Nahum Tevet | Floors

18/04/2024 - 01/06/2024


Nahum Tevet
18.04.24 – 01.06.24
In the Tangle of Art History
On Nahum Tevet’s Exhibition Floors
Arnon Ben-Dror

Nahum Tevet is an evolutionary artist. Each new series of works he makes is like another turn of a screw; one more step in an artistic journey that has been patiently and methodically progressing for more than five decades, and which focuses on the basic categories by which we perceive objects: shape, color, space, scale, volume, orientation. The exhibition Floors (held concurrently with a dual exhibition of Tevet and Sol Lewitt at Harel Gallery) brings together wall works made by Tevet in recent years, which can be roughly divided into three groups: small works from the Time After Time series (2010–2023); large-to-huge wall works (2020–2023), which developed from the small ones; and one vertical diptych (2022–2023), which comes very close to a painting per se. These assemblages combine Tevet’s typical use of wood that he paints in variations of patterns and textures, alongside newer experimentation with mirrors and found photographs.


The works in the exhibition hang like pictures, but they do not really feel at home on the wall. Similar to Daniel Spoerri’s hanging tables,[1] it feels like they defy gravity, like they came from the floor or from some other horizontal surface and then flipped (indeed, the point of departure for these works was the thought of Tevet’s floor works climbing up the wall, hence the seemingly paradoxical exhibition title — “Floors”). Unlike pictures, these works cannot be perceived all at once (or be adequately photographed). If “the object of an artist is seeing how long you can get somebody to look at something,” as Richard Artschwager once maintained, then Tevet certainly excels at his task here. The “vision traps” he sets before us produce a multitude of concealed micro-compositions that change dramatically as we shift our point of view, so that at no point are we able to “see the whole picture,” at no point do we sense a Gestalt, things do not become one. The hidden interior spaces force us to examine the works less like a viewer who comes to see a picture, and more like a plumber who comes to find a leak: we get close, lean forward, stick our head, tilt it, change the angle, try to peek inside — but always get only a partial view. While the small works are quite compact, the large works emit an excessive, almost compulsive, energy. Tevet’s production line has created monsters of form and color that threaten to collapse from visual overload, intricate architectural thickets that condemn our gaze to a sense of instability and restlessness. Tevet’s familiar building blocks are joined here by two new aids that further complicate the labyrinth: mirrors, which naturally produce confusing virtual spaces; and clippings of found photographs (some of which are only visible through the mirrors), which Tevet makes sure to paste in an orientation that contradicts that of the actual room.


In typical Tevet fashion, the works engage in a twofold dialogue: both with Tevet’s own history as an artist (chairs, boats, floor works “climbing up” the walls, etc.) and with the history of art. They evoke associations — some more blatant than others — to a series of minimalist artists and hard-edge painters from the generations of Tevet’s “parents” and “older brothers,” especially those artists who dealt with the relation between object and painting or worked with stripes (names like Lewitt, Stella, Buren, Kelly, Ryman, McCracken — and also Tevet’s compatriot Moshe Kupferman — come to mind). The photographs Tevet embeds in the works are also taken from the art circuit (as well as from IKEA catalogues): images from Parkett art magazine, for instance, or an ad from the local Studio magazine (both now deceased), or an exhibition invitation that Tevet snuck from Hauser & Wirth in New York. This hodgepodge of quotes makes us feel that behind these works lies an hermetic and hoarding consciousness, trapped inside what Arthur Danto once called the “artworld”; a reflective consciousness that quotes, imitates, and borrows, references others in order to reference back to itself ad nauseum. We will not find here allusions to the “outside world,” certainly not to the local reality. Neither “A Kid in Its Mother’s Milk,” nor “Virginia Woolf.”[2] The living space of this consciousness is not “here” nor “there,”[3] nor an extra-artistic “discursive site,”[4] but the artworld alone.


Even within this hodgepodge, we can distinguish between two types of quotes — the stylistic/formal paraphrases and the photographic appropriations — which reflect two different approaches towards the past: while the artistic achievements of Tevet’s “parents” and “older brothers,” the late modernists and their descendants, are used by the artist as a sort of toolbox or laboratory through which he continues to develop his investigations of the relation between the seeing body and the things that surround it, the photographs — largely showing works made by contemporary art “stars,” from the 1980s to the present day — receive a completely different treatment. Tevet tears them to shreds, turns them into barely recognizable wallpapers, and juxtapose them with scraps from the IKEA catalogue. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “sublime” photograph of the sea is trivialized by being pasted next to a piece of plywood painted by Tevet in a similar black-and-white gradient; a large wooden boat appearing in an invitation for an exhibition by Monika Sosnowska — an artist associated with grandiose steel sculptures — is cut into small snippets and scattered throughout the work Short Silent Movie (2020–2023). Sherrie Levine, who has made a career out of the blatant appropriation of other people’s work, is handed with an especially minimizing appropriation: an installation photo of her golden urinals (a Had Gadya of appropriations: Tevet appropriating Levine appropriating Duchamp) is cropped so that all that remains from the picture are the dramatic light halos above the edges of the vitrines — as if Tevet is saying: here’s the bluff. The pathos mechanism. You too can be appropriated and ridiculed.


It is no coincidence, in this context, that the exhibition invitations that Tevet cuts and pastes were nicked by him from Hauser & Wirth gallery — a symbol of the grotesque ballooning of the contemporary art market. It seems that the mischievous side of Tevet — a side familiar to those who know him personally — is now for the first time penetrating his works. The use of found photographs, it turns out, is not only a strategy to further increase disorientation or to introduce an additional enigmatic dimension to the works, but also a way for Tevet to put a pin in the inflated balloon — pumped up by the press and the capital —of contemporary art. This whole move, Tevet told me, started offfrom an invitation to an Isa Genzken exhibition that he stumbled upon. “Why Genzken?” I asked. “With the way she has been abusing objects and images all these years,” he explained, “she deserves it.”


[1] The Snare-Pictures are a series of assemblages made by artist Daniel Spoerribeginning in the early 1960s. They were composed of everyday objects — usually leftovers from a meal — which were attached to the horizontal surface and then hung vertically on the wall.

[2] I am alluding here to well-known works by Michal Na’aman and DganitBerest — two of Tevet’s contemporaries and fellow students of Raffi Lavie — whose works move beyond formal and optical concerns towards issues of representation, language, and culture.

[3] In the historiography of Israeli art, one of the central themesis the complicated relationship between the geographicaland cultural periphery of Israel (i.e., “here”) and the “center,” namely Western Europe and the United States (i.e., “there”).

[4] The term “discursive site” was developed by art historian Miwon Kwon to describe how the reception site of a work of art moves today more and more from the physical place where it is installed to the field of knowledge or cultural debate where it is conceptually located.

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