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Museum Villa Stuck Museum Villa Stuck

Efrat Natan / Nahum Tevet

About the exhibition

The exhibition focuses on the works of Efrat Natan and Nahum Tevet, two protagonists of the Israeli art world. It presents key works from their artistic careers spanning more than fifty years. The 1970s are the starting point for the work of Efrat Natan and Nahum Tevet. After shared beginnings, the artistic signatures of the two artists developed towards different thematic focus areas, which complement one another in their examination of social values.

Upon entering the exhibition spaces, our eye is caught by the small photograph Wind Rose (Metzer-Messer Project), which documents a performance Efrat Natan realised in 1972 together with the artists Tamar Getter, Micha Ullman, and Nahum Tevet. The young artists are standing together back to back, as each of them points into one of the cardinal directions. The first collaboration of Natan and Tevet, this project was initiated by the artists to create a visual connection between the Arab village of Messer and the Jewish Kibbutz Metzer.

Natan and Tevet grew up in the Beit She’an Valley just west of the River Jordan. The Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin where Natan grew up is located some 20 km from Tevet’s Kibbutz Messilot. The kibbutz informs the early artistic practices of both, especially in the use of plain, non-artistic materials which just happened to be available. In the 1970s, moreover, the Israeli art scene underwent a radical change. After the previous generation had turned to the visual vocabulary of Art Informel, which prevailed in France, a paradigm shift occurred that was primarily attributable to the use of plain materials. One of the defining figure of this shift was the artist Raffi Lavie (1937–2000), who trained a small group of art students, including Natan and Tevet from1968/69 until 1970/71. The use of particle board, plain house paint, and found materials was later described as the “The Want of Matter”; the 1986 exhibition of this title, which was curated by Sara Breitberg-Seml for the Tel Aviv Museum, used this phrase to describe a new generation of artists in Israel.

For Efrat Natan this liberation from the traditional concept of art opened up the way to performance, which is documented with extensive material in the exhibition. On 8 May 1973 Natan walked along a major street in Tel Aviv with her head hidden inside a T-shaped sculpture. The T-shape is reminiscent of the children’s house in her kibbutz. The sculpture’s visual appearance calls to mind Robert Morris or Charlotte Posenenske. Due to her restricted field of vision, Natan could only see part of the people surrounding her. Her radical approach to her own body is evident in the elaborate performance Bridges of Jordan (1975). Following the example of Joseph Beuys, she developed a type of performance that appropriated rituals, incorporated objects charged with personal significance, and assigned a major role to the artist herself.

This physicality disappeared as early as 1979 in Natan’s performance Roof Work, in which she focused on sculptural signs and created a setting combining her personal history with a statement on society at large. The result was a Mt. Calvary of individual ciphers. Similar to the 1972 performance, the individual objects — including squeegees, undershirts, and vinyl records — appear to be arranged exactly according to the four directions of the compass. Roof Work is also the first of Natan’s works in which the undershirt appears. Here it symbolises the various stages of human life. At the same time, the undershirt (gufiyah in Hebrew) also represents the body of God (guf-yah) and comes to symbolise human existence.

Natan mounts the undershirts in oblong white frames, which resemble the windows in the kibbutz, on a ground of black velvet, which in turn symbolises the night sky. The fabric is held in place by a screen, a mosquito net. In this way she recreates the view of the starry night sky from the children’s house, in which the children lived separately from their parents. In works such as Undershirts in the Wind (2002) and The Big Window (2015) the undershirt is no longer readily identifiable as such, but appears distorted and torn into pieces. The more the artist progresses in age, the more the fabric is abused. In a metaphorical sense society is implicated as well, as the artist notes: the undershirt stands “definitely not only as a metaphor for the crumbling of the kibbutz society, the state, and society in general; or as both, especially about the fact that things crumble as time passes.”

Natan’s wall objects from the 1990s transform household items in surprising ways that call to mind Dada and Meret Oppenheim. For her expansive Swing of the Scythe Sculpture (2002) Natan arranged twelve scythes in a circle, thereby representing the motion of mowing with a scythe in a field. The place of the person mowing in the centre of the scythe swing is left open. Like the undershirt, the fly screen, and the vinyl records, the scythe is a carrier of memories of her childhood. At the same time these elements play with a collective perception, making them open structures.

On view on the second floor are the works of Nahum Tevet. The artist uses plain, everyday materials such as plywood to question the boundary between art and real life. His Works on Glass were created between 1972 and 1975, a period when Tevet held a very critical view of the status of painting. He added masking tape or marks to drawings in plain frames. Eventually he removed the drawings to focus entirely on the works created on glass. Robert Rauschenberg saw these works during his 1974 visit to Israel and supported Tevet by grant and acquiring five works for his own collection. Subsequently, Tevet created the 1976 series A Page from a Catalogue (Cézanne), using the meticulous listing of works by Paul Cézanne in a catalogue raisonné organised by date, subject, and period to raise questions about repetition and seriality in the tradition of Minimal Art. In Tevet’s hands the paintings of Cézanne, in which the same subject is executed on same-size canvases, becomes a single conceptual work.

Tevet’s early sculptures (1973–74) were responses to his reflections on the relationship of a painting to its surrounding (exhibition) space. He took his paintings, which were invariably executed on plywood, down from the wall and placed them in the space as if they were furnishings with a particular function. As he himself stated: “I actually removed the monochrome paintings from the wall and activated them in space, as if the paintings were looking for a place for themselves in the world – a place to function with in it.«

In the 1980s he explored the extension of these modular objects in space in a group of works titled Painting Lessons. He developed these ideas into space-filling installations such as his most radical work Seven Walks (1997–2004), which is shown in the exhibition. Seven Walks consists of a great number of individual parts, smaller “sculptures” which in some cases are reminiscent of stored furnishings built of plywood. Inevitably one feels the urge to enter the interior of the arrangement, but is prevented from doing so. The environment only reveals itself by circumambulation it and viewing it in the process. This takes time, as different perspectives present almost endless repetitive versions of arrangements in which painting (colour), sculpture and architecture (form and material) engage in a dialogue: an intriguing interplay between formalism and functionalism.

Tevet also questions a dissolution of abstraction and function in later works such as the group of small-scale wall sculptures titled Time after Time (2011–17) and the 2013 object Table #4. Both once again call to mind tables and chairs and are nested: the simple cube comprises function, form, colour, sense of scale, space and time. Through its function as a table Tevet effectively shifts the boundaries between art and real world here. The table is host to discussions and encounters, turning the art space into a social space.

In the work of both artists the expansion of the artwork through the shift of functions or the use of materials charged with meaning is combined with plain, basic forms and a powerful visual vocabulary. This goes hand in hand with an artistic stance that rejects ideological positions and encourages, if not demands, dialogue and the exchange of ideas. Both artists have, in fact, been active in the field of communication and education: Nahum Tevet as professor at the Bezalel Academy and Efrat Natan as cur ator at the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.