October 2017 to 28 January 2018 at Museum Villa Stuck, Prinzregentenstr. 60, D-81675 München.
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