Jewish Artists Initiative’s Jerusalem Biennale 2017 Exhibition, Flashpoints
at MuzeuMM Gallery, Los Angeles
June 19 – July 6, 2018
By Genie Davis
The Los Angeles iteration of the Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California’s exhibition for the 2017 Jerusalem Biennale was both a window into an international exhibition and a look at universal issues. The exhibition offered local viewers the chance to examine the powerfully prescient art from the exhibition, and at other works from JAI-LA’s artistic community.
Held at Muzeumm June 24 through July 6th, the exhibition included artists Melinda Smith Altshuler, Renée Amitai, Shula Singer Arbel, Bill Aron, Pat Berger, Jodi Bonassi, Lorraine Bubar, Ellen Cantor, Rhea Carmi, Judy Dekel, Susan Gesundheit, Nancy Goodman Lawrence, Roger Gordon, Eileen Levinson, Marisa Mandler, Rachelle Mark, Randi Matushevitz, Jackie Nach, Soraya Nazarian, Avi Roth, Marleene Rubenstein, Elena Mary Siff, Doni Silver Simons, Debra Sokolow, Ruth Weisberg, Cathy Weiss, Karen Frimkess Wolff, Mara Zaslove, and Jana Zimmer.
The show was first and foremost a tribute to and an extension of JAI’s participation in the 3rd Jerusalem Biennale. The Biennale hosted 26 exhibitions and projects from around the world, with JAI exhibiting five murals created by 19 JAI artists working in teams. Their creation, FLASHPOINTS: A Collective Response, was the focus of the Muzeumm exhibition, with the vast murals interpreting the Biennale’s theme of Watershed – referring to galvanizing moments – with separate works on Civil Rights, Water, Nationalism, Human Rights and Political Polarization, topics ever more noteworthy today. Along with these murals, curators Georgia Freedman-Harvey and Anne Hromadka Greenwald included 16 additional works at the Muzeumm exhibition, including a moving performance art piece by Doni Silver Simons, caged behind wire.
Learning about the process of creating the murals is almost as fascinating as the beautifully woven works themselves. Each participant drew their own image, rolled it up, and presented the mural to the next artist, creating a work both intimate and a part of a larger whole, a story that unfolds almost seamlessly, shared between artists in a very private way.
Freedman-Harvey says that the mural concept occurred because the artists were “trying to think how to position ourselves at the Biennale and what would make us stand out, what would be a challenge for us, and be something different than a collection of individual work.”
The group compiled teams with the assistance of LA-based curator Emily Zaiden; once having selected their muralist teams, each individual worked in a variety of mediums. Some worked in mixed media and collage, traditional painting, solar plate etching, charcoal and spray paint.
Both in Jerusalem, and at Muzuemm, the murals were presented as five large-scale pieces of art. They are vivid and powerful works, with the multiple artists working on each strengthening their message and interpretation. The difference in styles among the artists, yet how well they blended together is no small accomplishment. Information documenting how the works were approached was also exhibited, and included sketches or small-scale renderings of the finished panels.
The works took up the majority of the space in the main gallery, and reminded viewers of a series of beautifully woven quilt images. Each of the five murals had their own aesthetic, an impressive creation given that separate artists worked on each section of each mural. The cohesive beauty of each of the pieces was objectively as lovely as it was profound; while many had a dark bent, given the subject, there was a sense of hope infused in the images, too, for example the tree growing skyward in one of the panels of the Political Polarization mural, or the luminous waterfall panel in the Water mural. It would be hard to underestimate the importance of the variety of messages integrated into the murals, particularly in a political landscape in which very real fears of nationalism are heightened and human rights are ever more at risk.
The additional works at the LA exhibition, including a wonderful work of magical realism from Jodi Bonassi depicting Metro riders, added further heft to a show of both great beauty and gravitas.
As Freedman-Harvey states “We gave the artists this chance to blend and mesh within their particular watershed moments, and let them stand out individually, but collectively present a stronger message about that moment.”