Moshe Gershuni

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Moshe Gershuni
Moshe Gershuni 2008.jpg
Moshe Gershuni, 2007
Born September 11, 1936
Tel Aviv, Israel
Nationality Israeli
Education Avni Institute of Art and Design, Tel Aviv
Known for Painting
Movement Israeli art

Moshe Gershuni (b. September 11, 1936) is an Israeli painter and sculptor. In his works, particularly in his paintings from the 1980s, he expressed a position different from the norm, commemorating the Holocaust in Israeli art. In addition, he created in his works a connection between bereavement and homoerotic sexuality, in the way he criticized society and Israeli Zionism-nationalism. He was awarded the Israel Prize for Painting for his work in 2003, but in the end it was revoked and he was deprived of receiving the prize.


Moshe Gershuni was born in 1936 to Yona and Zvi Kutner, who had made aliyah to the Land of Israel from Poland. Zvi, the head of the family, who was an agronomist and farmer, “hebraicized” the family name from Kutner to Gershuni, after his father. His mother Yona, nee Senior, acted in community theater in Poland and made hats in Tel Aviv. The family lived in Tel Aviv on Hahashmal Street, and in 1939 moved to Mazeh Street. In 1938 Mira, Moshe’s sister, was born, and in 1943, his brother Avshalom was born. Moshe was sent to the religious Bilu School and then continued his studies in a religious high school.

His father managed to save several family members from the Holocaust by arranging immigration certificates (certifikatim) to the Land of Israel, but some of his mother’s relatives perished in the Holocaust. Gershuni described in a late interview the presence of the Holocaust in his childhood: “My mother was troubled all the rest of her life that she had not succeeded in bringing them here. And, like many others, I remember the years after the war […] I remember that I read everything I could on the subject, there were already personal accounts of it on the radio, in private conversations, from the relatives who arrived. […] it was in my consciousness, it was almost the center of my consciousness, in spite of the fact that my early years included the founding of the State and the war with the Arabs, but everything was a function of that experience.”[1]

In 1952 the family moved from Tel Aviv to Herzliya, near to the family-owned orchards, in the Gan Rashal area. In 1954, Gershuni’s induction into the army was postponed by half a year because he was underweight, but the date of induction in 1955 was also postponed by the death of his father in an auto accident. Gershuni took over his father’s job in the orchards. After his father’s death Gershuni began to move into the world of art. The painter Leon Fouturian and the sculptor Uri Shoshany, both residents of Herzliya, influenced him. From 1960 to 1964 he studied sculpture in night courses at Avni Institute of Art and Design, after days spent working in the orchards. His teachers were Dov Feigin and Moshe Sternschuss, members of the “New Horizons” group, which during these years was beginning to lose the central place it had held in the world of Israeli art.

In 1964 he married Bianca Eshel, who was also a student in the Avni Institute and a widow of an Israeli Air Force pilot who had been killed in the Sinai Campaign. After the wedding the couple moved to Raanana. In addition to Eshel’s daughter from her first marriage, a son, Aram Gershuni, was born to them in 1967 and a second son, Uri Gershuni, in 1970.

From “Pre-Conceptual” Art to “Post-Minimalist” Art, 1969-1979[edit]

Presence, Absence, Body[edit]

Gershuni’s artistic path began with abstract sculpture, strongly influenced by Pop Art. His first solo exhibition was mounted in 1969 in the Israel Museum. On the walls of the Museum were hung yellowish green abstract paintings in a geometric style, and throughout the space of the exhibition itself were strewn objects made of soft materials influenced by the sculptor Claes Oldenburg.[2]

In the 1970s Gershuni produced a series of works influenced by the conceptual art of Europe and America. Yona Fischer who, in his position as Curator of the Israel Museum during those years, encouraged these trends, in retrospect stated that “the understanding that conceptual activity was what was developing here was not yet fully focused.”[3] As the influence of conceptual art, particularly American conceptual art, seeped in, “post-minimalist” art, which was concerned with examining the material values of art (Formalism), while attempting to strengthen the status of artistic activity, began to develop in Israel. In addition, this type of art emphasized the ontological dimension of artistic works. Instead of objectives with a commercial aesthetic, this genre adopted a freer relationship with minimalist values and emphasized the exposure of the process of the artist at work.[4] At the same time it examined and subverted the values of society with regard to its political and social views.

