Max Epstein, Artist’s Bed, 2018, Mixed media

In the artist’s bed: in the artist’s head

Max Epstein

By Andi Arnovitz

Jerusalem is perhaps the ultimate, living, breathing Wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities). A city claimed by the three major religions, with their corresponding shrines, a city where the ancient and contemporary bump and jostle daily; where holy men and teenagers stand in line together to buy a falafel. In the epicenter of this middle-eastern melee there is a small cooperative gallery, managed, financed and maintained by fifteen diverse artists called Agrippas 12, (because, unremarkably, that is the address). One enters through a wild, overgrown courtyard, goes upstairs to a tiny, old apartment and into a minimalistic gallery space with fabulous light. In existence since 2004, it has had over 80 exhibitions to date.

 

Because the gallery is run by artists, for artists and is self-sustaining (there are never any prices listed) it functions as a kind of laboratory: artists are free to experiment with media, to embark on new directions, to take risks and perhaps even to fail. Many Agrippas 12 artists have shown works, tested the waters and then gone on to expand these shows into more formal settings like museums. Artist-members have solo shows once every two years. There are regularly curated group shows, shows that piggyback with festivals, exhibitions by invited artists, performances, lectures and poetry readings. Agrippas 12 is the only not-for-profit gallery in Jerusalem that features contemporary, working, Israeli artists. Furthermore, due to the packed gallery schedule, shows are up for only about three and a half weeks, meaning there is almost always something new to see. The artists are photographers, sculptors, printmakers, and painters creating both traditional and conceptual installations.

Max Epstein, Yacht, 2018, Mixed media

In December of 2018, a rich and riveting exhibition opened, titled “Artist’s Bed” featuring the works of Max Epstein, Olga Goltser and Lihi Goltser. Max has been a member of Agrippas 12 since 2012, and “Artist’s Bed,” his fourth show there, was a concept that the artist had been percolating a long time. His vision was to take advantage of the literal apartment that the gallery occupies- and to present his works as a personal Wunderkammer--a cabinet of Max-centric curiosities in an actual living space. These sculptural works were a series of stories made visual and tangible. His sculptures fit the categories of the objects trouvés in a classic 16th century cabinet of curiosities: ethnographic, and archeological, religious, historic and deeply and unmistakably personal. These sculptures are ready-mades: at once whimsical, sarcastic, erotic, narrative and hauntingly beautiful.

Max Epstein, Cockroach, 2013, Mixed media

Found objects such as rusty garden tools, pieces of bone, old irons, game pieces, silver saucers and other common items have been repurposed and recombined with resin, carved wood, bronze, stone and clay. Technically the sculptures are masterful, as one loses all awareness of the objects’ original functions, and of how multiple physical objects have been manipulated. Focusing on the poetry of the material, Max observed, “These found objects tell me what to do with them.”

Max Epstein, Lenin Bomb, 2017 Mixed media

What Max does to and with these objects is both obsessive and imaginative. Using one of the oldest etching techniques in the world--drypoint--to hand etch into the surface of metal, Max has painstakingly created portraits and scenes. A vision emerges from the plate of the iron. Lenin’s face looms at us from a lump of clay. A chiseled face materializes from of a chunk of stone.

Max Epstein Self Portrait in a Landscape 2015 Mixed media

Envisioning the exhibition, Max invited another Agrippas 12 artist, Rina Peled, to write the explanatory wall text. Rina is an artist, scholar and art historian with a degree from the Sorbonne and a PhD from Hebrew University, and her immediate reaction upon seeing the works was to reflect on the relationship of these works to those of Man Ray,  Marcel Duchamp and  Meret Oppenheim. Max’s pieces do indeed recall classics of the Dada movement, but whereas Dada anti-art often had a destructive focus , Max’s works have a strong sense of irony- black humor, sexuality and eros.  Max and Rina agree that the formal curator/artist relationship was unnecessary--this was a new form of curatorship, more of a dialogue and collaboration between an artist and his colleague.

 

Rina writes: “The exhibit “Artist’s Bed” brings us into Max’s studio and reveals to us his stance as an artist in the world. He is not disconnected from reality. He is like an eternal wanderer, who finds and collects different objects that attract his eye There through his assiduous artisanship of soldering, gluing and welding, they undergo stages of metamorphosis and turn into art objects that express the artist’s way of looking at reality and his attitude towards it. This is an attitude that contains not only a flight from reality, an invitation to “sleep actively” or to dream, but a critique as well.”

Olga Goltser, Anima Verité, 2018

From the very beginning Max conceived of including a work of video art by friend and fellow artist Olga Goltser, in this exhibiton.  Students together in 1997 at Bezalel Art Academy at Hebrew University, Max and Olga have collaborated many times. There is a sympathy between the two artists that marries their works – creations in conversation: a riffing of one off the other. They are both are teachers at Wild Kids Animation Studio. Olga is also a forager of the ordinary, but her media is video. Max conceived of the idea of there being an artist’s bed in the gallery, a place to lie down, where dreams, impressions and symbols appear and disappear, where everyday life has layers and where archetypal animated creatures parade above the viewers head as if in a dream world. Goltser’s video installation, “Anima Verité” projected on the ceiling above the bed is a powerful journey into this dream world. Goltser writes, “I contemplate the reality that shapes my memory, and I interpret it with the help of my imagination. I am curious to discover how animation and collections of photographed images meet in the language of animation.”

Olga Goltser, Anima Verité,2018

This exhibition contains one other surprise: reinforcing the domestic space of the gallery/apartment, Lihi Goltser, daughter of Olga, has created a tiny miniature box of “jewelry” in the hallway leading into the gallery space, reminding us perhaps of a woman’s dressing table.  Lihi’s world is that of tiny objects, little plastic baby’s hands, and springs and computer chips. She too gathers and rearranges found objects, but her pieces are tiny, jewelry-like, feminine, and doll sized. Her series “Medallions” contain the flotsam and jetsam used in her mother’s videos, but repurposed for another creative endeavor.

Lihi Goltser, Medallions, 2018 Found objects

The subconscious hovers around us in this exhibition. In Olga’s video and in Max’s and Lihi’s respective sculptures there are erotic and symbolic images that echo each other. As Carl Jung said, “There is good reason for supposing that the archetypes are the unconscious images of the instincts themselves, in other words, that they are patterns of instinctual behavior.” 

 

“Artist’s Bed” is a feast of artistic impulses. There is a literal physical bed that the viewer is invited to lie down upon, in a gallery space that is also a real apartment, the “cabinet of curiosities” is in a space where a cabinet should be. This, then, is the real impulse of the show: a proposition of space that is inhabited by a mystical world, surrounding us with images both static and moving, images that remind us of things no longer identifiable that nevertheless fill us with nostalgia and longing. “Artist’s Bed” was intimate and incredibly, poignantly human.

All photos courtesy Max Epstein

Andi Arnovitz is a Jerusalem based artist.

Her works can be seen at www.andiarnovitz.com

 

“Artist Bed” a solo show of Max Epstein with Olga Goltser and guest artist Lihi Goltser was presented in December 2018 at Agrippas 12 Gallery Jerusalem.