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Tel Hai 80: The first art event of its kind

Tali Kayam

 

From September 3rd to 6th, 1980, an outdoor artistic event, called ‘Tel Hai 80: Meeting for Contemporary Art’ was held for the first time. The event, in which some 56 artists participated, took place on the grounds of Tel Hai college and was the joint initiative of the Tel Hai Arts Institute and the Upper Galilee Regional Council.[1]

The college was established in 1958 in the building beside the historic courtyard and was also an initiative of the Upper Galilee Local Council. Historical research suggests that the Tel Hai myth was less prominent during the era in which the college was established[2] so the establishment of the Arts Institute in general and the initiative of the Tel Hai Meeting in particular can be seen as an attempt to posit a newer, more up-to-date mythology.

With the question in mind, “What can be done to put Tel Hai on the map?” Ilana Bauman, the director of the Arts Institute at that time, along with her husband, artist Shaul (Tuli) Bauman, initiated the event. Bauman likewise noted that the Tel Hai meeting was intended to highlight the institution from which it was born.[3]

When “Tel Hai 80” took place, the Arts Institute already had over 1000 students in some 15 departments, including: drawing, sculpture, silkscreen printing, engraving, graphics, photography, ceramics, jewelry, interior design, artistic embroidery, weaving, dance and more. Most of the students were local to the region: members and residents of kibbutzim, moshavs (agricultural settlements) and citizens of Kiryat Shmona.[4]

In planning the event, Ilana and Tuli Bauman contacted Miriam Tuvia Boneh, then curator of the Kibbutz Gallery. Tuvia Boneh declined but sent the Baumans along to her colleague Amnon Barzel who brought his own vision to the table: “the idea is excellent but why students and artists? Let’s do something bigger and bring artists from abroad.”[5]

Amnon Barzel was known in the field as an art critic for “Haaretz” newspaper and an increasingly well-established independent curator.[6] He developed  relationships with international artists in 1977, 1978 and 1980 when he curated a solo show by Dani Karavan in the 6th documenta in Kassel and the Israeli Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, respectively. The Tel Hai event’s list of participating artists as well as the text in the catalog offer evidence of Barzel’s connections with Dennis Oppenheim, from the main exhibition of the 39th Biennale (1980) and Nicholas Pop from Australia who exhibited at the British Pavilion that year as well as Richard Fleischner, who was included in the 6th documenta catalog alongside Dani Karavan. The nod to the international was also evident in the text about Menashe Kadishman’s work, in which Barzel makes the point that the painting of sheep is a continuation of the process exhibited at the 1978 Venice Biennale and the Sculpture Symposium in Washington in 1980.

Barzel was also familiar with Europe’s art theory elite as well as curators and renowned art critics such as the French art critic Pierre Restany, the curator of the 6th and 7th documenta Manfred Schneckenburger, and the editors of the prestigious art magazine ‘Flash Art,' Giancarlo Politi and Helena Kontova, who also came to Tel Hai and appeared in its symposia and programs.

According to Ilana Bauman, Barzel’s reputation reinforced the Local Council’s interest in supporting the event: “he had just gotten back from extensive activity abroad and said, ‘I have connections here and there. And I can bring the artists here, just like that, and we’ll do something international.’ We figured great why not. So we took him on as curator and told the council and they got even more excited because the event would be not just on the Israeli map, this would put us on the map globally.”[7]

According to reports, the council offered significant support to the tune of $250,000 American dollars.[8] To put things in perspective , this amount’s purchasing power is equivalent to $784,824 in today’s American dollars.[9] It should be noted that apart from this amount, no government authority, including the Ministry of Education and Culture, gave budgetary assistance to the event in its first edition.[10]

The breakdown of the Tel Hai Contemporary Art events leadership and roles was as follows: Barzel was in charge of the artistic content and the teachers of the institute, headed by the Bauman couple were the producers. Barzel managed to bring significant names to take part in the Tel Hai 80 event, including the father of the “Happening," Allan Kaprow and the cellist Charlotte Moorman, who were at the forefront of emerging trends in the international art field and introduced new ideas to the Israeli audience.

Barzel’s conception, which comes across in the curatorial text that opens the Tel Hai 80 catalog, sought to connect the work of Israeli artists to the international scene and the trends that set it in motion. “The artist’s appeal to his own nature, not as a model but as a subject, as material and habitat, has come to the fore in international art meetings of recent years. It seems that this trend, which separates the creation process from the museum object on the one hand, and from the illusion on the other, is consistent with the approach of Israeli artists who engage with nature, and an accentuated societal significance.”

Israeli nature, as Barzel explains, touches on the regional materiality as well as the local mythology, a socio-political combination, in his words. In the text, Barzel specifically emphasized the works of prominent and hegemonic artists who participated in Tel Hai 80 such as Micha Ullman’s Defensive Positions , Dani Karavan’s laser drawing which marked the historic route from Kfar Giladi to Tel Hai and the painted sheep of Menashe Kadishman. Barzel also exhibited these works at the same year’s Biennale, reinforcing the attempt to position Tel Hai as a distinguished platform. Of the works by kibbutz artists, Barzel wrote that they testify to “the place and its socio-political significance,” adding that the choice to place the artworks in the landscape comes from a desire to penetrate the consciousness: “this is a recurring theme through comparable art encounters, which themselves are an adventure through which new art penetrates the consciousness of society.”[11]

When examining some of these works up close, they can also be interpreted in the socio-political context of a national marginalization of kibbutzim. Tuli Bauman’s work, ‘Print in Nature’ (1980), a silkscreen print on basalt, presented reports on shelling of local settlements from the newspapers. The work was presented as an additional protective layer for a dugout shelter and illustrated the Kibbutz Manara members’ response to Begin’s statement. “These reports have implications for residents of the region and the artist, including memories of physical, existential danger and defense…” wrote Barzel, referring to the political work as ‘in situ’ without noting the social climate in which the work was presented. In its environment the art served as an outcry of a public that was cast out, a group represented as privileged and not the victim of enemy attacks. Tuli Bauman, member of Kibbutz Amir and a longtime kibbutz artist in those days, was more than familiar with his work in this context.

