In 2004, Andrea Meislin curated an exhibition of Israeli art to coincide with the city’s annual Armory Show; since then, she has established her gallery as a brick-and-mortar showcase for Israeli artists, especially photographers. Over the past 10 years, Meislin has gravitated toward photographers who investigate issues of identity, nationality, spirituality, and religious practice. Her anthology exhibition, “Decadal Variations,” through Jan. 17 in New York, highlights her artists’ most iconic images; Meislin then rounds out this presentation with a catalog that selects one image from each of the more than 50 exhibitions in the gallery’s history.
The photographs Meislin exhibits hint at the breadth of work made by Israeli contemporary artists. There are Barry Frydlander’s epic composites, stitched together from hundreds of individual digital images. Michael Ronnen Safdie’s RWR1 (2007–11), part of a series titled Sunday Tuesday Thursday, captures a beach north of Tel Aviv where women and children, restricted by modesty, can swim three days a week. The image is dense with women—wearing full-length dresses, their hair covered—holding the hands of clothed girls and boys caked in sand and soggy from the sea. Vardi Kahana, born in Tel Aviv in 1959, contributes two photographs dated 12 years apart. The first, Three Sisters (1992), shows the artist’s mother and two aunts, their sleeves pulled back to reveal sequential numbered tattoos, inked at Auschwitz. The later image, The Grandchildren of Cousin Shmuel (2004), shows the breadth of her family’s line: blond, Danish children playing on a trampoline in Copenhagen. Rina Castelnuovo, meanwhile, turns her camera on the Balata refugee camp at Nablus, in the West Bank.
Several of the artists Meislin works with reach beyond Israel’s borders for their material. Michal Chelbin, born in Israel in 1974, has spent the last several years making portraits of Russians and Ukrainians—of performers, athletes, adolescents, and prisoners. Angela Strassheim’s work explores images of kin and adolescence around the world. Raised in a family of born-again Christians, Stassheim has since converted to Judaism and settled in Israel. Untitled (McDonald’s), her photograph of a blond family holding hands in prayer before consuming their meal at a local fast-food place, was shown as a part of an exhibition at the gallery capturing Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists in rituals of prayer around the world. Andy Freeberg became fascinated by the elderly Russian women who guard artwork in Russia, their clothing occasionally resonating with the subjects in the paintings they watch.
Meislin first discovered some of her photographers while living in Jerusalem from 2000 to 2002. Since then, she has returned frequently to Israel to discover and nurture the work of Israelis working at home and abroad. Meislin’s goal has been to land her artist’s work in institutional collections outside of Israel. That mission has already been achieved: Meislin’s stewardship has woven the work of her artists into the cultural fabric of museums in New York, Boston, Paris, and London.
Click on the link to the left to see a slideshow of images from “Decadal Variations,” currently at Andrea Meislin Gallery.