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Modern Art Oxford director talks Yael Frank exhibit in Herzliya

CM 19/08/2021 4

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“It’s been a really interesting journey,” chuckles Paul Hobson, director of Modern Art Oxford.
Speaking to the Magazine in early August from his Herzliya hotel room, he says, “This has been the first trip that I’ve been able to do since COVID. I’ve gotten used to being at home on Zoom in London, and I am having to relearn being somewhere else.” 
Hobson, a London native and well-respected figure in the world of contemporary art, was recently in Israel for the opening of “GRID,” an exhibition by Yael Frank, which he curated, that kicked off at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art on July 31 and is on display until November 20. 

 YAEL FRANK, creator of GRID. (credit: Ella Littwitz) YAEL FRANK, creator of GRID. (credit: Ella Littwitz)
Hobson studied history at Oxford University and completed post-graduate studies in aesthetics and contemporary visual theory. A veteran of more than 20 years in the art world, he joined the gallery as director following senior roles at the Contemporary Art Society, The Showroom, the Serpentine Gallery, and the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
In November 2018, Hobson met Dr. Aya Lurie, director and chief curator of the Herzliya Museum at the Baltic Triennial in Vilnius, one of the foremost contemporary festival exhibitions in Northern Europe. Lurie invited Hobson to select and curate the winner of the Keshet Award for Contemporary Art, funded by Bar-Gil Avidan, which is presented every two years to an Israeli artist, and which is exhibited at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. 
Hobson visited Israel in October 2019 to meet the artist candidates for the award and selected Yael Frank, a Tel Aviv-based artist, as the winner of the Keshet Award. Her exhibit was scheduled to open in November 2020 but was delayed until July 2021 due to the pandemic. As curator, Hobson says that his role was to help develop and guide Frank in her ideas and ensure that the project was conceptually coherent. As such, he explains, communicating by Zoom was very helpful. Hobson arrived in Israel from England in late July, shortly before the exhibit opened, having undergone numerous COVID tests and filling out extensive forms and applications. 
“I’ve never felt so tested,” he quips.FRANK’S EXHIBITION, entitled GRID, combines moving images and sculptural elements, creating an immersive environment that extends beyond the gallery space, spilling over into the entrance hall of the museum. This site-specific project includes the film Salami, which was filmed in the museum and features a large sculptural object in the form of an elaborate, fantastical cat house forming the word “Peace.” This sculptural object evokes the Modernist cityscape of Tel Aviv, where the artist lives. The symbolism of a monumental ruin made from the word “Peace” in the context of Israeli politics and history forms the physical environment in which visitors enter. Hobson explains that in Frank’s view, there has been a semantic withdrawal of the term “peace” in political discourse since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Frank, he explains, wanted to create a public monument to the void in political discourse that surrounds the term.
 FROM SALAMI, 2021 video, 8 min 30 sec by Yael Frank. (credit: BARAK BRINKER) FROM SALAMI, 2021 video, 8 min 30 sec by Yael Frank. (credit: BARAK BRINKER)
The presence of the cats in the work further evokes the cityscape of Tel Aviv, where feral cats are ubiquitous. Frank is attracted to the ambivalent attitude of cats, their moral indifference, their territorial nature, and their tendency towards casual colonization. 
GRID offers a metaphor for political cynicism and the historic failure of Israeli politics in the form of an immersive environment of fragmented forms. Yet, the work is also hopeful, signaling the potential of new political realities.
Hobson has enjoyed viewing and taking in the contemporary art scene in Israel. 
“There are many interesting artists here and interesting practices,” he says. “I greatly enjoyed conversations with artists and art institutions here. It is a small scene relatively – relative to that of the UK, but there is a real vibrancy and quality to the conversation.” 
He adds that his visit to Israel has allowed him to speak to many people about life and politics in Israel. 
“It has been incredibly valuable in forming an understanding of the complexity of the situation.” 
How will the pandemic affect the future of art? With his many years of experience in the field, Hobson is eminently qualified to answer this question. 
“The pandemic is a century-defining event,” he notes, “and artists will want to respond to it.” 
Nevertheless, he points out, the world is still in the throes of COVID, and artists will need a bit of space to produce a critical reflection on what it has meant to the world. This will only be possible after it ends. 
He wonders if COVID, which has forced much of the world to withdraw, has strengthened the case for culture or if the pandemic, which has required people to concentrate on other things, has undermined its importance. 
“Time will tell,” he says.
Hobson notes that artists with sufficient financial means have found that the pandemic, which has put much of modern life on pause, has given them more time to focus on their craft and produce more meaningful work. Unfortunately, he points out, many artists are freelancers and are struggling, like many others in society, to make ends meet. 
PAUL HOBSON has enjoyed the warm weather in Israel but is looking forward to returning to England and his next project – a major survey of paintings by Anish Kapoor, the renowned British Indian sculptor who specializes in installation art and conceptual art. Kapoor was born in Mumbai, India, to a Jewish mother and an Indian Punjabi Hindu father. He was the 2017 winner of the Genesis Prize, known as the “Jewish Nobel Prize,” and lived in Israel in the early 1970s. Hobson explains that while Kapoor is celebrated as a sculptor, he defines himself as a sculptor who paints and has an influential studio painting practice. 
“We are doing an exhibition that focuses on that undiscovered aspect of his practice, which opens on October 1. I am very excited about that,” he enthuses.
With its warm weather and assertive style, Israel has been an enjoyable interlude for Paul Hobson, who is more accustomed to the cooler British ambiance. 
“Israelis have an assertive, almost aggressive form of hospitality. If you even allude to any sort of need you might have, suddenly you have an assemblage trying to sort things out for you,” he says, smiling.
“My time here has been really interesting. It’s been very educational and inspiring in many ways.”
This article was written in cooperation with the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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