Another faculty member from the Arts Institute whose work was exhibited and spoke to current, regional affairs was Yigal Meron, a member of Kibbutz Beit Hashita, who presented a large stone positioned over a deep pit. The work ‘Untitled’ (1980), referenced the murder which had taken place at Misgav Am a few months earlier, in April 1980. As part of this traumatic attack, terrorists infiltrated the children’s house at the Misgav Am Kibbutz, took several babies as hostages and killed one of the kibbutz members. The incident once again echoed the dangers lurking for those peripheral settlements that serve as a human divide between the state of Israel and its hostile neighboring countries. “… The spot where the stone is placed over the pit is permanent; we are constantly burying our dead, however, we cannot forget them and they activate and trigger our personal and collective memory,” Meron wrote of the sculpture a few years later, to the Tel Hai Courtyard Museum director.[12] Sculpturally, Meron explained that the placement illustrated the numerous meanings of the concept of “space”, which pertains to mourning (the word for ‘space’ in Hebrew is a homonym for a person slain in combat or dead of unnatural causes), the exhibition site and the emptiness that remains in the pit.[13]

The artist Dov Heller, a member of Kibbutz Nirim in the south of Israel, offers a different perspective which disrupts the image of the “privileged kibbutznik.” The catalog text accompanying his work is in the form of a monologue, in which he describes the agricultural crisis and the risk of drought to the kibbutz orchards. “A person would say, ‘I’ve lived in this place for twenty years. Sixteen disappointing years and four spiritually uplifting years, I can’t stand it, I’m leaving.’ Goes to a place with rain.” Heller built a personal rain gauge on the mountain that was described in a publication as: “a kind of totem, surrounded by a pomegranate orchard.”[14]

The work of artist Dov Or-Ner, a member of Kibbutz Hatzor makes a connection between the border and security problems as he defines them and the boundaries of the art museum in terms of consciousness. The work included a collection of data from conversations with regional inhabitants, including residents of Kiryat Shmona and Arab villages in the area. The residents were also invited to contribute their blood and bury it in the ground. In the catalog text, Or-Ner asserts that the aim of the work was to create a “sculptural audio structure that complements the triangle of the environs: past - Tel Hai, present - Kiryat Shmona, future - the drill.” By this timeline, according to Or-Ner, it will be necessary to rethink the museum model because the existing model will disappear.[15]

Dalia Meiri’s work at the Tel Hai 80 event referenced the intra-kibbutz politics. At that time Meiri was a resident of the Moledet moshav in the Lower Galilee which, in the 1970s, wanted to join the United Kibbutz Movement but was rejected.[16] In the catalog text which accompanies her work ‘Untitled’ (1980), Meiri emphasizes the place where she was born and lives, the Moledet moshav in Ramat Issachar, by using materials native to its environment. Moreover, Meiri strove to plant a place within a place, disguising it in the form of “a remnant of ancient tools which served the locals of the past. As a kind of remnant of the ancient culture of this land.”[17]

Meanwhile non-kibbutz artists in the exhibition highlighted a critical perspective on Israeli mythology by a variety of means: the work of Ido Abarbaya referenced the “Ballad of Trumpeldor” which appears in a German melodrama by George Mannheimer, while the work of Tel Avivian Batya Arowetti, ‘Local History’ (1980), invoked the pioneer encampment, updated with the consumer-pop aesthetic of the 1980s using satin fabric and neon lights.

Other works that dealt directly with the tensions between the center and periphery included Zvi Goldstein, who wrote a gothic text about marginal art, warning, as a prophet of crushing rage, that the revolution of rationalism in international art in the 1960s and 70s affects and even endangers marginalized cultural fields.[18]


 

Event Reception

From newspapers at the time, we see that even before the event took place, it aroused much curiosity and criticism. For instance, certain works that made direct use of nature or interfered with the landscape were not warmly welcomed, and in two different instances, such works actually jeopardized the event. Buky Schwartz’s piece, ‘White Triangle’ (1980), which the artist planned to paint three white spots on the Eastern slope of the Naftali Mountains which would be visible from the road and connect to form a white triangle, provoked a media frenzy. In the catalog text which accompanied the work, there was an attempt to explain that it wouldn’t harm the landscape as it was ephemeral and would not leave a mark. Despite this assurance, some saw the piece as harmful to nature: “The Tel Hai symposium which is about to take place at the beginning of September … will sully and change the landscape,” wrote the artist Igael Tumarkin, a prominent artist who was not invited to participate in the Tel Aviv Contemporary Art events, and still objected to them years later.[19]

Miriam Frenkel, in the newspaper “Al HaMishmar,” which was associated with the kibbutz-identified Mapam party, likewise pointed an accusatory finger at the event organizers, who she saw as urbanites rather than kibbutznikim: “Patrons of art, who are in charge of the necessary permits, are the city clerks and mayors to whom the word ‘art’ is enough to dazzle them and puff up their chests.”[20] The artists that participated in the event were painted as enemies of the state: “We only have one land of Israel and just as there are municipal bylaws against littering in public space or polluting various sites, so too must we prevent polluters from expropriating the land of Israel for their own private uses.”[21] The author and publicist Amos Keinan added in his scathing review in the newspaper “Yedioth Ahronoth” that: “No muse turned prostitute has the right to touch so much as a rock from the Galilee” and also voiced his opinion on Mani Pe’er’s television program.[22] Which is to say, Tel Hai events had a PR struggle from inside and out. In this context, the geopolitical debate over Tel Hai raised its head again, begging the questions: to whom does this landscape belong? Who has the right to this land?

