Galleries to present protesting artists’ works in weekend show of solidarity

After December firestorm over museum removal of David Reeb’s controversial painting of Haredi man, Ramat Gan galleries aim to demonstrate ‘vote of confidence in artistic freedom’

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Artists covering their artworks in December 2021 protest over a feud regarding a controversial painting at a Ramat Gan museum (Courtesy David Reeb Instagram)
Artists covering their artworks in December 2021 protest over a feud regarding a controversial painting at a Ramat Gan museum (Courtesy David Reeb Instagram)

When artist David Reeb’s painting was deemed offensive to the ultra-Orthodox, it was removed from Ramat Gan’s new museum of contemporary art, setting off an art world firestorm last month.

Nearly all the other exhibiting artists demanded their art be removed as well, followed by the curator’s resignation and the temporary closure of the museum.

This weekend, January 28 and 29, 17 art galleries in Tel Aviv will be showing the protesting artists’ works in a show of solidarity in support of art and the freedom of expression.

Daniel Milman, a Swiss resident of Tel Aviv and avid art collector, put together the idea of placing the artworks in local galleries.

“The galleries are not saints,” said Milman, a psychologist and psychoanalyst by profession. “They do it with an objective but it matches mine, which is to say no to censorship.”

“This isn’t a little Israeli situation,” he added. “We are facing a global conflict between freedom of expression and what is politically correct. Anyone who feels that his or her identity is being harmed in whichever way is now standing in the way of the freedom of choice.”

A David Reeb artwork that will hang in the Nissim-Landau gallery during a weekend of solidarity over art, January 28-29, 2022 (Courtesy)

It was the Ramat Gan mayor, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who requested that Reeb’s painting be taken down. The artwork shows two images of an ultra-Orthodox man praying at the Western Wall, with the words “Jerusalem of gold,” referring to the capital city, written in Hebrew and alongside, the words “Jerusalem of shit.”

Reeb, who will now be showing his works at several galleries this weekend, including Gordon Gallery, said he never anticipated any problem with his artwork.

“I was really surprised, I was taken aback by the way the mayor behaved,” said Reeb. “The show had nothing to do with him and it was completely illegitimate behavior on his part. The only ones who acted properly were the artists, in the way they reacted to his attacks on the painting and to its removal.”

The show, titled “The Institution,” opened December 23 featuring works by more than 60 Israeli artists gathered by chief curator Svetlana Reingold that took a close look at the concept of institutional critique in Israeli art.

Zoya Cherkassky’s ‘Like there is no tomorrow’ is at the Rosenfeld Gallery after she removed it from a Ramat Gan museum following the December 2021 protest over a feud regarding a controversial painting (Courtesy artist and Rosenfeld Gallery)

“The Institution” was the museum’s inaugural exhibition after a multi-million dollar renovation funded by selling artwork from its collection. The  acting director of the museum is also the deputy mayor of Ramat Gan and sits on the museum’s board of directors, said Reeb.

Milman was at the museum’s opening, celebrating the unveiling of the renovated building which is intended to focus on contemporary art. “During that night, something went wrong,” he said. “Someone said something to the mayor and the consequence was that he seized the work by David Reeb.”

יש צדק ושופטים גם בתל אביב! היצירה המבזה לא תוצג בר"ג.✍️בית המשפט פסק שההחלטה שלנו להסיר את היצירה הפוגענית והגזענית…

Posted by ‎כרמל שאמה הכהן‎ on Thursday, December 30, 2021

The other artists reacted by veiling their works in black and then went to court to clear the matter. The presiding judge said it was a matter for the board of directors of the museum and sent the two parties into mediation, which ultimately failed.

At that point, the artists walked out, the curator resigned and the museum closed its doors.

Artist Yana Rotner’s work will be at the Noga Gallery after removing it from the Ramat Gan museum in December 2021 protest over a feud regarding a controversial painting (Courtesy Noga Gallery)

This weekend, each of the participating galleries will be showing at least one work of art by the 50 artists who removed their art from the museum, said Milman.

Some of the galleries reached out to artists they haven’t represented before, including some who have never been represented by a gallery.

“Yana Rotner now has her piece at the Dvir Gallery and that’s her first gallery show,” said Milman. “This is the private market reacting to a political situation.”

As for Reeb, he reiterated his appreciation for his fellow artists and the participating galleries.

“The first and most important thing was solidarity shown by the other artists and the institutions and galleries doing this project this weekend,” he said. “That’s an important show of strength and a vote of confidence in artistic freedom. I hope this will evolve.”

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