Disorientation, contamination and perceptual ambiguity are among the ingredients fuelling the work of Gal Weinstein. A young Israeli artist born in 1970, studied Theater Set-Design at the University of Tel Aviv and then obtained a BFA from the illustrious Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem from 1993-1997. His masters include Nahum Tevet, who has already featured in these pages with vertiginous assemblages of tables, chairs, boxes and wooden boards positioned in space or on wall, objects that are ready-made but used as though they were compositional matrices or modules warding off chaos and chance. Informed both by Tatlin’s “Counter-reliefs” and by modular minimalist structures, Tevet’s ensembles reject both geometric assertiveness and serial repetition in their uninhibited arrangement of everyday objects.
Weinstein adopts the same starting point of post-minimalist sensibility but proceeds to unsettle, contradict and desecrate it. He made his debut between 1998 and 2000 with the series Untitled of cubes and blocks. While these suggest architecture and furniture, their formal definition is variously contradicted by a sort of fringe decorating the bottom edges, by strips and rolls of cardboard, plastic and PVC, or by countless plastic cords giving a shaggy, spiky appearance. The operation is not designed to defunctionalize pieces of furniture – or rather their surrogates – through the use of Formica or coats of paint, as in the case of American artist Richard Artschwager, but rather to endow the objects with a fleshy physical appearance. As Tali Tamir points out, “A new entity is created that causes increasing doubt as to its elasticity (…) The structure turns into bleeding flesh, reawakening strong, evocative sensations or a human or animal body infiltrated and assimilated into the architectural cube (…)
Architecture provides Weinstein with functional forms such as the wardrobe, mirror or fridge. Weinstein submits to their formal strength and spatial stability, but is also aware of the potential enclosed within their skin”. While the Untitled items associable with the body, its skin and its fluids thus unsettle formality-established structures, Balloons (2000) makes fun of abstract-geometric painting. Standing out against a square pattern of different colors, the five-pointed star is repeated incessantly along a wall as though it were a fresco, a wall drawing or wallpaper. It is no coincidence that this is a recurrent motif in Sol LeWitt’s “wall drawings”’ devised by artist and painted by assistants to ensure that no manual contact on his part contaminates the original idea. Weinstein responds to the rigor of these works, however, with an image that is apparently painted but actually made up of countless balls of colored cotton and steel wool, materials again associable with the body or to operations with it, such as removing makeup.
While the steel wool is used here to contaminate the purity of an abstract motif, in Friends or Lovers in the forest (2001) the same material serves instead to reinforce tautologically the hairy, animal aspect of the subjects portrayed. Like the Untitled and the stars, these are not interpreted by the artist but taken ‘ready-made’ from books available on the second hand market teaching the ‘ideal’ way to draw animals. At first sight, the horses, lions and owls appear from a distance to have been drawn in pencil with surprising verisimilitude. On closer inspection, the realization that they are actually traced out in steel wool generates attraction and repulsion at the same time. Close to the Ground and 4 Men induce a different form of disorientation. The first is an exact replica of one of those ordinary roofs of red tiles found in Tel Aviv but also in kibbutzim and in the suburban setting in general. Weinstein’s roof does not cover and protect a space, however, but lies prostrate on the floor, occupying it completely from wall to wall. In the new version produced for the Sao Paulo Biennial of 2002, where Weinstein represented Israel, the same roof even sticks out from the glass building that houses it, almost as an ironic comment on the neoplastic tendency to place the structure out side the transparent shell.
“More than a sculpture in space“ as Tamir observes, “This is a real object represented in detail, torn from its natural setting and dropped as fragmentary, disproportionate object into an alien situation.” Maniacally exact and hallucinatory duplication is also involved in 4 men, this time of a football (table soccer) display that proves to be quite impracticable. The “field” is not in fact the classic rectangle, but a sprawling, zigzagging expanse. The “men”, generally operated in quick skillful movements by the players, are made of brittle china and hence cannot be used to kick ball, which is in any case missing. While the iteration in parallel lines again evokes minimalist poetics, the striped painting of Frank Stella to be precise, the large number of men, as well as their fixed array, conjures up the sinister image of the organized regularity of the mass rally that verges on authoritarianism and fascism, something of which minimalism itself has often been accused by critics. This aspect is emphasized in Anthem, where the same men are arranged in a single line, ready to sing the national anthem or set off for war.
In the exhibition Passage, held in 2000 at the Chelouche Gallery in Tel Aviv, Weinstein’s work was juxtaposed with that of artist Pedro Reis, who presented four pillars of brick smashed into ruins. Weinstein responded with a curtail of silicone that appears precious and gleaming from a distance, as though embroidered with beads, but actually proves to consist of thousands of silicones cords, material again associable with the body and operations of plastic surgery but also with the cheap, shabby plastic curtains still to be found in some provincial clubs. In San Francisco the same curtain was displayed alongside Iron Gate. In this case Weinstein drew the ornate profile of an iron gate actually situated outside the building on a window looking onto the street, using steel wool, of course, and infinite patience.
Produced for the “Land Escapes” exhibition organized in Philadelphia by Tami Katz Freiman, The Valley of Jezreel is rooted in the troubled every day reality in Israel. Once a swampland, the valley was reclaimed through hard work carried out in a spirit of socialism and communal solidarity of the 1920’s, and constitutes a symbol of pioneering Zionism that inspired generations of Israeli artists. The same valley is now the scene of conflict and disputes. Weinstein dismembers it to form an extremely complicated jigsaw puzzle of moquette pieces whose colors echo the original ones, thus shattering the myth of the valley, with a surrogate that is moreover distant, seen from above.