In the competing newspaper, “Maariv,” the artist Buky Schwartz addressed concerns in an unapologetic, matter-of-fact way: “Spiritual violence, superficial demagoguery, ignorance and lack of information characterize the latest publications on the subject of the Tel Hai meeting.” To prove that adequate consideration was given to the area and surrounding landscape, Schwartz made sure to establish that the event organizers were kibbutz members with agricultural sensitivities: “I asked the meeting organizers (kibbutz members and experienced agriculturalists) to check and find material with which I might paint the terrain that would not do any damage to the environment.”[23]

From these exchanges we can infer the importance of the fact that the Tel Hai events took place with the support of the regional council which identified with the kibbutz movement. We see how the organizers and their motives were examined with great suspicion: are they still acting from an impetus of settling the land? Out of a kind of collective thinking? Or are they driven by personal amusement that led them to neglect the covenant made between kibbutz society and the land? Ultimately, Schwartz made his triangle from white flags as if calling for ceasefire on the part of both the artists and the critics.

Conceptual performance artist Moti Mizrahi’s work, the ‘Hour of the Dove,’ also aroused resentment in some circles, to the point that it brought about a discussion in the Israeli parliament. Mizrahi used his body in a way that many deemed inappropriate and disturbing [of] the peace. He walked around the event space and distributed eggs, accompanied by a procession of children and performers carrying umbrellas and wearing minimal attire while he himself peed on the grass.[24] According to Ilana Bauman, the parliament summoned the regional council in order to discuss the subject but ultimately no action was taken against the institute or the council.

Another work which aroused public ire, according to Bauman, was that of Menashe Kadishman, who painted a boulevard of trees, in addition to the flock of sheep, which led to the local police being called, backed by the [then] Minister of Agriculture, Ariel Sharon, to stop the event at once, while in progress.[25]

Apart from the scandals, the many articles published about “Tel Hai 80” in the newspapers of the time, indicated that it was a success. “The first such event of its kind and scope in Israel,”[26] it attracted all kinds of people and did not cause suspicion or competitive jealousy on the part of other parties.[27] It was reported that art enthusiasts from all over the country and particularly from the Galilee attended the event from day one.[28] The organizers reported that 124,000 attendees attended the event.[29] By comparison, the Fresh Paint Fair which, despite its commercial nature, is considered by many to be the most successful annual Israeli art event in the field today, reports over 30,000 attendees yearly.[30]
On the other hand, some of the articles describe the event as a “happening” and there are those who were not convinced of its artistic authenticity. “It’s hard to tell if this event is supposed to be serious or carnivalesque,” pondered Haaretz writer Nisim Mevorach as he observed the work of Yossi Mar-Chaim, as a part of which musicians were stationed in trees where they played a live show for the audience. Mevorach’s review concluded with a comparison between the art presented at the Tel Hai 80 event and the ‘Roaring Lion’, arguing that Melnikoff’s sculpture surpasses the event’s artistic level  being displayed at its feet.”[31] Other perspectives saw the pieces displayed at Tel Hai as designed to positively challenge viewers: “Clearly this was a success, at an unforgettable scale (not just by Israeli standards), in the encounter of [the] masses with artworks, most of which are far  from any kind of general “consensus.”[32]

The publications also showed that to a large extent, the success of the Tel Hai events were attributable to one person: Amnon Barzel.[33] “I wasn’t sure that all of the big names that I was hearing — artists, thinkers, journalists and curators — would really make it to the Upper Galilee, to speak in the land of rockets,” writes Emmanuel Bar-Kedma, one of the most prominent art critics at that time, in his column which was published in “Yedioth Ahronoth” following the event. “Now, sitting at a wooden table on the Tel Hai college grounds, and around me these throngs of people, including many of the names that Amnon Barzel promised in June, I may resume believing, somewhat, in the principle of promises.”[34]

Moreover, the international art critics and theorists who attended went on and published reviews and articles in the aftermath of the event. Pierre Restany, for example, published his impressions from the Tel Hai 80 event in an issue of the journal which he edited, “Natura Integrale.” In his review, he writes about a certain dimension of Israeli art discovered at Tel Hai. According to him, the control of Israel’s artists in the local context, led to the creation of a dynamic panorama of high quality Israeli art that was displayed at Tel Hai.[35]. Restany noted that Israeli art wanted to be in touch with reality and wrote extensively and excitedly of Ezra Orion’s work.

Furthermore, Restany paid special attention to the works of such kibbutz artists as David Fine and one of the main thinkers and organizers of the Tel Hai events, Tuli Bauman. Restany’s article proved that the hope to put the institute and kibbutz artists on the world map came to fruition, to an extent. The institute and its location were at the center of the Israeli discourse, featuring in both artistic and national news, and even receiving international attention.

