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Israeli Artist Yael Bartana in Denmark

The Afula-born artist provokes and confounds with her latest exhibit

Adam Chandler
August 24, 2012
"Take A Poster"(Adam Chandler)
"Take A Poster"(Adam Chandler)

The Louisiana Museum, outside of Copenhagen, is one of most critically acclaimed modern art museums in the world. Located on a grassy compound perched picturesquely by the Baltic Sea, it’s a tough act to beat. Strewn about its pristine lawns are priceless sculptures–Noguchi in stone and Calder in steel.

Inside the museum, between Lichtenstein, Morris Louis, and others, the tribe is well represented. However, one moment I’ll relay from my visit yesterday that belies the serenity was the sight of a rare crowd of people–rare for a Thursday afternoon at least–huddled over a stack of prints on the museum floor. It was for a piece by Israeli artist Yael Bartana.

The work was simply a large stack of red posters with a manifesto printed on it (see above). It was called “Take A Poster.” But nobody would. Typical of a Bartana work, everyone seemed to be debating whether or not they could actually just snag a poster from an exhibit of a museum or if the artist was just messing with them. Finally, one person stepped in and swooped one up. The group followed suit.

I can’t pretend to be an expert on Bartana, but I’m familiar enough with her to know she likes to provoke and play with these kinds of boundaries. A few of the themes Bartana is known for in her work are home, borders, and national identity. In one exhibit, there was a provocative call for the Jews to return to Poland and, in another, the creation of a mock kibbutz in the center of Warsaw. Despite being Israeli, the Afula-born Bartana was actually asked to represent Poland at the 54th Venice Biennale last year, which is…to say the least…odd and impressive.

Tablet featured a lengthy profile of Bartana and her work in the medium of video back in 2008, which serves as a great introduction to her work.

Bartana is working in a medium that has been embraced by many young Israeli artists: video. Artists like Guy Ben-Ner, Tamy Ben-Tor, and Sigalit Landau have gained international recognition for their video work, which has dealt variously with history, identity, modernism, and the Holocaust. “It’s a very good tool for dealing with reality,” Bartana says. “It’s very immediate: you have the sound and the image. You can document, but also become an intermediary.”

Her own videos are intricately engaged with issues of cultural identity and the Jewish state. Speaking by phone on the eve of the opening of her show at P.S. 1 in Long Island City (her first solo exhibition in New York), Bartana says that she comes from a “very Zionist” family, but “wasn’t raised religious. For me, all of this is more about cultural identity than religion.”

Related: Holocaust Agitprop in Berlin [Tablet Magazine]
This Land Is Your Land [Tablet Magazine]

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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