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Menashe Kadishman Photo

Menashe Kadishman

Israeli Painter and Sculptor

Born: August 21, 1932 - Tel Aviv, Mandate Palestine (now Israel)
Died: May 8, 2015 - Tel Aviv, Israel
"I believe that art grows from feelings and not rational calculations alone"
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Menashe Kadishman
"The sheep, to me, is connected metaphorically to soldiers who fell in wars. At the binding of Isaac, there was a ram to replace him. The fallen soldier has no ram to take his place. I once wrote of my work 'The fallen soldier will never say he loves you'."
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Menashe Kadishman
"I'm in favor of artistic mannerism. People want to invent new things every day. Are we new people every day?"
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Menashe Kadishman
"The sacrifice of Isaac is not an abstract symbol for me. It is a part and parcel of my own biography and that of my generation, and it may be the biography of my children after me. Neither do I consider the story of the sacrifice of Isaac as signifying a divine command or a decree of God. For me, it symbolizes the fear of the individual to defy the dictates of society and its conventions."
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Menashe Kadishman
"When we were young, we wanted our art to change the world. But when Hitler bombed Guernica, did Picasso's painting have any effect? I thought that maybe some things of mine could do good. My sculptures didn't change the war in Lebanon. Maybe art is not about changing anything. It's about telling you reality."
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Menashe Kadishman

Summary of Menashe Kadishman

Despite a wide-ranging body of work, Kadishman remains best known as the sculptor and painter who introduced the seemingly innocuous motif of the sheep to the fine-art domains of Minimalism, Conceptual Art, and Neo-Expressionism. It was a unique thematic and formal combination that prompted the American art critic and poet Donald Kuspit to describe his art as "high-culture kitsch". Having built his reputation during the 1960s and early 1970s in England and America, he took the decision to return permanently to his homeland of Israel (to the detriment perhaps of his international standing) where he became absorbed in the themes of Jewish heritage and familial sacrifice. Kadishman typically approached these complicated topics through atheistic variations on the story of Isaac as told in the Hebrew Bible.

Accomplishments

  • Kadishman's most iconic works stemmed from the artist's years working as a shepherd on a kibbutz. The sheep/ram became the major motif in his work and spoke of his fascination with the merging of man and his environment, the meeting of the industrial and the organic, and the symbolic significance of the ram in biblical storytelling. Kadishman's fascination with the animal led ultimately to a range of vividly colored "sheep portraits" that some critics have likened to the best portraits by Andy Warhol.
  • In his early Minimalist sculptural phase, Kadishman focused largely on formal issues and the tension and balance between constituent materials. As his career developed, however, he moved towards a looser, more expressive style of sculpture. He earned special recognition for a monumental style of steel "cut-out" silhouettes that closely mimicked techniques more readily associated with line drawing.
  • Kadishman's most famous installation, Shalechet (Fallen Leaves), features a walkway of metal disc "faces" that "crunched" when walked upon. It was first-and-foremost a memorial work that invoked the Shoah (Hebrew for the Holocaust) with the sound of metal-on-metal simulating the sounds of forced labor and the arrival of deportation trains. But Kadishman thought of himself as essentially a humanist whose work conveyed a more universal message; that is one that decried all violence and human suffering while speaking at the same time of hope for a peaceful future for his country.

Biography of Menashe Kadishman

Menashe Kadishman Life and Legacy

Former shepherd Kadishman, who once stated, "sheep are a part of me", used his art to imbue the animal with a holy-like reverence: "I feel like every [image of] sheep hanging at home is like an icon of Saint Mary hanging in a Christian home".

