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

association

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

"Art

Critics" (after Daumier), and in "Don Quixote" (after

Dore).

This effort takes a forced, unseemly turn when a real

wire-and-painted-wood

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

anonymous

John/Jane Q. Public met real-world countertops in real-world

diners.

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

playfulness,

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

counterpoint

to a solid veneer.

When these methods are applied to the armature of the freestanding

sculpture, the result is intoxicating. The sculpture is mostly

monolithic,

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

creatures.

He is so concerned with the air inside that barrel chest that he

scrupulously

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

structures

and the elements that comprise them, the trees as well as the forest.

— F.R. Rivera

Zigi Ben-Haim and Illya Kagan, Grounds for

Sculpture ,

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

exhibition

of the glass art of Dale Chihuly. Park admission is $4 to $10.

Grounds for Sculpture is open Tuesday through Sunday,

10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year round. Adult admission is $4 Tuesday to

Thursday;

$7 Friday & Saturday; and $10 Sunday. Annual memberships are also

offered.


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