Recent Acquisitions Reveal the Haunting Effects of Historical Events and the Influence of the Practice of Archaeology in Contemporary Art
The Israel Museum spotlights leading contemporary artists in an exhibition exploring themes of trauma, loss, and memory
Playing with conceptions of time and memory, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem presents an exhibition of recently acquired contemporary works by artists including Christian Boltanski, Lyle Ashton Harris, Yael Bartana, Claudia Fontes, Simon Fujiwara, and Doris Salcedo that explore both history’s impact on the present and the archaeology of today. On view through June 15, 2022, How Long Is Now brings together over 30 works by leading international contemporary artists, with an emphasis on works made in the past 10 years. Nearly all the objects will be exhibited for the first time since being acquired by the Museum, one of the leaders in contemporary collecting in Israel.
Spanning media, political contexts, and geographic locations, the featured works demonstrate that the traumatic events of the 20th century—from the Rwandan genocide and Colombian Civil War to the Six-Day War and the Holocaust, as well as the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima—have had an indelible impact on the art of the present. Whether they experienced the events firsthand or inherited suffering, many of the artists in this exhibition directly respond to these significant historical milestones. Others are influenced by the practice of archaeology in understanding the past, imbuing contemporary objects with the appearance of ancient relics to explore what of the present will be remembered and what will be forgotten. Many of the works across both thematic components connect aesthetically by leveraging the iconography of wounds, ruins, and the effects of time.
“How Long Is Now brings together artists of disparate backgrounds and influences in acknowledgment of shared memories of tragedy. As an active collecting institution, including of contemporary art, the Israel Museum is able to offer visitors the opportunity to broaden their perspective and witness a truly global narrative,” said Ido Bruno, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “The breadth of these works enhances our encyclopedic collection and we’re so grateful for the generous support of Friends groups around the globe and individual donors who have made these recent acquisitions possible.”
Highlights from the exhibition include:
- Asta Gröting’s Mausoleum (2016), in which the German artist made a silicon impression of the façade of a nineteenth-century mausoleum in a cemetery in Berlin scarred with bullets from World War II, which serves as a silent yet enduring witness to this period in history. As urban renewal gains momentum, the stories held by this building risk being forgotten. Gröting strives to prevent the ravages of time from obliterating our memories, no matter how painful.
- Israeli artist Sharon Ya’ari enlarged a found slide taken just after the Six-Day War from the newly accessible vantage point of the Golan Heights to create Sea of Galilee (Water Walk) 1969 (2015). The colors had faded almost entirely, except for its red pigment. Awash in vibrant pinks, the effects of time cast a menacing perspective on the history of this region. In Ya’ari’s hands, the landscape is viewed from a critical perspective and cannot be observed separate from its geopolitical context.
- In Untitled (Erasure) (2010), Lyle Ashton Harris confronts the horrors of the slave trade and British colonial rule in Ghana. His photograph captures the dilapidated cell of an abandoned prison in Accra used as a detention facility for enslaved Africans, which today is an active tourist site. Harris’ work grapples with the complexities of this modern ruin.
- Petrit Halilaj’s textile piece, Untitled (carpet) (2014), is a reflection of the artist’s own experience of displacement following the Kosovo War. Chicken footprints track across a traditional ‘jan’ rug woven by the artist’s mother, only to disappear from the carpet in the same way the artist’s memories of his home destroyed by war have begun to fade with time. Domestic fowl, which used to roam the courtyard of Halilaj’s home before it was razed, act as an expression of his longing the home which is no more.
- Yuji Agematsu’s zip: 01.01.10 . . . 03.31.10 (2010), is a collection of miniature sculptures made from discarded objects the artist collected walking the streets of New York over the course of a single day, such as toothpicks, chewed gum, a used condom, and rubber bands. As an archeologist of the quotidian, Agematsu elevates these remnants to fine art through traditional methods of exhibition display, resulting in a meditative contemplation on urban existence.
- The Land of the Lotus Eaters (2018), a monumental bead curtain by Zoë Paul offers a contemporary reading of Homer’s titular myth, using the twisting gestures of the struggling figures to portray the human desire to surrender to a blissful state of forgetfulness, instead of facing a troubled past.
“Focusing our gaze on the here and now, the artists in the exhibition invite us to confront events from the past that still echo today,” said Orly Rabi, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Israel Museum, who curated the exhibition with consulting curator Mira Lapidot. “Some search for bygone times, uncovering layers of memory, while others desperately attempt to capture and preserve that which is about to fade away.”
How Long Is Now is organized by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and is accompanied by fully illustrated English, Hebrew, and Arabic catalogues.