Empathy with Artists


Review of the exhibition:
‘Empathy with Artists’
Bogroshov Gallery, Tel Aviv

David Ginton
Tel-Aviv Magazine, November, 1989

How would the exhibition of Jenifer Bar Lev look as an Israeli exhibition in New York or even at the Venice Biennale?  Bar Lev, an ‘Israeli artist born in the United States’, and her paintings, are an intelligent and refreshing contribution to the art of text and image.  Though the ‘technology’ of her painting, chronologically, is Israeli, there is a kind of exactness and professionalism in her work which are not ‘from here’.  Because of that, and of a few other elements, she is reminiscent of another Israeli painter of American origin, Pamela Levy, and it must be remembered that Levy’s paintings are filled with text as well.

It seems to me that for Jenifer Bar Lev, art is something liberating, pleasure-causing, light.  Perhaps that is another aspect of her American connection, to the Pop Art which freed art from the burden of Abstract Expressionism.  Another connection to Pop Art is the shapes she uses, some of which,  at least, are parallel to the abstract, geometric symbols of advertising – like in the paintings of Robert Indiana, who, because of his sculpture  ‘LOVE’,  has earned a very warm sentance from Bar Lev:  ‘Making Love with Robert Indiana’.
Because of this combination of visual power and text combined with lightness, she is a unique phenomenon in Israeli art.

Another aspect of her formal world is the geometry of the occult, of esoteric religions, which have been a part of modern abstraction since its beginnings and connects various figures such as Mondrian and Duchamp.  The outstanding representative of that art is Alfred Jensen, who is represented by Bar Lev in works which were not included in this exhibition. This connection to the geometry of mystical knowledge throws light on her texts as well, as they are texts from the sub-conscious (dreams) as well as feminist surrealist stream-of-consciousness writing. But her seriousness is always a light seriousness, as humour plays a serious part in her work.

In the same way that Jonathan Borovsky was aided by Sol Lewitt to transform his sketchbooks into wall-drawings, Bar Lev leans on the art of the 1960’s and of Borovsky himself to transform her dreams into paintings.  In an interview with Emanuel Bar Kadma (the art critic of Yedioth Ahronot newspaper) she smilingly said that she manages to annoy both writers and painters at once. 

In my opinion, both her texts and her images benefit from this successful combination of simplicity, exactitude and richness.  The texts are inserted intuitively into the the shapes as in illuminated manuscripts. They are rythmical, like poetry, and also narrate a plot, so that they manage to simultaneously contain a conflict and a kind of solution to it.

At the beginning,  were the autobiographical texts, the dreams, and after them came the empathy with artists, which is a conscious concretisation.  The dreams are partly true dream accounts, and partly literature. In ‘Empathy with Artists’ there is some art about art, some homage and nostalgia for the country of her birth, and some awe, perhaps because she is an artist who came to art relatively late, and is not sure that she is really ‘there’.  I think that I have already compared Bar Lev to Henry Shlezniak.  In her empathy to artists there is yet another similarity.  In Shlesniak’s last works there were many photographs of his artist-friends  Garbuz, Dorchin, as well as others, Duchamp, for instance.