 

The following article was taken from a chapter of the thesis ‘A Center Everywhere: Art platforms in Israel’s geographic margins in the 1980s as a tool for creating cultural and symbolic wealth’ (title translated from Hebrew), towards a master’s degree as part of the program “Policy and Theory of the Arts” at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, supervised by Professor Yael Guilat and Dr. Tal Ben Zvi.

 

[1] The number of artists as reported by Ilana Bauman, one of the event’s organizers.

[2] Zrubavel, Yael, “Between ‘History’ and ‘Legend’: The Transformation of Tel Hai in Popular Memory” from Myth and Memory: Incarnations of Israeli Consciousness, edited by David Ohana and Robert S. Wistrich (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Van Leer Institute and Kibbutz Hameuchad, 2005), 190. [In Hebrew]

[3] Ilana Bauman, personal interview, June 7, 2019.

[4] See publication on behalf of the regional council: Tel Hai. (Haifa: the Upper Galilee Regional Council, 1982). Hashomer Hatzair Archive -- Yad Yaari, Yuval Danieli Room, Cabinet B, Shelf 11. [In Hebrew]

[5] Ibid.

[6]Teichman, Carmela, “Amnon Barzel: ‘All my life I initiated art projects. I never took someone’s place and sat in his chair,’ Home of Israeli Art (Online journal), March 2016. [In Hebrew]

[7] Ilana Bauman, personal interview from June 7, 2019.

[8] Gil Goldfine, "Bolder and Boulder", Jerusalem Post, September 10, 1980.

[9] According to an inflation calculator, as of April 2020. See, for example: https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/?fbclid=IwAR2vP3GuEYH4XKJEsg5GJ5x6MM_w0SUzhkkCZo6_U-SuJ1BToRsZNvES2TM

[10] Amnon Barzel, personal interview on July 29, 2019.

[11]Barzel, Amnon, Introduction to Catalogue, Tel Hai 80: Contemporary Art Encounter (Naftali Mountains, Tel Hai Institute of Art, 1980), pages unnumbered. [In Hebrew]

[12]See Appendix 2: Letter from Yigal Meron to Uri Horowitz, manager of Tel Hai Courtyard Museum in 1989 from Nusbaum’s “Tel Hai Events”. [In Hebrew]

[13] Ibid.

[14] See text on the work of Dov Heller in the booklet ‘Tel Hai 83’ which visitors received separate from the catalog, pages unnumbered. Haim Meor archive.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Kanari, Baruch. “Santa Yoseftal”, from Dazzle: Hakibbutz Hameukhad split. (Ramat Efal: Yad Tabenkin, 2011), 314. [In Hebrew]

[17]  See text on the work of Dalia Meiri in the ‘Tel Hai 80’ catalog, pages unnumbered.

[18] Ibid.

[19]Tumarkin, Yigal, “Not Symposiums, No!” Davar, 22.8.80, pages unnumbered, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[20]Frenkel, Miriam, “Tel Hai 80: Art or dirt -- ‘call it by its name’”, Al Hamishmar, 26.8.1980, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[21] Ibid.

[22] Kenan, Amos, “Muse-Sponsored Vandalism,” Yedioth Aharonot, 14.8.1980, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[23] Schwartz, Buky, “Book-Burning: Tel Hai 80,” Maariv, 21.8.1980, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[24]  Ilana Bauman, personal interview, June 7, 2019.

[25]Lev, Yair (director). Frame Story - 100 years of art in Israel (The Lottery Council for Culture and the Arts in collaboration with the Second Television and Radio Authority), 2008.

[26] Eliash, Meira, “Tel Hai 80: A personal perspective”, Al Hamishmar, 10.10.1980, 68-69, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[27]  Goldfine, “Bolder and Boulder”

[28]Weiss, Shimon, “Colors, lights, music, view, noise and thousands of visitors to the opening of Tel Hai 80”, Davar, 1.8.1980

http://www.jpress.nli.org.il/Olive/APA/NLI_heb/SharedView.Article.aspx?href=DAV%2F1980%2F09%2F04&id=Ar00403&sk=0E0799DE [In Hebrew]

[29]From summary of meeting between Ilona and Tully Bauman, students of Gila Beles at University of Tel Aviv. Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[30]From the ‘About’ section of the Fresh Paint website, 7.4.2020, https://www.freshpaint.co.il/he [in Hebrew]

[31] Mevorach, Nisim, “Tel Hai 80: At the foot of the roaring lion,” Haaretz, 4.9.1980. [In Hebrew]

[32] Asaf, Oded, “Tel Hai 80 Music, from the ‘On the music’ section.” Newspaper clipping without additional information. Archive of Amnon Barzel. [In Hebrew]

[33] Baruch, Adam, “Tel Hai 80: Facts, gossip, art, people,” Yedioth Aharonot, 19.8.1980. [In Hebrew]

[34] Bar-Kedma, Emmanuel, “Tel Hai Art 80,” Yedioth Aharonot Weekly, 10.9.1980, Archive of Amnon Barzel. [In Hebrew]

[35]   Pierre Restany, “Tel Hai 80: Contemporary art meeting,” Natura Integrale, Octobre- Novembre/Decembre 1980, 15, Archive of Amnon Barzel.