Gershuni’s first important works made use of automobile tires (“Inner Tubes”). The use of this material constituted a continuation of his preoccupation with soft materials, but Gershuni introducted new characteristics which had been absent in his work before. In “The Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Weak” (1969), for example, Gershuni exhibited inner tubes lined up in a row along a wall. The title of the work, taken from “Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 26:41),” referred to the gap between the body and the spirit, and between the perception of reality and human consciousness. A similar work was exhibited in 1970 in the “Group Autumn Exhibition” in the Helena Rubenstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art. Gershuni created a large sculpture installation called “Inner Tubes,”[5] which included rows of 64 tire inner tubes arranged in piles and creating a net (“grid”) in the style of minimalist art.[6] The work received broad public exposure because of a television reporter on Channel 1 who visited the exhibition and focused on Gershuni’s sculpture as an uncompromisingly curious object.[7]

Another work that shows Gershuni’s ironic relationship with the grid is “Margarine Cubes on Paper” (1970). The work documented, in effect, an activity in which margarine cubes melted into the paper, while emphasizing the sensual aspect of the material. A reinforcement of this tendency can be seen in two videos Gershuni prepared for a television show created by Jacques Katmor for Israeli Television. In the video clip “Crawling” (1970; 32 seconds, black and white), Gershuni implemented an activity of signing with his body. He is photographed dressed in an Israeli army uniform, crawling over a dune in two opposing directions that are combined with one another. In this way, a kind of sign, in the form of an X was formed. This activity was described in retrospect by Ilana Tannenbaum as an act of ars poetica, which voids and cancels out the action it performs, at the same time as it makes an ironic statement about the Israeli military.[8] Another work that was shown on the program included the covering up or sealing of the television screen “from the inside” with black paint.

Another series of works, also from 1970, is a series of drawings on fragments of paper, with names like “The Paper Looks White, but Inside, Within, It Is Black.” In these works Gershuni emphasizes the edges of the paper by tearing it or blackening it. These actions, according to Gershuni, were intended to show “that paper has thickness, that it is three-dimensional.”[9] By pointing out the interior dimension of the paper, Gershuni was trying to indicate – ironically – the “beyond,” that is the transcendental dimension of art. In the group of works that Gershuni created during the first half of the decade, content that diverged from questions of the characteristics of pure artistic representation began to appear. At the same time, Gershuni preserved the characteristics of form within conceptual art, that is, its arrangement in series, the use of text, and the reflexive dimension of the works. Among the new characteristics that appeared in his works was a whole series of clearly biographical references, both to the artist and to his family. In his work “My Father My Grandfather” (1970), for example, which was displayed in the exhibition entitled “Concept Plus Information” at the Israel Museum (Yona Fischer, Curator) in 1971, Gershuni hung an enlarged family photograph with a circle drawn around the head of his paternal grandfather. Next to the photograph was a caption that read, “My Old Man, Moshe the Son of So-and-So, Woodcarver. Plotzk, Poland, 1910.” In the 1974 “Benedictus” exhibition at the Yodfat Gallery in Tel Aviv, another work that made use of family photographs was exhibited. Under three photographs of his father and Red Army insignia, Gershuni attached a text printed on paper which said “My father was born in Poland and studied agriculture in France. He made aliyah to the Land of Israel in 1929. Planted trees.” The relationship between the images and the written texts were created, according to the later interpretation of Gideon Ofrat, pointed towards a disconnect between space and time, and between the Europe in which his grandfather lived and the Land of Israel in which Gershuni lived.[10] The gap between the past and the present appears once again in his installation “Cypresses/Memories” (1971), which was displayed in The Artists House Tel Aviv, and which showed photographs from his childhood arranged on cut-down cypresses.

The series of photographs entitled “The Main (Real) Problems are with the Tongue and the Toes” (1972) reveals Gershuni’s interest in the body and corporeality as a topic of knowledge. In these self-portraits, Gershuni creates portraits by “mugging” in front of the camera, in a way that is parallel to contemporary American artists, such as Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, etc. The photographs of his face focus on Gershuni’s mouth and focus on the relationship between the surface and the gaping space. In the photographs of his legs, Gershuni continues with an examination of the relationship by exposing the toes of his feet through yellow paper.

