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Chicago exhibit spotlights works by young artists of Israel’s Bezalel Academy

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When: Through July 20

Where: Sotheby’s,
188 E. Walton

Admission: Free


Updated: August 2, 2012 6:05AM

On a recent visit to Israel, I spent many happy hours strolling through the contemporary sections of two great museums: the striking new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Modern Art, and the special exhibition rooms of the massive Israel Museum in Jerusalem. I also pored over the unique dresses, jewelry, shoes and boots in the shops of Ha’tachana, the recently repurposed old train station in Tel Aviv’s Yaffo neighborhood, just a few blocks from the Mediterranean Sea.

As I read the little biographies of the artists whose work filled all these places, I began to notice an enormous number of them were graduates of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem — a place that might be described as Israel’s equivalent of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. At the moment, a small but revealing exhibition of the ingenius, often technique-expanding work of recent graduates of Bezalel is touring the United States.

The show, “Bezalel on Tour,” is now on view in Chicago in the sleek little ground floor gallery of Sotheby’s, 188 E. Walton, just east of the Drake Hotel. The art on view reflects the wide range of disciplines taught at this internationally respected institution that was founded in 1906 (more than four decades before the establishment of the state of Israel), by Boris Schatz, a Lithuanian Jewish artist. Areas of specialization include painting, photography, ceramic and glass design, industrial design, architecture, jewelry and fashion design, visual communication and the screen-based arts (with animation an exceptionally strong area of focus).

Among the highlights of the traveling exhibition are:

† Era Hilleli’s “Between Bears,” a hauntingly beautiful animated film about man and nature in which the forms, which move like the wind, seem to be molded from folded paper and breath. This is just one entry of the many “screen arts” pieces you can watch. Some are exceedingly disturbing, and others are more playful, including a droll cartoon that evokes the very early Disney style of animation as it deals with the human impulse to bludgeon each other in the wake of calls for peace. (According to Liv Sperber, the Bezalel’s director of international affairs and development, many of these animated works have won international awards, and many of these “screen-based” artists have been tapped for jobs both in Israel and around the globe.)

† Dafna Amar’s remarkably crafted pleated boots and shoes, made from soft brown leather that is stretched, folded, sewn, and glued, and studded with small snaps that open and close to create different surfaces and patterns. Also check out Galit Begas’ wholly different approach to shoes, which involves their construction from heat-formed plastic bags to which bits of the original logos remain affixed.

† Nir Shalom’s “Amigo ­— A Smart, New Generation Walking Aid for Injured Dogs,” the video of a remarkable little wheeled “prosthetic device” (affixed to an equally remarkable dog) that enables the creature to regain mobility.

† Adi Zaffran Weisler’s beautiful side tables — one with legs and an internal sculpture created from tree branches that give it a primal look.

† Michelle Claire Gevint’s classic photo of a young dancer from a remote corner of Russia, formally seated on a dressing room bench.

† Lena Baklanova’s paired mixed-media collages (using archival and modern photographs, and more) that intriguingly hint at how both Soviet and modern era Russians have adapted to shortages.

† Ayala Sol Friedman’s collection of vases made of hand-built “strips” of colored porcelain that are so delicately shaped and curled they might be mistaken for paper.

† Gil Nahmany’s pearly white ceramic sculpture, “Femme Fractal,” as beautiful as a group of cygnets in “Swan Lake.”

† Nina Alfasa’s hand-done oil painting that vividly echoes a Microsoft Paintbrush work.

† Lee Oshrat’s “Illturation,” a witty installation and video exploring the potential of rubber bands to transform ordinary kitchen items.

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