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Tel-Hai Art events 1980
Public Art and Early Media Archive

Tel Hai 80: The first art event of its kind

Tali Kayam

 

From September 3rd to 6th, 1980, an outdoor artistic event, called ‘Tel Hai 80: Meeting for Contemporary Art’ was held for the first time. The event, in which some 56 artists participated, took place on the grounds of Tel Hai college and was the joint initiative of the Tel Hai Arts Institute and the Upper Galilee Regional Council.[1]

The college was established in 1958 in the building beside the historic courtyard and was also an initiative of the Upper Galilee Local Council. Historical research suggests that the Tel Hai myth was less prominent during the era in which the college was established[2] so the establishment of the Arts Institute in general and the initiative of the Tel Hai Meeting in particular can be seen as an attempt to posit a newer, more up-to-date mythology.

With the question in mind, “What can be done to put Tel Hai on the map?” Ilana Bauman, the director of the Arts Institute at that time, along with her husband, artist Shaul (Tuli) Bauman, initiated the event. Bauman likewise noted that the Tel Hai meeting was intended to highlight the institution from which it was born.[3]

When “Tel Hai 80” took place, the Arts Institute already had over 1000 students in some 15 departments, including: drawing, sculpture, silkscreen printing, engraving, graphics, photography, ceramics, jewelry, interior design, artistic embroidery, weaving, dance and more. Most of the students were local to the region: members and residents of kibbutzim, moshavs (agricultural settlements) and citizens of Kiryat Shmona.[4]

In planning the event, Ilana and Tuli Bauman contacted Miriam Tuvia Boneh, then curator of the Kibbutz Gallery. Tuvia Boneh declined but sent the Baumans along to her colleague Amnon Barzel who brought his own vision to the table: “the idea is excellent but why students and artists? Let’s do something bigger and bring artists from abroad.”[5]

Amnon Barzel was known in the field as an art critic for “Haaretz” newspaper and an increasingly well-established independent curator.[6] He developed  relationships with international artists in 1977, 1978 and 1980 when he curated a solo show by Dani Karavan in the 6th documenta in Kassel and the Israeli Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, respectively. The Tel Hai event’s list of participating artists as well as the text in the catalog offer evidence of Barzel’s connections with Dennis Oppenheim, from the main exhibition of the 39th Biennale (1980) and Nicholas Pop from Australia who exhibited at the British Pavilion that year as well as Richard Fleischner, who was included in the 6th documenta catalog alongside Dani Karavan. The nod to the international was also evident in the text about Menashe Kadishman’s work, in which Barzel makes the point that the painting of sheep is a continuation of the process exhibited at the 1978 Venice Biennale and the Sculpture Symposium in Washington in 1980.

Barzel was also familiar with Europe’s art theory elite as well as curators and renowned art critics such as the French art critic Pierre Restany, the curator of the 6th and 7th documenta Manfred Schneckenburger, and the editors of the prestigious art magazine ‘Flash Art,' Giancarlo Politi and Helena Kontova, who also came to Tel Hai and appeared in its symposia and programs.

According to Ilana Bauman, Barzel’s reputation reinforced the Local Council’s interest in supporting the event: “he had just gotten back from extensive activity abroad and said, ‘I have connections here and there. And I can bring the artists here, just like that, and we’ll do something international.’ We figured great why not. So we took him on as curator and told the council and they got even more excited because the event would be not just on the Israeli map, this would put us on the map globally.”[7]

According to reports, the council offered significant support to the tune of $250,000 American dollars.[8] To put things in perspective , this amount’s purchasing power is equivalent to $784,824 in today’s American dollars.[9] It should be noted that apart from this amount, no government authority, including the Ministry of Education and Culture, gave budgetary assistance to the event in its first edition.[10]

The breakdown of the Tel Hai Contemporary Art events leadership and roles was as follows: Barzel was in charge of the artistic content and the teachers of the institute, headed by the Bauman couple were the producers. Barzel managed to bring significant names to take part in the Tel Hai 80 event, including the father of the “Happening," Allan Kaprow and the cellist Charlotte Moorman, who were at the forefront of emerging trends in the international art field and introduced new ideas to the Israeli audience.

Barzel’s conception, which comes across in the curatorial text that opens the Tel Hai 80 catalog, sought to connect the work of Israeli artists to the international scene and the trends that set it in motion. “The artist’s appeal to his own nature, not as a model but as a subject, as material and habitat, has come to the fore in international art meetings of recent years. It seems that this trend, which separates the creation process from the museum object on the one hand, and from the illusion on the other, is consistent with the approach of Israeli artists who engage with nature, and an accentuated societal significance.”

Israeli nature, as Barzel explains, touches on the regional materiality as well as the local mythology, a socio-political combination, in his words. In the text, Barzel specifically emphasized the works of prominent and hegemonic artists who participated in Tel Hai 80 such as Micha Ullman’s Defensive Positions , Dani Karavan’s laser drawing which marked the historic route from Kfar Giladi to Tel Hai and the painted sheep of Menashe Kadishman. Barzel also exhibited these works at the same year’s Biennale, reinforcing the attempt to position Tel Hai as a distinguished platform. Of the works by kibbutz artists, Barzel wrote that they testify to “the place and its socio-political significance,” adding that the choice to place the artworks in the landscape comes from a desire to penetrate the consciousness: “this is a recurring theme through comparable art encounters, which themselves are an adventure through which new art penetrates the consciousness of society.”[11]

When examining some of these works up close, they can also be interpreted in the socio-political context of a national marginalization of kibbutzim. Tuli Bauman’s work, ‘Print in Nature’ (1980), a silkscreen print on basalt, presented reports on shelling of local settlements from the newspapers. The work was presented as an additional protective layer for a dugout shelter and illustrated the Kibbutz Manara members’ response to Begin’s statement. “These reports have implications for residents of the region and the artist, including memories of physical, existential danger and defense…” wrote Barzel, referring to the political work as ‘in situ’ without noting the social climate in which the work was presented. In its environment the art served as an outcry of a public that was cast out, a group represented as privileged and not the victim of enemy attacks. Tuli Bauman, member of Kibbutz Amir and a longtime kibbutz artist in those days, was more than familiar with his work in this context.

