Israeli Art around 1990

Michael Gitlin

Gitlin’s wall sculptures have often been described as reliefs, a definition which may well apply to location, but not entirely to other features of these works. Reliefs are objects harmonized with the wall in a unified environment which in turn functions as a point of departure. The wall sculptures look as if Gitlin began by creating them on the backside of a wall and continued until they broke through to the other side, thereby acquiring their broken identity. If they represent the concept of time, then we can imagine time after the catastrophe. Their metaphoric qualities originate from that standpoint. They may seem to be abstract and minimal at first glance, but upon closer examination they convey sets of symbols and associations which the hermetic form cannot obliterate. It is no wonder that the names that Gitlin gives his pieces are related to a catastrophic event. “Shelter” is the title of several works, as well as “Displacement” and “Nostalgia”. Wood planks are assembled together in a rough manner. There is a history behind each plank, and each beam seems to belong to another whole. Each part is a survivor of another past which calls for a new identity. Each is displaced on the historical level, which contains the “story”, as well as the aesthetic level, which defines the character of each part.

Rearranged and reused, the parts, that is to say the wood planks, are reminiscent of the work of a bricoleur. That means that in addition to their inherent beauty there is a utilitarian purpose, that of a refuge, which as an idea is sensed in the background and is not further developed as in the igloos of Mario Merz. While the bold structures of the wall works seem to pierce the walls, shooting through them like bolts of lightning, the floor sculptures acquire a confined atmosphere similar to that of a refugee camp, confined, yet open to another suggestion. “Nostalgia”, a floor sculpture consisting of several heavy beams with blue-colored areas, belongs to such a group. It brings to mind a sanctuary, a confined space that transmits colors as signs of life and the possibility of communication.

Despite the rough texture of the wooden beams and despite the nervous and endlessly angular nature of the parts and their relations to the total work, it is amazing how a majestic elegance can be felt in the sculptures and reliefs. The contradiction of what an object should be and what it actually projects, is repeated on many levels. Thus, for example, modern sculpture is expected to define space. Gitlin’s works, however, relate to material borders. The signs, the angles and the colors that designate the territory rather than what is enclosed, carry their own meaning.

In the exhibition catalogue devoted to Gitlin’s works which was presented by the Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, Jochen Kronjager recognized the role of colors as threefold: Colors act as signals, they are the skin of the sculpture, and they are the “cement” which binds the parts together. Color in Gitlin’s works functions like a period at the end of a sentence. If indicates to the sculpture the point to where it may go and marks the point where it will disintegrate. Perhaps the elegance of the sculptures lies in the knowledge of defined restrictions placed upon them. This elegance may also lie in the fact that the sculptures possess their own mechanisms of restraints and in the fact that they have a self-awareness of being studies of limitations and therefore exercises of longing for what is beyond.