In 1956, the artist Jackson Pollock was killed in a car crash in Springs, on the South Fork of Long Island. He was 44 years old and drunk when he drove his Oldsmobile convertible into a tree one fateful August night. He died less than a mile from his home; his mistress, who had been in the car with him, survived the accident.
Global warming, energy shortages, the fragility of the natural world — these issues are no longer relegated to the fringes of culture. Jewish “eco-artists,” as they are called, have increasingly stepped into activist roles to provoke people’s thinking about the environment.
Looking through a scrap yard in 1981, Israeli designer Ron Arad found two discarded red-leather seats from a British car, the Rover V8 2L. Back in his studio, he took them apart and anchored each one in tubular steel frames using cast iron “Kee Klamps,” a scaffolding system dating to the 1930s used for cow-milking stalls.
Two current shows at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art are a study in contrasts. The retrospective Tangled Alphabets: León Ferrari and Mira Schendel shares the sixth floor, but little else, with Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective. Whereas the late German artist’s work (and life) was an ode to excess — he died in 1997, of liver cancer — the work of Ferrari and Schendel is decidedly more humble. Kippenberger was the P.T. Barnum of the art world, a Whitman-esque figure given to celebrating his own grand multitudes; like Damien Hirst, Kippenberger was known and dismissed for his massive ego and his brawny, uneven output. But where the hard-drinking German artist intended by all means to dazzle and delight, Ferrari and Schendel provoke quiet scrutiny.
The quirky New York City venue for Israeli-born artist Ofri Cnaani’s current solo show, “A Tale of Ends,” is apt. Le Poisson Rouge, a dimly lit bar, nightclub and gallery in the downtown space once occupied by the venerable Village Gate, bills itself as “serving art and alcohol.” It announces its off-kilter sensibility just inside the entrance, where a 5-foot-long tank, filled with fish swimming about, hangs askew from the ceiling, suspended by metal chains. Poisson Rogue is a place to consume (booze, food) and be consumed (by art and music), and this sense of devouring and being devoured also runs through Cnaani’s work.