Another faculty member from the Arts Institute whose work was exhibited and spoke to current, regional affairs was Yigal Meron, a member of Kibbutz Beit Hashita, who presented a large stone positioned over a deep pit. The work ‘Untitled’ (1980), referenced the murder which had taken place at Misgav Am a few months earlier, in April 1980. As part of this traumatic attack, terrorists infiltrated the children’s house at the Misgav Am Kibbutz, took several babies as hostages and killed one of the kibbutz members. The incident once again echoed the dangers lurking for those peripheral settlements that serve as a human divide between the state of Israel and its hostile neighboring countries. “… The spot where the stone is placed over the pit is permanent; we are constantly burying our dead, however, we cannot forget them and they activate and trigger our personal and collective memory,” Meron wrote of the sculpture a few years later, to the Tel Hai Courtyard Museum director.[12] Sculpturally, Meron explained that the placement illustrated the numerous meanings of the concept of “space”, which pertains to mourning (the word for ‘space’ in Hebrew is a homonym for a person slain in combat or dead of unnatural causes), the exhibition site and the emptiness that remains in the pit.[13]

The artist Dov Heller, a member of Kibbutz Nirim in the south of Israel, offers a different perspective which disrupts the image of the “privileged kibbutznik.” The catalog text accompanying his work is in the form of a monologue, in which he describes the agricultural crisis and the risk of drought to the kibbutz orchards. “A person would say, ‘I’ve lived in this place for twenty years. Sixteen disappointing years and four spiritually uplifting years, I can’t stand it, I’m leaving.’ Goes to a place with rain.” Heller built a personal rain gauge on the mountain that was described in a publication as: “a kind of totem, surrounded by a pomegranate orchard.”[14]

The work of artist Dov Or-Ner, a member of Kibbutz Hatzor makes a connection between the border and security problems as he defines them and the boundaries of the art museum in terms of consciousness. The work included a collection of data from conversations with regional inhabitants, including residents of Kiryat Shmona and Arab villages in the area. The residents were also invited to contribute their blood and bury it in the ground. In the catalog text, Or-Ner asserts that the aim of the work was to create a “sculptural audio structure that complements the triangle of the environs: past - Tel Hai, present - Kiryat Shmona, future - the drill.” By this timeline, according to Or-Ner, it will be necessary to rethink the museum model because the existing model will disappear.[15]

Dalia Meiri’s work at the Tel Hai 80 event referenced the intra-kibbutz politics. At that time Meiri was a resident of the Moledet moshav in the Lower Galilee which, in the 1970s, wanted to join the United Kibbutz Movement but was rejected.[16] In the catalog text which accompanies her work ‘Untitled’ (1980), Meiri emphasizes the place where she was born and lives, the Moledet moshav in Ramat Issachar, by using materials native to its environment. Moreover, Meiri strove to plant a place within a place, disguising it in the form of “a remnant of ancient tools which served the locals of the past. As a kind of remnant of the ancient culture of this land.”[17]

Meanwhile non-kibbutz artists in the exhibition highlighted a critical perspective on Israeli mythology by a variety of means: the work of Ido Abarbaya referenced the “Ballad of Trumpeldor” which appears in a German melodrama by George Mannheimer, while the work of Tel Avivian Batya Arowetti, ‘Local History’ (1980), invoked the pioneer encampment, updated with the consumer-pop aesthetic of the 1980s using satin fabric and neon lights.

Other works that dealt directly with the tensions between the center and periphery included Zvi Goldstein, who wrote a gothic text about marginal art, warning, as a prophet of crushing rage, that the revolution of rationalism in international art in the 1960s and 70s affects and even endangers marginalized cultural fields.[18]


 

Event Reception

From newspapers at the time, we see that even before the event took place, it aroused much curiosity and criticism. For instance, certain works that made direct use of nature or interfered with the landscape were not warmly welcomed, and in two different instances, such works actually jeopardized the event. Buky Schwartz’s piece, ‘White Triangle’ (1980), which the artist planned to paint three white spots on the Eastern slope of the Naftali Mountains which would be visible from the road and connect to form a white triangle, provoked a media frenzy. In the catalog text which accompanied the work, there was an attempt to explain that it wouldn’t harm the landscape as it was ephemeral and would not leave a mark. Despite this assurance, some saw the piece as harmful to nature: “The Tel Hai symposium which is about to take place at the beginning of September … will sully and change the landscape,” wrote the artist Igael Tumarkin, a prominent artist who was not invited to participate in the Tel Aviv Contemporary Art events, and still objected to them years later.[19]

Miriam Frenkel, in the newspaper “Al HaMishmar,” which was associated with the kibbutz-identified Mapam party, likewise pointed an accusatory finger at the event organizers, who she saw as urbanites rather than kibbutznikim: “Patrons of art, who are in charge of the necessary permits, are the city clerks and mayors to whom the word ‘art’ is enough to dazzle them and puff up their chests.”[20] The artists that participated in the event were painted as enemies of the state: “We only have one land of Israel and just as there are municipal bylaws against littering in public space or polluting various sites, so too must we prevent polluters from expropriating the land of Israel for their own private uses.”[21] The author and publicist Amos Keinan added in his scathing review in the newspaper “Yedioth Ahronoth” that: “No muse turned prostitute has the right to touch so much as a rock from the Galilee” and also voiced his opinion on Mani Pe’er’s television program.[22] Which is to say, Tel Hai events had a PR struggle from inside and out. In this context, the geopolitical debate over Tel Hai raised its head again, begging the questions: to whom does this landscape belong? Who has the right to this land?

