During the 70’s, after completing his MFA studies in California, the artist Zigi Ben-Haim (born in Bagdad, Iraq, raised in Israel)arrived in SoHo, New York, where he resides and works till this day. The exhibition Zigi Ben-Haim, Works from the 70’s is dedicated to artworks of this period that marks the breakthrough of his artistic career, and which sets an example for young artists then, and now.
Nira: This past December, I returned from Miami Basel Art Fair, where I was extremely surprised to see young artists working in the style of your works from the 70’s. I told myself, we must show your works from the 70’s today because it is so connected to the contemporary creations of young artists that are receiving world international recognition and displayed their works in very central major galleries in the world. So how do you feel about that?
Zigi: First of all, it is very nostalgic for me. But beyond it, it brought me back to the days I was creating the works. The truth is, it really moved something in me. Because the works I am doing now are very much based on the works from the 70’s. And suddenly to see the works from the 70’s hanging on the walls, not in storage, it simply connects for me, the period of then with the period of now. Much more than I ever thought it will. Looking back, and exmining your work then and now, I think is very imporatnt for an artist.
Nira: I think it will be very interesting to hear from you about the artistic environment that surrounded you in the beignning of the 70’s. And how was New York then?
Zigi: All the works from the 70’s were created in New York. This was a very interesting period in the art world. Very active. Each style of work was a different movement. Today, it is more eclectic. What was interesting for me was to create my artwork not from artistic materials because art for me is part of life, and life, is not art. This art was created from the materials that were surrounding me, not the materials that I bought in an art store. You don’t see brush strokes, color or canvas in the traditional way in these works. What you see in these works are the materials that I collected in the streets of SoHo and glued them over ropes and other materals that don’t belong in the artworld. To make art from these mateials; newspapers, brown paper and pattern paper, that were discared in the streets from the sweatshops, was what interested me. Kind of anti-art, which actually makes it art. I would pull out the ropes vigourously from beneath the layers of paper and it created the gaps in between like an earthquake in nature. For me it was action painting.
N: What kind of artists surrounded you? And what were they involved in?
Z: At that time, it was the minimalistic and conceptual art movement that was in its top. This was the art movement that was based more on ideas, on searching for materials that are not conventional. Simply, movements that wanted to break the rules of making art. Movements that started in the footprints of the Dada and the father of the dada of course was Marcel Duchamp.
I want to tell you a short story about the artist, Robert Rauchenberg. You know his most famous work- The Goat- and the Tyre, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In an interview two years before he passed away, he reminised about the past when he lived in SoHo, when he used to walk the streets in the evening. First he said, “I started on Crosby Street and if I didn’t find anything I would go to Mercer Street.” He told the interviewer, “The goat I found on Crosby street and the Tyre on Mercer St.” And this is the master piece we see now at the MOMA. Similarily to him, I would walk the SoHo streets in the evenings and found the paper that was just the thing that I needed. Paper that carries with it some history went through a certain process. It completed its task and was thrown away. For me it was just the right material to start my work with it. To begin with it something new another chapter in history. My work then and now is based on the footprints on culture and nature as seen through my multi-cultural experience.
(The full version of the interview may be seen on Zigi’s website at, www.zigiland.com)