Important Art by Menashe Kadishman

Progression of Art
Suspense (1966)
1966

Suspense

Suspense is representative of Kadishman's minimalist period of mid 1960s, which was characterized by seemingly gravity defying structures. The artist developed this sculptural style while studying and living in London. He was influenced by the English abstract sculptor Anthony Caro, under whom he studied at St Martin's School of Art, and other members of the New Generation of British Minimalists in the 1960s. The idea for this sculpture can be traced back to sketches he made in 1963 and from which he created his first model in wood and stone. A second version was created in stone for his first solo show at London's Grosvenor Gallery in 1965. The following year, the Israel Museum commissioned Kadishman to create a larger version for the Museum's new art garden to be made in steel and, later, painted yellow.

Unlike his contemporary, the American Robert Morris, who was producing Minimalist sculptures that were at this time concerned purely with the work's formal arrangement, Kadishman's goal was to create a work that related directly to its context, in this case the desert landscape. In a desert environment, rocky masses, eroded by wind and water can topple over under the slightest movement. This sense of suspense is translated to the sculpture through the long rectangular segment that appears to be balanced precariously on top of the structure. The artist painted the sculpture in bright yellow inspired by "the color of the tractor in nature". In this way, he simultaneously referenced the natural environment and human interactions with nature. The Israeli author and scholar Gideon Ofrat added that "this modernist sculpture, autonomous in its abstract forms" also invoked "an ancient ritual [whereby] the dialectics of Israeli identity [...] unify the conflicts of the past and the future, the ancient and the progressive [and] the local and the universal".

Painted Steel - Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The Three Discs (Uprise) (1967-76)
1967-76

The Three Discs (Uprise)

Of the many examples of public art created by Kadishman, his monumental sculpture The Three Discs (Uprise) is probably his most iconic. Located at the Habima Square in the heart of Tel Aviv, it is now considered an important city landmark. Composed out of three large steel discs placed atop one another, the structure tilts at a 55° angle and reaches a height of 12 meters. The sculpture's power lies in its dynamic composition and gravity-defying quality. Depending on the viewer's vantage point, the diagonal motion can evoke either strength appearing as a rising force, or instability by giving the impression of a falling pillar.

Stylistically, the sculpture is executed in the Minimalist style that would dominate Kadishman's art in the late 1960s. Initially, he sketched the sculpture in 1963, before making a small granite model the following year. He also created a large-scale version painted in yellow for the High Park in Toronto. In the case of The Three Discs (Uprise), the artist purposefully wanted the steel to rust and erode overtime and under shifting weather conditions. Though sharing certain similarities in form, Three Discs differed from the steel Minimalist sculptures of Kadishman's contemporary, American Richard Serra, who was (at this point in his career) concerned primarily with creating works that would create both a visual and (meta)physical effect on the viewer.

Because the sculpture is in close vicinity to several key cultural institutions (Habima Theater, the Fredric R. Mann Auditorium, and the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art), it is often interpreted as a symbol of human creativity; the upward trajectory of the sculpture signifying the breakthrough of the human spirit. On the negative side, the sculpture has been read rather as a statement on the economic instability and high inflation that was rampant in Israel at the time of its construction. In 2015, the sculpture was the subject of national headlines when the mayor of Tel Aviv decided to utilize it as part of a campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer by placing a giant pink bra on two of the discs. The well-intentioned stunt backfired and drew criticism from the artistic community who deemed the intervention unbecoming of such an iconic national monument.

Corten Steel - Habima Square, Tel Aviv

1971

Untitled

In the early 1970s, Kadishman turned away from Minimalism towards Conceptual Art. During this period, he created a series using phonebook pages as a basis for his drawings. Since he collected the pages from phonebooks found in American hotel rooms during his travels, Kadishman referred to the series as his "travel diary" or "the book of hotels I stayed at". In this instance, he crossed out the names and phone numbers from the page to evoke feelings of alienation and melancholy that captured his experiences of modern living.

Art historian Omer Mordecai noted the similarity between the series and the works of Franz Kline who created Abstract Expressionist drawings on phonebook pages in the 1950s. While both artists were drawn to the untraditional material, their motivations differed significantly. Kline was mainly interested in the aesthetic qualities of the page and used the material to further experiment with abstract forms. Kadishman, rather, chose the typographic backdrop to create imagery that reflected the human condition as experienced in the New York's urban environment.

