5 NOVEMBER - 16 DECEMBER 2021
Evgeny Merman's current exhibition turns the spotlight on the almost transparent partners in any museum - the guards, a kind of absentee present in the exhibition space whose presence is revealed only as soon as order is disturbed: a camera flash, an unwanted touch on the artwork they are entrusted with, dangerous physical proximity, and so on. But what does the exhibition or display look like from their point of view? What relationship develops between the guards and the works over the weeks and months in which they stay together in the same defined space? What happens to the aura of the work of art that Walter Benjamin spoke of, in the eyes of the guards over time? And what do almost all the museum guards in the world have in common? Merman tries to decipher these riddles, as well as deal with substantive questions concerning the very act of painting, in a body of paintings in which the guards or their empty chairs are the main protagonists (or anti-heroes), while the works of art only peek out from behind as sub-protagonists.
Exhibition guards as the object of the artwork have appeared in recent years in various ways in the works of artists. One of the first references was the hyper-realistic guard sculptures of Duane Hanson, back in the 1970s. Hanson emphasized the ungrateful role of the guards, their low status in the museum hierarchy, and especially their gloomy expression. In the mid-2000s, Tino Sehgal presented a performance at the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where uniformed "guards" began to dance and sing, surprising the visitors who entered through the pavilion door; In this case, the guards instantly became the piece itself. A few years later, Peter Hewitt's film "The Maiden Heist" was released, in which three veteran museum guards each fall in love with a work of art, and when they learn that their favorite works are about to be transferred to another museum, they decide to steal them and replace them with copies. About a decade ago, Andy Freeberg photographed the veteran women guards in Russian museums alongside the works they were entrusted with, highlighting the phenomenon of guarding the museum as a second "career" of educated women reaching retirement age.
Merman's approach, as expressed in the paintings presented here, differs from the examples mentioned above. He creates expressive and colorful pictorial compositions in which the figure of the guard, in whole or in part, occupies a significant part of the painting, while hinting to modern and contemporary works in the history of art. The painting highlights the body language and expression of the characters without going into a detailed description, just brush strokes, stain upon stain, in gestures ranging from French modernism to German and American expressionism.
In the process, melancholic, lonely and gray figures appear, who do not interact with the visitors or with the works of art. Bringing the guards to the front of the stage, in Merman's paintings, is seemingly contrary to the way they perceive themselves, or the instructions which they follow, in an attempt perhaps to resolve the dissonance between their appearance and the emotionally moving works of art. The empty chair, itself a kind of artistic icon (to which Prof. Motti Omer dedicated a comprehensive exhibition at the Tel Aviv University Gallery at the time), stars alone in quite a few works in the series, a fact that symbolically emphasizes the non-visibility of the guards. In other works, the presence of the guard is replaced by an amorphous paint stain, paint thrown on the canvas and dripping on it, perhaps a tribute to American action painting. Other identified homages in Merman's paintings are to Francis Bacon, in the way some of the guards’ faces are painted/spread, and to masterpieces such as Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker" or a girl reading a book, a recurring motif in art history.
Canonical Israeli art is not rich in color, and less so in the use of primary colors. Kadishman, in his sheep paintings, is one of the few who used them, alongside Yaakov Agam, Yigal Tumarkin and Pinchas Cohen Gan. Merman belongs to a group of intermediate generation of artists who reinstates the richness of color in Israeli painting, such as Eliahou Eric Bokobza, Zoya Cherkassky, David Reeb, Khen Shish, Hila Lulu Lin and others. It seems that like them and even more so, Evgeny Merman’s treatment of various subjects is also involved in investigations in color and form within the painting. He usually paints in large series, with between ten and twenty works devoted to each subject. For him, the subject of the paintings is only an "excuse" or a trigger for investigations into the act of painting and its history. In his journey through time and space he traverses genres and styles, connects distant cultures, and creates a rich mosaic of faces and places, some biographical and some fictional.
Curator: Ilan Wizgan