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Eric Vanounou / Play on Cloths
Why did you forsake me? Why forsake me? To what purpose? Why?
Barnett Newman, “The 14 Stations of the Cross”

Eric Vanounou’s Barcode series captures the entire range of themes and contents that preoccupy him as a person and as an artist. These works are some of the leanest and most abstract he has ever painted – exposed linens, that highlight the grid pattern of the woven cloth on which partial images of prayer shawls are projected or rather slammed, creating a play on cloths. This duality of the profane canvas and the sacred cloth, the tangible cloth and the painted canvas, is emblematic of the polarities and tensions in the artist’s world.
The contradictory meanings of the Jewish prayer shawl are grounded in Vanounou’s early childhood memories, wrapped in his grandfather’s shawl in the synagogue in Casablanca, as well as in its formal and color symbolism, that dialogues with artistic forefathers such as Kazimir Malevich (“The Black Square”), Piet Mondrian and his famous grids, and Barnett Newman in his Stations of the Cross series. Its fringes could be identified in his early series, including UNTEXT ME! (2008), TRIOFACE (2011), Caravaggio’s Zone (2016) and others, where it appears as a partial, hinted, frayed and tattered image. The traditional charge it contains also interfaces with Vanounou’s masculine, Jewish, Mizrahi and Israeli identity. As seen in the poem “Promised Land” (2009), also presented in the exhibition, it weaves together images of landscape and place with poignant presentness. And as if all these are not enough, these works bear the title Barcode, that code imprinted on products containing information about them. From all those aspects, Vanounou’s prayer shawl may be seen as an interpretive and exegetic expression. It turns from a symbol to a sign, from a spiritual to a mundane charge, from a holy cloths to a work of art.
Presenting these paintings of his in the Mishkan’s Judaica Section, next to Samuel Hirszenberg’s “The Last Prayer”, Yosl Bergner’s “Hadass Besamim”, and devotional articles from the permanent display seem to bring them back to their origins: to the wide-ranging Jewish tradition, to the sanctuary of art.

Eric Vanounou

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Curator: Yaniv Shapira

May-September 2017