The series should also be viewed in the context of new developments in Conceptual Art. Curator and critic Dalia Manor specified that means of communication were a major focus of Conceptual Art, as both subject and medium: "at that period, art by means of the mail, and works drawing inspiration from the telephone, were fashionable". Kadishman made his unique contribution to the trend, and later utilized the phonebook pages as the basis for a series of prints.

Pencil on a phonebook page - Private Collection, New York

The Sacrifice of Isaac (1982-85)
1982-85

The Sacrifice of Isaac

This monumental sculpture, located in the square of the Tel Aviv Museum, represents the artist's interpretation of the biblical story of the binding of Isaac. In the biblical narrative, God tested Abraham's faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Because Abraham obeyed, God sent a messenger to spare Isaac, and sacrificed a ram in his place. With his sculpture, Kadishman transformed the fundamental narrative of the biblical narrative. The sculpture consists of three elements: Isaac, the ram, and the mourning women. The character of Isaac is rendered to a flat face on the floor, with simple childlike features. On the left, the tall and imposing ram stands over Isaac, while the mourning women on the right look toward the scene, frozen in a state of pain. In Kadishman's version, there is no salvation for Isaac, who is ultimately killed by the ram. The artist excluded Abraham from the composition, eliminating the possibility of divine intervention or protection for Isaac.

Kadishman subverted the biblical myth to comment on the political and social realities of Israeli life, a country plagued by war and conflict since its inception. The sacrifice of Isaac represents the sacrifice of fathers and mothers who send their sons to war for the good of the nation. Isaac thus becomes a symbol for young soldiers in battle, for victims of war who die meaningless and random deaths. Moreover, Kadishman added the figures of the mourning women, a female presence that is absent from the biblical story. She emphasizes pain and sadness, and signifies the importance of women speaking out on subjects like politics and nationalism. Rather than including only Sarah, Isaac's mother, Kadishman presents two women, possibly as a way of representing both sides of the conflict and united by their common grief.

The Sacrifice of Isaac has a strong connection to the artist's personal biography. He developed the concept after his son Ben was drafted to the Israeli army. The artist reflected on his son's new status, his own past as a soldier, and that of his father before him. For Kadishman, sacrifice is a cycle of Israeli life, required of each generation in its defense of the nation state. Confronting this reality, Kadishman's art rejects the vicious cycle that perpetuates pain, sadness and grief: "I do not recall my life and country without war. But I am allowed to dream of it ... People make for themselves the rules by which they live - or die ... An eighteen-year-old does not send himself to war".

Corten steel - Tel Aviv Museum

1992

Motherland

In the later phases of his career, the donkey became a central motif in Kadishman's art. Cut out of a steel sheet, this singular sculptural unit depicts the silhouette of a donkey in profile. The donkey's stomach is hollow, creating a compartment for a landscape scene. As the title suggests, Kadishman associated the animal with his homeland (of Israel). In this context, the landscape in the donkey's belly can be emblematic of a nostalgic past, specifically the early Zionist efforts that developed an agricultural society in the Jewish settlement. The sculpture points to the demise of this structure: the donkey is no longer a part of this idyllic landscape, instead it only projects the landscape as a remnant of the past. In this way, the artist also acknowledges the tumultuous history of violent conflict that was part and parcel of Israeli life.

Traditionally, the donkey is a beast of burden, an animal used to cultivate the soil and transport goods. Curator Gabriele Holthuis elaborated on the significance of the donkey in Kadishman's art: "the donkey acquires the role of a peaceful companion ... It is neither victim nor perpetrator, but a quiet observer, who bears in itself all the good and all the evil of this world". The sculpture represents the donkey as a vessel for the past, while the belly serves as a kind of mirror, projecting dreams and memories. At the same time, the donkey can also hold a message of optimism. In traditional Jewish iconography, the Messiah would arrive at the Gates of Jerusalem on a white donkey. But his version of messianism does not aspire for the reestablishment of an ancient Jewish kingdom, but rather a plea for peace and coexistence in his motherland.

