Corrections or additions?
This review by F. R. Rivera was prepared for the June 11, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
In the Galleries
Illya Kagan’s art is art for immediate consumption.
It is as easy as a junk food sundae, sprinkles and all, and surely
too much will make you queasy. Happily, it is installed on the second
floor of the Domestic Arts building of the Grounds for Sculpture ,
so it is the work of Zigi Ben-Haim that we see first. Both artists
are painters and sculptors, but there the similarity ends.
It is odd that Grounds for Sculpture, which rarely shows paintings
of any kind, would select such patently saccharine drivel as Kagan
produces. Presumably, it was a package deal and someone there must
have liked Kagan’s clay modeling enough to accept his paintings, as
well. Seems like extortion to me.
The clay works represent either famous artists or famous works of
art. Kagan tries to persuade us that grand subjects will by
translate into grand works of art. No matter how pretty the venue
— Nantucket, Aspen, St. Barths — or how venerable the sitter
— Cezanne, Monet, Calder — no such rubbing off occurs.
Kagan, who was born in New York City in 1969, spends most of the year
in Nantucket. He claims to be inspired by the vigorous brushwork of
the Impressionists. Stubborn attempts to convert these impasto effects
to the clay surface via fingertips do not succeed. Nonetheless, the
attempt continues unabated in the "Avocat Series," the
Critics" (after Daumier), and in "Don Quixote" (after
This effort takes a forced, unseemly turn when a real
mobile (a Calder facsimile) is thrust into the master’s terracotta
hands. Cezanne is similarly mugged by a real brush and colored wood
palette. Their real-world props victimize these two famous clay men.
There is none of the George Segal magic that occurred when the
John/Jane Q. Public met real-world countertops in real-world
Kagan’s sculpture is only marginally less fatuous than his painting,
which is comparable to the excesses of Thomas Kinkade who — like
Kagan — claims to be heir to the "plein air tradition."
Ben-Haim, the elder of the two artists, was born in
1945 in Baghdad, Iraq. He was educated in Israel and after a stint
in California, moved to New York City, where he has lived and worked
continuously since 1975. Without compromising his fundamental
he produces work that looks a lot more grownup than Kagan’s. Kagan’s
painting and sculpture seem to be the work of at least two different
artists, while Ben-Haim’s is definitely the output of one artist.
Ben-Haim’s show is appropriately called "Come Journey with Me"
and he leads us like a seasoned tour guide, redefining the physical
space of the exhibit area with his big puffy floor toys. They have
titles like "Spike Hole" and "Bubble Rush."
His paintings seem to scale the walls. The paintings and sculpture
together give the impression of ongoing construction projects on a
worksite temporarily abandoned.
The paintings are large aluminum panels. They resemble point-of-sale
grids, and they support notebook-size panels suspended from pins,
which are decorated with the motifs. Sometimes the images seem to
jump from panel to panel, as they do in "Rhapsody in Blue."
The paintings relate so well to the sculpture because they are made
of the same materials, i.e. wire mesh, aluminum, and alkyd enamel.
These paintings are not on the wall. Instead, they stand on the floor,
propped against the wall. Ben-Haim uses a variety of visual stratagems
to keep us engaged. In a piece entitled "Double Take 2002"
the large leaning panel is counterpoint to the smaller layered ones,
while in "Mutual Gravity 2002," an open-wire mesh is
to a solid veneer.
When these methods are applied to the armature of the freestanding
sculpture, the result is intoxicating. The sculpture is mostly
although some pieces have curious appendages. Gesturally, they might
be living creatures. They stretch, coil, and contort or they balance
precariously as in "Level with Me, Sr."
A piece entitled "O.K. Tail" resembles a long-necked something
with a barrel chest. This creature, cordoned off by stanchions, seems
limited to sweeping around in small circles. Ben-Haim appears to love
the meticulous building process that goes into creating these
He is so concerned with the air inside that barrel chest that he
avoids the over-use of solid materials. He chooses a mesh skin to
allow respiration, thus preserving the work’s essential buoyancy.
Ben-Haim systematically builds these breathing skins one patch at
a time, correcting and mending obsessively like his fictive carpenter
ants, one of the important icons that occur regularly in his work.
Unlike Kagan, Ben-Haim is an artist who wants us to see whole
and the elements that comprise them, the trees as well as the forest.
— F.R. Rivera
18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-586-0616. Spring Exhibition in
the Domestic Arts Building: Zigi Ben-Haim "Journey With Me,"
with sculptures and paintings by Illya Kagan; shows continue to July
13. In the Museum Building, extended through July 6, a major
of the glass art of Dale Chihuly. Park admission is $4 to $10.
10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year round. Adult admission is $4 Tuesday to
$7 Friday & Saturday; and $10 Sunday. Annual memberships are also
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