“The Problem of Painting is The Palestinian Problem”[edit]

Following the lead of Yitzhak Danziger, the spiritual father of many young artists of the 1970s, Gershuni participated in several performance art installations, which were called in those days "activities." "You could say we were 'Danziger's Boys'," Gershuni relates, "in the early 1970s, during the period when he was working in the Nesher quarry and was carrying out all of his experiments. That was during the time when he hung the wheat in the Museum, all that experimental direction that was exactly in the spirit of what we were looking for."[11] These activities, that were political and social in nature, Gershuni developed in a kind of group that worked in the Hadera area, and which included Micha Ullman, Avital Geva, and Yehezkel Yardeni. The group made sure they had regular meetings with Danziger in Haifa and Tel Aviv and participated in tours he organized.

Among the group of projects the group carried out, called the "Metzer-Messer Project" (1972), Gershuni took photographs of the landscapes of Kibbutz Metzer, called a meeting of the kibbutz members, and "gave away" the kibbutz lands to these members. His colleague, the artist Micha Ullman, carried out an exchange of land between the Arab village of Messer and the neighboring kibbutz, and Geva organized books that were sent to recycling to Amnir Recycling Industries and set up an improvised libraries, among other things. The social dimension of these activities emphasized the work methods of art as an element in social progress. "In those days I used to say I didn't need a studio because I created products."[11]

In 1972 Gershuni began to teach in the Department of Fine Arts of “Bezalel.” He was considered one of the central teachers, who supported experimental and political art. The “political discourse” of that period, according to Itamar Levy, “ran parallel to the formalist discourse.”[12] An example of the political involvement can be found in a 1974 manifesto which includes artistic declarations, such as combining different artistic disciplines and putting an emphasis on work processes, along with a political petition from Bezalel’s teachers and pupils, including Gershuni, which called for the formation of an investigative committee to examine the government’s “failure” in the Yom Kippur War.[13] In 1977, in connection with the “academization” of Bezalel, events reached a peak which included a series of strikes by the department and the students. Among the activities that Gershuni carried out with his pupils during this period was writing inscriptions that read “The painting problem is the Palestinian problem” and spreading them around the streets of Jerusalem. Because of the “rebellion” half of the teachers in the department were fired, among them Gershuni and Micha Ullman, who were considered the principal supporters of the students.[14] In 1978 Gershuni began to teach at HaMidrasha - The Art Teachers Training College in Ramat Hasharon, where he continued to teach until 1986.

In 1978 Gershuni exhibited his work in a large group exhibition called “Artist-Society-Artist” at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The version of his work “A Gentle Hand” that he displayed there included a newspaper article called “The Story of Joseph Ziad as Told to Leroy Frizen,” describing abuse of a Palestinian doctor at the hands of Israeli soldiers, and including a voice recording on which he sings the song "A gentle hand" by Zalman Shneur, that was broadcast from a loudspeaker on the roof of the museum like a muezzin. In the catalog, Gershuni gave an explanation of the work that dealt both with internal politics and his own personal feelings:

"If I say that the song is 50 years old and that it’s source is from a certain period of settlement and a certain period of Zionism, will that mean anything? The song has emotional significance for me. The melody has Eastern motifs. I sing it the way I remember Ilka Raveh singing it in a night club in Jaffa, and he sang the way they once used to sing, during the time of enthusiasm for things Eastern, when they were still trying to be influenced by the East. On the soundtrack that appears here it’s as though I’m sitting there and teaching myself how I ought to sing “A Gentle Hand.” [15]

Red Sealing, 1979-1980[edit]

In 1979 a solo exhibition entitled “Little Red Sealings” opened at the “Sarah Levy Gallery.” The exhibition included paper and photographs that had been treated with red paint, a color which was to become significant in Moshe Gershuni’s work in the coming years. The works exhibited a number of artistic influences by citing the names of artists such as the Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso, the Israeli painter Aviva Uri, etc.

