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Izhar Patkin : The Wandering Veil at MASS MoCA

A challenging provocative, exhibition opened at MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts on Dec 7th, 2013 and will continue through September 1, 2014. The artist, Izhar Patkin titled the exhibition, “The Wandering Veil”. Of course, this immediately brings to mind the association, “The Wandering Jew” but the artist insists that not only Jews are wandering. It’s a universal phenomenon and each goes through its own experience.

Visitors to the Museum are given an opportunity to do their own wandering through this massive space, which used to be factories and fabric manufacturing spaces. You can still smell the industrial fumes in the air and see the leftover metal bars on the ceilings and around us. Some walls were left with old, scraped brick exposed, giving clues to the many layers of paint they consumed through the years.

Just as one is getting used to this overwhelming,  yet inviting atmosphere in these unusual spaces, we come to the top of the stairs to a huge hall,  like a ball field, which has been prepared specifically for the exhibition.

“I must say, it was a great experience working with the staff of this museum. There wasn’t a thing that I asked to for that was impossible for them to make happen”

Izhar Patkin takes us from the top of the stairs on a journey through memory rooms, or one can call them story rooms. Freshly built, some of the stories are not exactly lullabies. They were brought together over 30 years of storytelling about memories, loss, current events, love, death or exile.

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This retrospective journey begins with the sculpture of the most notoriously flamboyant, colorful “Don Quixote Segunda Parte”, which was created in 1987. It has been installed on the top of the stairs, to welcome the visitors giving them a complete view of the show installation from above. But Don Quixote captures the attention not only because of his legendary characteristics,  but because he welcomes the visitor with his rear end facing them. A very “heroic” colorful welcome indeed .The face was exchanged to resemble the portrait of the legendary New York Times architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, holding a mirror up so the viewer can see himself in it, becoming part of the story.

Usually the first look predicts what is coming next, but not here, with Patkin’s creative mind. He wants to tell stories that touch upon all your senses and connect to illusions and realities at the same time. No wonder that he guides us through the story rooms, built with simple natural plywood so that its tall walls are exposed on the outside, raw material, not painted. This gives viewers the feeling that they can be wandering too, in no time, to another space.  We need to enter the room and get lost within it. Being embarrassed by the four walls, standing like tall guards while you consume the story that is unfolding in front of you.

One can also sit down in the center of the room and interpret the story painted around them as their own story. One of the visitors felt connected to the dancer in one of the sceneries, and looked at the huge canvases like curtains or backdrops to performances and at the materials as if they had been taken from ballerina’s dresses.

 

Another much darker scene shows black train tracks going to nowhere while two black shadow-like figures hover over the beginning of the train tracks. For me, as a Jewish person, it immediately  evoked  memories of the holocaust. Black shadows of people that are with us, and no more at the same time.

 

All the rooms are covered from top to bottom by painted murals on delicate yet durable fabric. A special printer was created to handle this fabric so the painting is created directly over and within the folds of these huge mural curtains like paintings.

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The pleated, a netting-like fabric. Entitled “Veiled Threats” he created this during the years 1999-2001, inspired by the words of his friend and collaborator Agha Shahid Ali, Kashmiri American Muslim poet, who passed away of a brain tumor two years into their collaboration. One of Ali’s poems was read during a conversation Izhar had with art historian David Ross before the opening of the exhibition. More of his poems printed in the exhibition book, will be read later on this month by his brother Prof. Agha Iqbal Ali, as part of the exhibition.

In between the narrative rooms, one can enjoy sculptures created throughout his 30 years career placed on pedestals. Most of them recall art historical statues or sculptures such is “Madonna and Child In White” the sculpture is based on two different masterpieces that he joined together,  he saw in the museum collection ” points out Rivka Saker, the founder of Artis  – a 10 year old not for profit organization that promotes Israeli artists and exhibitions abroad, like this one. Patkin created this piece between the years 2007 and 2011. It emphasizes his constant shifts from abstract to representational artworks, many of which were based on masterpieces that impressed him during his career as he was developing his own voice.

Izhar Patkin , an Israeli artist living in USA since 1977, feels that the retrospective is mainly important for the artist. It’s like gathering all the creations the babies for an important meeting together and let them all come to say what they have to say as one statement. Why is it important for him? Aside from seeing them all together he says, “now I want to create without thinking”.

I’m not sure it’s possible not to involve thinking in the creative process, but this is another challenge Patkin wants to take in his late 50s.

 

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