In the Shadow of Conflict

Michael Gitlin’s work explores form—its disintegration, displacement and projection into space. Though the artist never before appeared to have attempted direct pictorial illusion, the works in a 1987 exhibition in New York bore the title “No Beneficiaries” and “Pending Resolution.” Gitlin explained that the motivation for this recent sculpture was the insistent, repeated image of a collapsed structure. For Gitlin this press photo from the Lebanon War became archetypal of the situation in Israel. It became rooted in his consciousness and in time was realized in formal terms in his sculpture created from 1985 on. (No. 19, No Beneficiaries, ill. p. 29).

Using hewn wood which is then painted, the artist employs a constructivist language to create an intrusive work which contradicts the flatness of the wall. His pieces prompt one to question the manner in which object and space interact, and the thrust of each bending and twisting form determines the relationship between the work’s components: the wall, the floor and space itself. Indeed, the angles and junctures, joined in a state of unrest, begin to suggest the very quality projected by the current situation in Israel. As a metaphor for an area full of tension, energy and volatility, the angular sweeping formations of broken planes in Fragile Sanctuary (No. 18) and Displaced (No. 21, ill. p. 31) speak to the issues.

Gitlin said he “felt compelled to make sculpture that would create the feeling of forms that are frozen and on the verge of collapse.” However, instead of making structures and then destroying them, he made structures which were conceived as forms that had already been destroyed. The wooden forms are reinforced by using plaster mixed with sawdust. They do not reach the ground and seem to be in a state of suspended motion. The fragility and impermanence evident in Displaced is present in all of Gitlin’s recent work. The artist confronts the viewer with the tenuous nature of Israel’s political situation and he or she must focus on the underlying message that there is no winner or beneficiary in the current crisis.