In the competing newspaper, “Maariv,” the artist Buky Schwartz addressed concerns in an unapologetic, matter-of-fact way: “Spiritual violence, superficial demagoguery, ignorance and lack of information characterize the latest publications on the subject of the Tel Hai meeting.” To prove that adequate consideration was given to the area and surrounding landscape, Schwartz made sure to establish that the event organizers were kibbutz members with agricultural sensitivities: “I asked the meeting organizers (kibbutz members and experienced agriculturalists) to check and find material with which I might paint the terrain that would not do any damage to the environment.”[23]

From these exchanges we can infer the importance of the fact that the Tel Hai events took place with the support of the regional council which identified with the kibbutz movement. We see how the organizers and their motives were examined with great suspicion: are they still acting from an impetus of settling the land? Out of a kind of collective thinking? Or are they driven by personal amusement that led them to neglect the covenant made between kibbutz society and the land? Ultimately, Schwartz made his triangle from white flags as if calling for ceasefire on the part of both the artists and the critics.

Conceptual performance artist Moti Mizrahi’s work, the ‘Hour of the Dove,’ also aroused resentment in some circles, to the point that it brought about a discussion in the Israeli parliament. Mizrahi used his body in a way that many deemed inappropriate and disturbing [of] the peace. He walked around the event space and distributed eggs, accompanied by a procession of children and performers carrying umbrellas and wearing minimal attire while he himself peed on the grass.[24] According to Ilana Bauman, the parliament summoned the regional council in order to discuss the subject but ultimately no action was taken against the institute or the council.

Another work which aroused public ire, according to Bauman, was that of Menashe Kadishman, who painted a boulevard of trees, in addition to the flock of sheep, which led to the local police being called, backed by the [then] Minister of Agriculture, Ariel Sharon, to stop the event at once, while in progress.[25]

Apart from the scandals, the many articles published about “Tel Hai 80” in the newspapers of the time, indicated that it was a success. “The first such event of its kind and scope in Israel,”[26] it attracted all kinds of people and did not cause suspicion or competitive jealousy on the part of other parties.[27] It was reported that art enthusiasts from all over the country and particularly from the Galilee attended the event from day one.[28] The organizers reported that 124,000 attendees attended the event.[29] By comparison, the Fresh Paint Fair which, despite its commercial nature, is considered by many to be the most successful annual Israeli art event in the field today, reports over 30,000 attendees yearly.[30]
On the other hand, some of the articles describe the event as a “happening” and there are those who were not convinced of its artistic authenticity. “It’s hard to tell if this event is supposed to be serious or carnivalesque,” pondered Haaretz writer Nisim Mevorach as he observed the work of Yossi Mar-Chaim, as a part of which musicians were stationed in trees where they played a live show for the audience. Mevorach’s review concluded with a comparison between the art presented at the Tel Hai 80 event and the ‘Roaring Lion’, arguing that Melnikoff’s sculpture surpasses the event’s artistic level  being displayed at its feet.”[31] Other perspectives saw the pieces displayed at Tel Hai as designed to positively challenge viewers: “Clearly this was a success, at an unforgettable scale (not just by Israeli standards), in the encounter of [the] masses with artworks, most of which are far  from any kind of general “consensus.”[32]

The publications also showed that to a large extent, the success of the Tel Hai events were attributable to one person: Amnon Barzel.[33] “I wasn’t sure that all of the big names that I was hearing — artists, thinkers, journalists and curators — would really make it to the Upper Galilee, to speak in the land of rockets,” writes Emmanuel Bar-Kedma, one of the most prominent art critics at that time, in his column which was published in “Yedioth Ahronoth” following the event. “Now, sitting at a wooden table on the Tel Hai college grounds, and around me these throngs of people, including many of the names that Amnon Barzel promised in June, I may resume believing, somewhat, in the principle of promises.”[34]

Moreover, the international art critics and theorists who attended went on and published reviews and articles in the aftermath of the event. Pierre Restany, for example, published his impressions from the Tel Hai 80 event in an issue of the journal which he edited, “Natura Integrale.” In his review, he writes about a certain dimension of Israeli art discovered at Tel Hai. According to him, the control of Israel’s artists in the local context, led to the creation of a dynamic panorama of high quality Israeli art that was displayed at Tel Hai.[35]. Restany noted that Israeli art wanted to be in touch with reality and wrote extensively and excitedly of Ezra Orion’s work.

Furthermore, Restany paid special attention to the works of such kibbutz artists as David Fine and one of the main thinkers and organizers of the Tel Hai events, Tuli Bauman. Restany’s article proved that the hope to put the institute and kibbutz artists on the world map came to fruition, to an extent. The institute and its location were at the center of the Israeli discourse, featuring in both artistic and national news, and even receiving international attention.

