Avraham Ofek: Body, Work

by Camea Smith | 31.05.18

Tattoos (study for Booklet of Signs No. 2), 1985, ink on copy paper

The interdisciplinary artist Avraham Ofek (1935-1990) is best known for his monumental wall paintings for the public sphere. The retrospective exhibition “Body, Work” at Tel Aviv Museum of Art is based on the comprehensive research of the curator Galia Bar Or and explores less familiar aspects of Ofek’s artistic oeuvre – namely his collaborations with artists from different fields and his performative endeavours. Ofek was born in Bulgaria in 1935 and immigrated to Israel at the age of 14 with his adoptive parents. He joined Ein Hamifratz, a kibbutz near Haifa, and in 1959 he moved to Florence to study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. After returning from abroad, Ofek began creating murals in public spaces throughout Israel, while simultaneously working on large oil paintings that were first exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1972.

The aforementioned paintings are on display in the current exhibition, alongside Ofek’s sculptural works, drawings and documentations of his performances (complete with his beautifully made body gear, garments and work tools). In 1976, Ofek founded the Leviathan group with fellow artists Michail Grobman and Shmuel Akerman, aiming to enrich Israeli art by adopting motifs and myths from the Jewish sources. He started to experiment with performative landscape works, such as “Ornament in the Landscape” (1979), in which human figures spread cloth triangles on the ground to form Kabbalistic shapes. In the series Esau’s Deed (1979–80), Ofek referred to the biblical protagonist Esau and created bodily accessories and wearable artworks from fabric, carved wood and lead.

In Gown for Self-Stoning (1979-80), the biblical punishment of stoning was transformed by Ofek from a public act to a private ordeal. The hooded gown, covered in pockets weighed down with stones, was used by the artist for performative ritual actions and was later worn by the choreographer and dancer Ruth Eshel in their collaborative work “Gown for Self-Stoning” in 1981. The gown and other elements from Ofek’s action works appear in a series of drawings created by the artist, following Joseph Beuys’ iconic performance “I Like America and America Likes Me” (1974), in which Beuys stayed in the René Block Gallery in NYC for three days in the company of a wild coyote. In the series, drawn in Ofek’s final years and presented at the exhibition for the first time, the artist alluded to mythical and biblical themes and depicted additional figures identified with his personal symbolism alongside Beuys and the coyote.

The exhibition “Avraham Ofek: Body, Work” will open tonight (May 31) at 20:00 and will be on view until October 10 at the main building of Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 27 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard, Tel Aviv. 

13 Years Since the War, October 1986, pencil on paper

Attempting to transform its contents into another, ca. 1988, pencil and watercolor on paper

Untitled, ca. 1988, pencil on paper

Esau’s Deed, 1979, photographs, pencil and watercolor on paper

Installation view: body gear for Esau’s Deed, 1979-1980, fabric and carved wood. Photo: Elad Sarig

Work tools from Esau’s Deed, 1979-80, carved wood, fabric and lead

Ornament in the Landscape, 1979, body work and fabric in the landscape, length: ca. 15 meters

Installation view. Photo: Elad Sarig

Installation view: Gown for Self Stoning, 1979-80, fabric and stones. Photo: Elad Sarig


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