A couple of days after the October 7 massacres in southern Tel Aviv, when I called to ask my Chabad client whether he wanted to delay a meeting we had scheduled, that rabbi replied, “We cannot push off building Jewish life… that’s not how we operate.” It was with much the same sentiment that Amon Yariv stayed true to his timetable for launching in New York the newest outpost of Tel Aviv-based Gordon Gallery, which he’s run since 2004. So, on December 14, 2023, I joined Yariv to celebrate with the opening on the Lower East Side of a wonderful group show of painting and sculpture by Israeli artists.  

Though this is the gallery’s first frontier overseas, at home the Gordon Gallery is long-established—a pioneer in cultivating, representing, and presenting the work of Israel’s most accomplished contemporary artists since its founding in 1966 by Amon’s father Shaya and partner Atal Broida. Its first exhibition space took its name from its location on Gordon Street, but has now expanded to multiple operations in southern Tel Aviv-Yafo and Jerusalem.

From a pocket-sized space on Norfolk Street, light spills out through large glazed doors and transom windows, opening up the interior’s full width to the street, illuminating and enlivening what had been the dim end of the block near Rivington. 

On display for this opening exhibit is a group show of work by four artists, Yaacov Dorchin, Moshe Kupferman, Gilad Efrat, and Alima.

While all four work in an formally abstract milieu, they each have their own distinct sensibility, and with varying degrees of visual complexity, from the minimalist, thinly impastoed Kuperman to the lighthearted, animated graphic gouaches of Alima—working outside of her usual lithographic printing mode, to the densely weighted but lightly balanced iron assemblages of Dorchin.

I got to talk a bit about his process to Gilad Efrat, who was here for the event. His work in oils consist of large but humanly scaled canvases covered with thickly built-up, boldly colored irregular masses that are then smeared, cut, troweled, and shaped. As I guessed from just looking at the collection on show, he works very quickly, and the gestures he makes give the works the scale and immediacy of hand drawings. While certainly non-representational, the patterns of positive/negative, solid/space and volume/line, and the saturated hues, as well as Efrat’s technique of knife-edging the figure/ground compositions, wind up lending a quality of shifting landscape forms, as though seen from an airplane, raising them from mere abstractions and giving them a quasi-figural legibility. On a purely visceral level, though, they are intricately rhythmic, upbeat, even joyful.

Together, they offer a solid, if, by no means, typifying, introduction to the breadth of media, methods, and outlooks of contemporary Israeli fine art. As with any sophisticated curating, the chosen pieces are thoroughly conceived, by artists each with their own substantial body of work, and which sit well together while provided the space necessary to stand on their own. As a group, they also offer a compelling case for Israel-on-the-Hudson without being limited to some provincial level of quality.

While we can be proud of our Israeli brethren’s debut, we can also have the confidence of their international pedigree of appeal. In this period of gratuitous and unmitigated opprobrium across the allegedly enlightened, civilized world merely for wanting to exist, for the world’s only single, tiny Jewish state to redeem even 380 square feet of empty loft space in New York City for the sake of giving access to art is an honor and an inspiration. And perhaps, like the Chabad shaliach’s work, it is just an emissary’s mitzvah.

From the top:
Gordon Gallery, 139 Norfolk Street
Opening night, December 14, 2023
Alima, Untitled (2005), gouache and acrylic on paper, 90 x 70 cm.;
Gilad Efrat, Untitled (2023), oil on canvas, 120 x 150 cm.;
Yaacov Dorchin, Untitled (2023), iron, 20 x 20 x 7 cm.;
Moshe Kupferman, Untitled (1973), oil on canvas, 81 x 100 cm.