Israel Museum Exhibit Focuses on the Act of Creation

Israel Hershberg and Joshua Borkovsky Work Well Together

In A White Room: Joshua Borkovsky’s work is currently on display in the “Veronese Green” exhibit at the Israel Museum.
Courtesy of Israel Museum
In A White Room: Joshua Borkovsky’s work is currently on display in the “Veronese Green” exhibit at the Israel Museum.

By Laura Hodes

Published February 10, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
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The cyclical nature of Borkovsky’s works helps to create a feeling within the galleries that time has been suspended. The works allude not only to Greek mythology, but also to early photography. When I looked at the large, rectangular canvases of “Echo and Narcissus,” a diptych in gold leaf and oil with small white rectangles on the corners, I was reminded of black-and-white photos in my father’s old photo album, with the white-paper corners holding them in place. Many of the paintings here evoke the image of photographs in the process of being developed in a darkroom.

Gazing at repeated, overexposed and underexposed images, or at paintings that shimmer and shift in the light, can create in the observer a hypnotic sensation. Looking at the iterations of reflection, shadow, lines and light inspires a meditative calmness much as one feels when looking at Hershberg’s landscapes. With both painters’ works, there are no brushstrokes or expressionistic emotion, no evidence of the human painter. These canvases are as smooth as the mythical pond of Narcissuss.

In both exhibits there is a serenity that can cause the viewer to forget that so much labor went into these artworks’ creation. Looking closely at the precise lines in Borkovsky’s “Vera Icon” and “Apelles’ Line” cycles, one might be amazed that a human being created them. That very contradiction, the illusion of the work being created without human labor, is part of the myth, and illusion making, inherent in the creation of art, which is at the heart of Borkovsky’s work. Indeed, the very title “Vera Icon” is a reference to the myth of Veronica, who on seeing the suffering of Jesus on the way to his crucifixion, wipes his face with her veil, then later finds on her veil an imprint of Jesus’ face. It’s as if Borkovsky aspires for all of his paintings to be like Veronica’s veil, representations that have come into existence without human intervention.

Of course, we know on some rational level that Borkovsky’s act — like Hershberg’s — of removing himself from his paintings is inherently impossible. Yet it is in that balancing act, or within the space between the illusion and the apprehending of the illusion, that art lies. In the end, we, the viewers, are made complicit with Borkovsky in the illusion making, just as the audience is in a magician’s act.

In one “Echo and Narcissus” work, the canvas shimmers silver, with small rectangular imprints suggesting windows. Against the background, I could see a vague shadow of my reflection; seeing an image of myself made me consciously aware of my act of gazing, and yet I could still efface myself and give in to the beauty of the work. Seeing one’s own image prevents the painting from becoming an idol, a graven image; instead, as if by magic, the viewer becomes as much a part of the experience of the painting as the painter.

Laura Hodes writes frequently about fine art for the Forward. She is a writer and attorney living in Chicago.


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