 

The following article was taken from a chapter of the thesis ‘A Center Everywhere: Art platforms in Israel’s geographic margins in the 1980s as a tool for creating cultural and symbolic wealth’ (title translated from Hebrew), towards a master’s degree as part of the program “Policy and Theory of the Arts” at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, supervised by Professor Yael Guilat and Dr. Tal Ben Zvi.

 

[1] The number of artists as reported by Ilana Bauman, one of the event’s organizers.

[2] Zrubavel, Yael, “Between ‘History’ and ‘Legend’: The Transformation of Tel Hai in Popular Memory” from Myth and Memory: Incarnations of Israeli Consciousness, edited by David Ohana and Robert S. Wistrich (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Van Leer Institute and Kibbutz Hameuchad, 2005), 190. [In Hebrew]

[3] Ilana Bauman, personal interview, June 7, 2019.

[4] See publication on behalf of the regional council: Tel Hai. (Haifa: the Upper Galilee Regional Council, 1982). Hashomer Hatzair Archive -- Yad Yaari, Yuval Danieli Room, Cabinet B, Shelf 11. [In Hebrew]

[5] Ibid.

[6]Teichman, Carmela, “Amnon Barzel: ‘All my life I initiated art projects. I never took someone’s place and sat in his chair,’ Home of Israeli Art (Online journal), March 2016. [In Hebrew]

[7] Ilana Bauman, personal interview from June 7, 2019.

[8] Gil Goldfine, "Bolder and Boulder", Jerusalem Post, September 10, 1980.

[9] According to an inflation calculator, as of April 2020. See, for example: https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/?fbclid=IwAR2vP3GuEYH4XKJEsg5GJ5x6MM_w0SUzhkkCZo6_U-SuJ1BToRsZNvES2TM

[10] Amnon Barzel, personal interview on July 29, 2019.

[11]Barzel, Amnon, Introduction to Catalogue, Tel Hai 80: Contemporary Art Encounter (Naftali Mountains, Tel Hai Institute of Art, 1980), pages unnumbered. [In Hebrew]

[12]See Appendix 2: Letter from Yigal Meron to Uri Horowitz, manager of Tel Hai Courtyard Museum in 1989 from Nusbaum’s “Tel Hai Events”. [In Hebrew]

[13] Ibid.

[14] See text on the work of Dov Heller in the booklet ‘Tel Hai 83’ which visitors received separate from the catalog, pages unnumbered. Haim Meor archive.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Kanari, Baruch. “Santa Yoseftal”, from Dazzle: Hakibbutz Hameukhad split. (Ramat Efal: Yad Tabenkin, 2011), 314. [In Hebrew]

[17]  See text on the work of Dalia Meiri in the ‘Tel Hai 80’ catalog, pages unnumbered.

[18] Ibid.

[19]Tumarkin, Yigal, “Not Symposiums, No!” Davar, 22.8.80, pages unnumbered, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[20]Frenkel, Miriam, “Tel Hai 80: Art or dirt -- ‘call it by its name’”, Al Hamishmar, 26.8.1980, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[21] Ibid.

[22] Kenan, Amos, “Muse-Sponsored Vandalism,” Yedioth Aharonot, 14.8.1980, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[23] Schwartz, Buky, “Book-Burning: Tel Hai 80,” Maariv, 21.8.1980, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[24]  Ilana Bauman, personal interview, June 7, 2019.

[25]Lev, Yair (director). Frame Story - 100 years of art in Israel (The Lottery Council for Culture and the Arts in collaboration with the Second Television and Radio Authority), 2008.

[26] Eliash, Meira, “Tel Hai 80: A personal perspective”, Al Hamishmar, 10.10.1980, 68-69, Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[27]  Goldfine, “Bolder and Boulder”

[28]Weiss, Shimon, “Colors, lights, music, view, noise and thousands of visitors to the opening of Tel Hai 80”, Davar, 1.8.1980

http://www.jpress.nli.org.il/Olive/APA/NLI_heb/SharedView.Article.aspx?href=DAV%2F1980%2F09%2F04&id=Ar00403&sk=0E0799DE [In Hebrew]

[29]From summary of meeting between Ilona and Tully Bauman, students of Gila Beles at University of Tel Aviv. Beit Ziffer Archive, Tel Hai file. [In Hebrew]

[30]From the ‘About’ section of the Fresh Paint website, 7.4.2020, https://www.freshpaint.co.il/he [in Hebrew]

[31] Mevorach, Nisim, “Tel Hai 80: At the foot of the roaring lion,” Haaretz, 4.9.1980. [In Hebrew]

[32] Asaf, Oded, “Tel Hai 80 Music, from the ‘On the music’ section.” Newspaper clipping without additional information. Archive of Amnon Barzel. [In Hebrew]

[33] Baruch, Adam, “Tel Hai 80: Facts, gossip, art, people,” Yedioth Aharonot, 19.8.1980. [In Hebrew]

[34] Bar-Kedma, Emmanuel, “Tel Hai Art 80,” Yedioth Aharonot Weekly, 10.9.1980, Archive of Amnon Barzel. [In Hebrew]

[35]   Pierre Restany, “Tel Hai 80: Contemporary art meeting,” Natura Integrale, Octobre- Novembre/Decembre 1980, 15, Archive of Amnon Barzel.

 The CDA's archives are operating with the support of the Ostrovsky Family Fund and Artis
 

 The CDA's archives are operating with the support of the Ostrovsky Family Fund and Artis