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The fun of Perlstein’s art collection

CM 03/08/2021 6

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Sylvio Perlstein comes across as a happy bunny. Some way past official retirement age – his chronological time on terra firma, thus far, is not available for public consumption – the octogenarian-nonagenarian continues to accrue works of art. But not just any old painting, sketch, sculpture, installation or whatever discipline takes his fancy.

The Belgian-born, Brazilian-bred, Israeli-resident collector limits his scope of acquisition to the 20th century and up to the present day, but that is about as specific as it gets.
His eclectic take on the art world is currently on display at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (TAMA), with items from his private collection, under the highly suggestive title of “Hey! Did you know that Art does not exist…”
Wondering whether that reflects an improvisational and, possibly, irreverent take on the world of culture in general, I asked Perlstein if he is into jazz.

I drew a blank as he replied that he has a penchant for Latin sounds and rhythms and, specifically, for bossa nova. Since he spent much of his formative years in Brazil, that sounds perfectly reasonable.
I was also curious to hear what he thought about Gustav Metzger and his Auto-Destructive Art. Metzger was a Jewish naturalized British artist, who escaped Nazi Germany as a teenager, and who expressed the horrors wreaked on humankind by war by creating works that incorporated corrosive and destructive substances.
Reading a little between the lines, one might conclude that the name Perlstein chose for his showing in Tel Aviv infers that we shouldn’t take art too seriously, and, hence, perhaps it is okay if artistic creations gradually deteriorate and even completely disintegrate.
I didn’t get too far with that line of inquiry either. The collector simply shot back, enigmatically, with a twinkle in his eye: “I have another idea about art. I think you shouldn’t go on vacation. You should buy art instead.”
In fact, the title comes from a phrase that appears in a work by now-86-year-old French Dada-inspired artist Ben Vautier – known professionally simply by his given name. The quote greets visitors at the entrance to the exhibition.
In the show catalogue, Perlstein offers some insight into his perspective on art in general. “I feel passionate about things that unsettle me, that intrigue me, make me uncomfortable.”
All the above sentiments come through palpably across the four display spaces, curated by David Rosenberg from France in collaboration with TAMA curator Noa Rosenberg. The Frenchman has been a willing sparring partner to Perlstein for some years now, noting the collector’s attributes of “passion, but also flair, daring, tenacity, friendship.”
The latter is a particularly salient point, as many of Perlstein’s acquisitions, and interest in art, followed his meeting and getting to know some of the artists well. Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, for example, were good friends.
So, is that the common denominator that runs through the collection? That is, it seems, a contributing factor, although there is a little curator discord on that score.
“There is logic,” surmises Noa Rosenberg. “Fun is the logic,” she adds.
Her French counterpart feels there’s more to it.
“It is very complex,” he says, returning to the aforementioned intimacy. “It is a very personal and very unique collection.”
DAVID ROSENBERG knows Perlstein and his life story well and relates how the collector fell in love with art and the accumulation thereof.
“Everything started in Rio de Janeiro, where Sylvio was a kid.”
It seems the youngster enjoyed life in Brazil, whither his family fled when the Nazis occupied Belgium.
“He lived 100 meters from the [famed] Copacabana [beach].
“He was a football player and was also on the water polo team.” Apparently Perlstein was quite an athlete. “Actually, he was on the Brazilian Olympic team, and also played at the Maccabiah [Games in Israel]. That was a few years ago,” Rosenberg chuckles.
Perlstein’s regular home-beach route passed by a flower shop, which, unexpectedly, was to provide the catalyst for the young man’s enduring love of art.
“For a few days he saw a painting in a florist shop,” Rosenberg continues. “He liked the painting. To this day he doesn’t know why, but he went into the shop and he told the owner ‘I love the painting and I want to buy.’”
That was easier said than done, but Perlstein was not about to give up. “The florist said no and that it was there to decorate his shop. But, if you know Sylvio, he cannot take no for an answer. Eventually, he got the painting, and that was the start of everything. From that day he knew that if he saw something he likes, it’s possible to get it.”
Rosenberg reckons that the TAMA display constitutes around 15% of the full collection, so, clearly, Perlstein has been “getting” quite a lot over the years.
This is not just some egocentric personal spread of beloved works. Yes, there is a definite entertaining and jovial feel to some of the items, but it is also a serious display of very valuable works, some of which are landmark creations of modern art.
Take, for example, Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., a famous, or notorious, Dada work which pokes fun at da Vinci’s iconic 16th-century painting Mona Lisa. In the 20th-century parody, the mysteriously smiling woman has a penciled-in moustache, while the titular acronym is a pun that infers that the lady in question is, putting it mildly, hot to trot.
Other standouts include Man Ray’s 1941 oil painting Apple, Book, Knife, Legs, taking its first bow in this country; 76-year-old American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s chilling photographic work Busy Going Crazy; a couple of items from Dada pioneer Max Ernst’s oeuvre; and Marcel Janco’s arresting Mask for Firdusi, which fed off the expressive spirit of the performances at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, where the Dada movement was officially launched in the summer of 1916.
Andy Warhol and pop art, naturally, get a decent look-in, and there are some delightful exhibits by Henri Magritte, trailblazing American photographer Irving Penn, and Duane Hanson’s life-size polyester and fiberglass Young Shopper catches the eye and massages the funny bone.
“Hey! Did you know that Art does not exist…” closes on January 9, 2022.
For more information: www.tamuseum.org.il

Source: Jerusalem Post

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