Gal Weinstein (born in Ramat Gan in 1970) based in Tel Aviv is one of the internationally renowned artists of his generation. He has displayed his works in numerous museum exhibitions at home and abroad. Solo presentations took place in, among other places, the San Francisco Art Institute (2001), the Tel Aviv Museum (2005), and the Huarte Contemporary Art Center in Pamplona (2007). In 2002 Weinstein represented Israel at the international event, 25th Sao Paolo Biennale. Gal Weinstein’s works were also shown in group exhibitions in Kunstmuseum Bonn (2003), Kunstmuseum Krefeld (2003), Israel Museum (2009), and this year at the Venice Biennale at the Palazzo Zenobio. Kunsthaus Baselland will be presenting his first solo exhibition in Switzerland.
Gal Weinstein’s best-known works include the project, Huleh Valley, which was shown at Helena Rubinstein Pavillion for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv in 2005. Based on the photo book Death of the Lake (1960) by Peter Merom, very popular among Israeli households, Gal Weinstein created a large-format installation covering the gallery floor and wall paintings which address the famous swamp draining and land reclamation project in Huleh Valley. In line with the Zionist vision of a country populated by Jews, the government commissioned the drainage of the 1.5 km2 lake in 1951, to convert it into arable land for future generations of farmers. In the large-scale wall paintings, Weinstein reconstructed six selected photographs by Merom. Weinstein’s ‘painting’ material for it was steel wool, a commonplace household utensil.
In his most recent works, Gal Weinstein also focuses on visual icons, whose iconography trigger diverse culturally influenced associations. In his exhibition in Kunsthaus Baselland, he presents his latest series of works, Fire Tires (2010/2011). The motif of burning tires is a universal code which we associate with socio-political unrest, revolution, and also with various, mostly pagan customs. “Car tires are cheap fuel,” says the artist and thus also explains why this material is used worldwide, when a fire is started for fun or — as we increasingly experience it — fire kindled as a symbol of (political and social) upheavals. Weinstein selects the motif and converts it into sculptures whose surface material differs from the actual motif. The tires are moulded from wax, the construction material consists of polystyrene foam and the surface of the smoke clouds consists of artificial pillow filling, complemented by multi-coloured graphite dust. Distributed in the exhibition space, the sculptures become almost pop-art-like icons that are able to enter into an immediate relation with the recipient due to their quick legibility. The direct access of the works to the viewer facilitates discussions; the obvious imagery acts as a bridge that mediates between things that are difficult to put into words.
In the series Looking the same (2011) the artist works with steel wool. In each case he ‘draws’ his current portrait, which shows the face in the manner of passport photographs, neither smiling nor too earnest. In addition the steel wool is doused with a different liquid each time; the experimental range goes from ‘rescue remedy’ and ‘Bach flower essence’ over ‘coke’ and ‘diet coke’. The experiment,which was not target-oriented as such, surprises all the more with its results. While the traditional ‘coke’ for instance transforms the steel wool into a black shade, the “diet coke” creates an orange colour. As viewers, we are confronted with an image whose schematic appearance possesses a documentary character. The varying reaction to the respective liquids lets the seemingly incontrovertible nature of the visual document sway. The fluids attack the surface and cause the metallic material to change. Only one of the portraits, which is exposed to rust through ‘time’ as the manipulation factor, corresponds to our habitual perception. With the choice of the fluids, the artist consciously focuses on ‘materials’ that are associated with certain belief systems. While ‘rescue remedy’ and ‘Bach flowers’ are supposed to help in certain moods and psychological stress situations, ‘coke’ and ‘diet coke’ make us believe in promises of short-term happiness associated with coolness and youth — in the case of ‘diet coke’ moreover in a low-calorie form.
The wall installation I can't put my finger on (2011) conform in the broadest sense to the nature of a portrait. The imprint of the artist's finger is as unique as his facial features. The drawings of the fingers are not only an expression of individuality, but in their formal appearance also a symbol of a unit of uniform measure and recognition.
In the exhibition Demonstrating presence, Gal Weinstein draws a red thread through his work, which is admittedly based on everyday life, but due to the independent choice of material, distances itself, as it were, from the everyday object. The demonstration of presence in the here and now, as one could translate the show's title, takes place first of all by the active material transformations that are required for the perception of icons and their cultural and political connotations.
Text by Sabine Schaschl