Roee Rosen: Group Exhibitionby Keren Goldberg | 08.02.16
Joshua Simon and Gilad Melzer, the curators of Roee Rosen’s impressive mid-career retrospective, wisely decided to address it as a ‘group exhibition’. Rosen, one of the most prominent Israeli artists, is a master puppeteer, a fabricator of personas and narratives that take over his practice. The show is divided into colour-coded sections, each representing a different project, a different identity.
The first in these is Justine Frank, a fictional Jewish-Belgian painter who was briefly associated with the surrealist movement in Paris before arriving to Tel Aviv in the 1930s. Her works, which are all made by Rosen and show a provocative melange of religious Jewish iconography, radical pornography and surrealist imagery, repelled the then Zionist young Israeli art scene. Rosen created not only Frank, but also the conflictual context of her creation – in a video interview (Two Women and a Man, 2005) cultural critic Joanna Fuhrer-Ha’sfari (played by Rosen himself), criticise Rosen for his patriarchal appropriation of Franks’ work, which was actually discovered by art historian Anne Kastrop, a fabricated persona as well.
Another hybrid Israeli character is Maxim Komar-Myshkin, the pseudonym of the Russian poet Efim Poplavsky, who emigrated to Tel Aviv in the early 2000s. Komar-Myshkin, who believed that Vladimir Putin is personally haunting him, created an operatic children’s book, in which ‘Vladimir’ is being attacked, molested and finally murdered by animated objects (Vladimir’s Night, 2011-2014). He also founded the ‘Buried Alive Group’, a collective of ex-Soviet artists who disavowed both the Israeli culture around them as well as their Russian origins.
The third semi-fictional section is Live and Die as Eva Braun, a show which aroused inflamed political debates when it was first shown at Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 1997. It invites the viewer to become the dictator’s lover during the last days of the war and final suicide, through a hair-raising mental journey accompanied by drawings and texts written in the first person.
The fourth section, under the title ‘Roee Rosen’, presents, among rest, Rosen’s famous Funeral Paintings – round format paintings in which Rosen envisions his own funeral from within the grave, as well as his self-portraits as various martyrs, some are presented as edible and coated in a brown layer of chocolate-faeces.
Also included is a cinema, screening Rosen’s excellent video works, such as The Confessions of Roee Rosen (2008) – Rosen’s personal confessions delivered through three female illegal workers, Out (2010) – a scene of female BDSM, in which the dominant tries to exorcise the demon possessing the subordinate – Avigdor Lieberman; Hilarious (2010) – a live stand up show gone bad; and The Buried Alive Group videos. Rosen is also a prolific writer, and his books and publications are included in a library section, along side his early artist book The Blind Merchant (1989-1991), in which he illustrated and contributed a parasitic text of his own to William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’.
This encompassing show offers a valuable chance to view Rosen’s overwhelmingly wide-range practice as a whole. Through his continuous building and dismantling of identities and his obsessive preoccupation with self-representation, all delivered through a coherent aesthetic, Rosen challenges categories of past and present, of national history, and draws an unconditional, sometimes comical critic of Israeli and Jewish identifications.
Exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 15 January – 30 April 2016.