A group of his works included imagery taken from iconic art works. In an untitled work (1980) Gershuni stained a portrait of the Pope in red. In addition Gershuni added many-legged graphic symbols that were reminiscent of swastikas. This symbol appears several times, including on the groin of the Pope. In another untitled work from the same year Gershuni drew on a reproduction of a portrait of Bernard Van Orley (1521) by Albrecht Durer.[16] Gershuni covered the face with transparent blue paint, like a kind of veil, and he drew on the lapel of his black garment a Star of David the edges of which were stained in red. Itamar Levy described in retrospect Moshe Gershuni’s act of creating that painting as a test of his relationship to painting. “In Gershuni’s treatment the portrait turns into dirt, the dirt is makeup, the makeup is makeup in blood. In Gershuni’s treatment, the painting turns into the arena for an enraged attack on the painting. And the world that surrounds the man becomes a woman adorned, an object of lust, perhaps of forbidden passion.[17]

Along with these personal works, Gershuni created works that had a direct social and political message. In a series of works entitled “Arik Sharon and the Indians” (1979), Gershuni made use of a pickup truck with a man holding a rifle sitting on it. Gershuni imposed red markings on them and a hand-written caption with the name of the work. In his work “Golda Meir” (1979) Gershuni wrote the name of Prime Minister Golda Meir on a portrait of the queen from the painting by Francisco Goya, “Charles IV of Spain and His Family” and gave the painting a red frame made up of paint smudges. In other works of this period Gershuni colored the edges of the paper with red paint, staining them and adding texts like “Hello, Soldier” or “I’m coming.”

His works of this period were a series of installations that distanced themselves from the serious nature of his earlier works. In 1979 Gershuni exhibited the caption “Who’s Zionist and Who Isn’t?” on the walls of the Julie M. Gallery in Tel Aviv. In this exhibition large letters were written on the walls of the gallery in pastel chalks and lit up with strong, hot lighting.

In 1980 Gershuni exhibited an installation called “Blood of My Heart” in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The installation included 150 white porcelain plates stained with red paint. Gershuni continued in this artistic vein in an installation called “Red Sealing/Theater” which was displayed in the Israeli Pavillion in the 1979 Venice Biennale. In this year Gershuni carried out an activity involving the sealing of the cracks in the space of the pavilion with red paint and then added objects connected to his own biography. This act of sealing in his work, in Gershuni’s eyes, was meant to be interpreted as a sign of the reverberating presence of a burden that could not be eliminated.[18] In the end, Gershuni presented the work “as a murder scene.”[9] Amnon Barzel, curator of the exhibition, described the work as a transcendental description contrasting the activity of nature to the activity of man. However, a quote from Gershuni explains it as a cry against the injustice of the world: “I am calling my work ‘Theater’,” Gershuni writes, “because of my doubt that a work of art, or the color red, can call sufficient attention to life or react to it sufficiently […] The cry of the individual is the only justification for society, and works of art are the only excuse for continuing to live in injustice and wars.”[19]

“Soldiers in a Cabaret,” 1980-1982[edit]

“A Spring Day Will Come and Cyclamen Will Bloom, 1982-1989”[edit]

Kaddish, 1989-1999[edit]



Beginning of the 21st Century and Beyond[edit]

View at "Moshe Gershuni. No Father No Mother" (2014) exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany

Art career[edit]

Opening of an exhibition (2011) at Givon Gallery, Tel Aviv-Yaffo

Since the 1960s, Moshe Gershuni has adopted an iconoclastic approach, examining paradigms of conceptual art. In the 1970s, he began to experiment with performance art. At the Venice Biennale in 1980, Gershuni showed paintings on paper in red lacquer, amidst canals of blood, creating an atmosphere of Holocaust.[1] Using free scrawl, drip, finger paint and calligraphy, he conjures up personal, Zionist, Moslem and Christian symbols. These works seem to have been created in a trance.

After graduating in 1964 from the Avni Institute of Art and Design he worked as a professor at various art schools. From 1972 to 1977 he worked as a professor at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Israel's national school of art. From 1978 to 1986 he taught at the Art Teachers Training College, in Ramat HaSharon.[2]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 1969 Aika Brown Prize, Israel Museum
  • 1982 Sandberg Prize for an Israeli Artist, Israel Museum
  • 1988 Minister of Education and Culture Prize for a Young Artist,
  • 1989 Kolb Prize, Tel Aviv Museum
  • 1994 Sussman Prize, Yad Vashem
  • 1995 Mendel and Eva Pondik Prize, Tel Aviv Museum
  • 2000 George and Janet Jaffin Prize Since America-Israel Cultural Foundation
  • 2003 Israel Prize was cancelled as he refused to participate at the awards ceremony
  • 2003 Honor Member of the LGBT community for his contribution to culture.
  • 2006 Yakir Bezalel Jerusalem

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Moshe Gershuni: A Life in Art
  2. ^ "Biography of Moshe Gershuni". C. Moss Gallery. Retrieved August 14, 2011. 

External links[edit]