Kitsch Me Not

No pop trash in a trio of exhibitions of lively religious art at the Boca Raton Museum of Art

There's only one piece by Yemima Ergaz -- View of Jerusalem from the Supreme Court (Triptych) -- but it's an eye-opener. The catalog points out that older panoramas of the city were typically painted from the east, with an emphasis on Jerusalem's significance as a religious center. Ergaz, however, has chosen to present the city from the west, giving us "a completely secular perspective. It reflects the ongoing change of the urban structure."

Two artists -- Shlomi Haggai and Zeev Ben-Dor -- represent the volatile world in which Israelis (and by extension the rest of us) exist by resorting to unusual means of abstraction. Ben-Dor, a former Israeli Air Force pilot and now a commercial pilot for El Al, uses pale washes and scratches of mixed media on Masonite to create swirling dream imagery that, as he says, "depict[s] my feelings about the current 'situation' in Israel." The panels are unframed and mounted directly on the museum walls, which give them a greater immediacy.

There are three samples from Haggai's untitled "Film Stills Series," described by the artist as "based on enlarged sections of photographs or film frames, with images portraying blast centers, fire, debris..." Haggai blurs and distorts these "stills" -- the text doesn't indicate how, but the effects, especially in a fiery orange piece and a similarly intense red one, leave us to wonder what horrific sources might have evoked such imagery.

Pichhadze's The Tree brings back memories
Pichhadze's The Tree brings back memories


On display through June 8. Call 561-392-2500.
Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton

The show also includes three pieces by Meir Pichhadze, an Israeli who was born in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Two are negligible portraits, although an oil called The Tree lives up to the artist's self-proclaimed influences, which include El Greco and Millet. With its strange pallet of sickly greens and yellows, it's a startling contrast to most of the rest of the pieces in this show and a pointed reminder of the continuity that runs from the art of yesterday through the art of today.

I'm running out of space, but it would be a serious oversight not to mention the Boca Museum's third current show, "Psychic Landscapes: Paintings by Michal Sedaka." The artist was born and educated in Israel (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, respectively), and she now divides her work time between Tel Aviv and New York City, so technically she fits into the theme running through the museum's three shows.

In terms of technique, however, Sedaka tosses representational art out the window and opts for an approach to abstraction that catalog essayist Donald Kuspit calls "painterliness" as a way of characterizing art that's more emotionally expressive than the abstract expressionism of, say, Jackson Pollock and company.

I'm not a big fan of the sort of theorizing that Kuspit, a professor at State University of New York at Stony Brook and a widely published critic and scholar, indulges in. Nor am I a shill for exhibition catalogs. But in this case, Kuspit's commentary helps make sense of Sedaka's big, messy canvases -- there are only ten in the exhibition, all reproduced in the catalog -- and there are fascinating translations of the highly introspective, hand-lettered Hebrew texts that play a significant role in so many of these intensely expressive paintings.

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