Corten Steel - Israel Museum, Jerusalem

1995-99

The Herd

Although Kadishman was first acclaimed as a sculptor, he become recognized more as a painter in the later phases of his career. Since the early 1980s, Kadishman painted several thousand sheep head portraits, which have become his trademark. For the artist, his sheep paintings function like traditional portraits: every sheep has its unique traits, and no two sheep are exactly alike.

With The Herd he selected five hundred of these paintings and arranged them in a way that mimics a herd or flock of sheep. Each canvas was mounted on two wooden squares and positioned upright on the ground. Painted in a Neo-Expressionist style, Kadishman presented a variety of portraits, ranging from monochromatic to brightly colored; from naturalistic to semiabstract images. Since Kadishman often identified the sheep as a symbol of innocence and sacrifice, some of the paintings were matched with drawings of sacrificial scenes. The audience experienced The Herd by roaming freely through the group of paintings. In this manner, the viewer can closely examine the animals: some timid, others more aggressive or just curious. When one walks through the paintings, they may also notice the backs of the canvases; plain brown surfaces that stand in contrast to the expressive portraits.

The art historian Ulrich Schneider interpreted The Herd as a metaphor for life. According to Schneider, the exposed backs of the canvases allude to gravestones, a reminder of the inevitable end of life. In 1996, the artist installed a version of The Herd in a meadow near the Ben Shemen Forest in Israel, creating a synthesis between art and nature. The canvases trembled in the blowing wind, and at times it appeared as if the sheep were grazing or lying down in the grass. Some of the paintings toppled over, giving the impression of fallen gravestones. On another occasion, the paintings were installed at a local cemetery, leaning against the tombstones. In the somber setting, the paintings evoked an atmosphere of sad peacefulness. In The Herd, Kadishman expressed the range of emotions that embody the human experience, while at the same time hinting at the fragile nature of life itself.

Installation, acrylic on canvas - Ben Shemen forest, Israel / Jaffa, Israel

Shalechet (Fallen Leaves) (1997-2001)
1997-2001

Shalechet (Fallen Leaves)

Located in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the installation consists of over 10,000 iron faces strewn across the hall. The iron discs are individually-cut, screaming faces, some reminiscent of the face in Edvard Munch's The Scream (1893). The audience is prompted to walk on the anonymous faces while hearing the metal crack under their feet. The sound of metal-on-metal reverberates in the space recalling sounds of forced labor or of trains arriving at a concentration camp.

Although the work is primarily associated with the Shoah (the Holocaust), it holds a universal message against violence and human suffering. Kadishman himself notes that the work can relate to different tragedies such as World War I and Hiroshima. In part, Shalechet derives its meaning from the context of its presentation. For example, it took on a new meaning in 2018, when it was exhibited at the Memorial Hall dedicated to the victims of the Nanjing massacre in China.

The name "Shalechet" ("Fallen Leaves" in English) comes from the poem "Soldiers", written in the trenches of World War I by Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti: "We are like leaves on the trees in autumn". Much like the turning leaves, the faces in the installation also change overtime: they are altered by rust and debris, and the molten metal hardens on the edges and inner spaces of the facial features. The leaf represents the cyclic transformation in nature, that can be compared to the different stages of life. In Shalechet, Kadishman provokes a potent experience to instill his humanist message, one that acknowledges collective human suffering and hopes for a new life in the spring.

Installation - Jewish Museum, Berlin

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Content compiled and written by Naomi Kojen

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Menashe Kadishman Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Naomi Kojen
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 14 Nov 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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