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Russian-Israeli Art Interaction

By Marina Genkin, art critic. An article to the Ineke and Christiaan de Boks collection catalogue.

The creativity of the artists listened in this catalogue may with good reason be classified as an uncommon art appearance that has only recently begun to attract attention of critics and art historians: transformation of the Russian art school in Israeli reality. The whole subject of contemporary Russian artists abroad is yet understudied. Although there are plenty of publications regarding individual artists, the general phenomenon has never received scholars attention, both from the viewpoint of art market, and as an art history issue. Hopefully the critique of this collection will pave the way to systematic research in this field.

A meeting of different cultures always yields remarkable fruit. The blending of Russian artistic and cultural traditions with the intense, multivariate and multilevel space of contemporary Israel is no exception.

Israel’s sharp, blinding light, that “devours” color and casts deep, contrasted shadows, has changed color perception of even abstract artists; it forced painters to search for new means or expression. The Israeli landscape itself seems to demand clarity and unambiguity from the artist. But Israeli environment doesn’t reduce its impact to visual expressions, even if those visual expressions are very important. It militates for certainly in vital matters, such as philosophical and religious issues, problems of self-identification. You cannot maintain “neutrality” as strong as you wish, even if you want to keep yourself neutral.

At first, nearly all artists pay tribute to the power of first impressions by searching for archetypal forms, by turning to eternal themes in their work. But when the initial shock has passed, the new realities merge the artists’ work with their previous experiences and the language that pre-existed in their artistic arsenal. The result is what we call “The Russian-Israeli Interaction”. What it means is not a frozen stylistic format but a vivid, constantly evolving artistic reality.

Russia, by the fact of its geographical position, is a natural link between West and East. It’s art tradition, however, has always leaned to Western Europe, both in academic, modernist and postmodernist contexts. Still, distinctive features define it as peculiarly Russian: the intensive search for meaning, the creative work – as philosophical process. This accounts for the tendency towards icon symbolism in Nataly Goncharova and Lika Kerenskaya, the discovery of other worlds by Victor Shtivelberg, or the direct quotation from Bible, written on the surface of the paintings of Evgene Abeshaus.

All artists in this catalogue have either been born into the nonconformist generation or had experienced its immediate influence. The spiritual atmosphere of Israel is a catalyst that reveals impressions of previous experiences. However, unlike non-conformists artists who has been forcibly involved in external conflict, our artists found in Israel freedom of internal dialogue, both with themselves and with this land and its mystery. 

An artist had to be very darling to paint Judaica subjects in former USSR; it was too far from Social Realism problematic. The Judaica subject-matter in particular, became in Israel the breath of life unrestricted by any boundaries, it is no accident that Luchansky’s works bear names of streets in the famous Jewish quarter of Amsterdam.

The artwork of contemporary artists from the former USSR essentially bears the same stamp of romanticism as the works of old Israeli painters from other countries who have already become history. It is not an intentional manner or style but a state of mind that arises from beyond consciousness and stems from the attitude to this ancient soul, with the entire network of associations with the land. In Soviet reality, these true artists had avoided pathos because they were fully aware of its falseness; but Jerusalem imbued them with the spirit of its genuine greatness. This is clear in Alexander Adonin’s art. 

The postmodernist irony in Victor Shtivelberg’s works remains nothing but a device, a pretext for expressing deep philosophical generalizations. Eternal values newly acquired in Israel become deeply personal experiences to each artisan this catalogue, as they link mystical with the profane and past with present. This interactional influence unites all the artists – regardless of their distinctions, be in Russian avantgarde of Western modernism at the beginning of the 20thcentury, as in case of Simon Slutskin, Nataly Goncharova and Alexander Adonin or Dutch realism of the 17thcentury and classical Russian realism in case of Robert Rozenberg, or even – in the case of Asia Katz – Balkan painting and Japanese graphics.

The powerful, intrinsic impact to Israel has fused and transformed everything, not even by its art but mainly through its existential media. Eventually, such ingredients as the West European cultural tradition, the solid foundation of the academic school, the Russian experience of non-conformism and being masters in variety of the modern language of art, were activated. But we shall repeat: the accent of the external conflict was replaced internal dialogue, any display of fear; premeditated bias and opposition disappeared, resulting in non-aggression, profundity, diversity.

Russian Israel has deliberately declined a way of initiation, and this art, neither Russian, Israeli, nor Western, though merging features of each of them in the process of intense interaction, has brought into the world a unique artistic trend. Not as a format synthesis but as an original, never before existing phenomenon.

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