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  • Jan 25, 2017

Obituary: Moshe Gershuni (1936–2017)

Portrait of Moshe Gershuni. Photo by Ori Gershoni.

Award winning Israeli artist, Moshe Gershuni, passed away on January 22 at the age of 80. Known for his provocative and often highly controversial works, Gershuni expressed a point of view that diverged from the establishment position and challenged the boundaries of art.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1936 to a family of first-generation Polish immigrants, Gershuni entered the art world in 1955 following his father’s death. Influenced by painter Leon Fouturian and sculptor Uri Shoshany, Gershuni enrolled in night courses at the Avni Institute of Art  and Design where he studied sculpture.

Many of his early works, including sculptures and installations, were greatly influenced by the minimalist and conceptual art movements, which were then popular in the United States and Europe. Gershuni closely aligned himself with Israel’s Dalut HaHomer, or Want of Matter Movement, a style characterized by the use of “meager” creative materials, artistic sloppiness, and criticism of the social reality and the myth of Israeli society.

Gershuni was nominated to represent Israel at the 1980 Venice Biennale, which consequently evoked a complete transformation in his works. Many of his paintings also stemmed from autobiographical context; he began exploring themes of “Jewishness” and suffering in his paintings, incorporating a mixture of Jewish texts and references to the Holocaust along with homoerotic personal references, breaking the taboos of Israeli art at the time. One of his most well-known series from this period is “Hai Cyclamen” (1983–85) which features flowers that bend to form loops and infinity symbols, flames and fragmentary verses taken from death rituals or passages. The cyclamen flowers reference an important symbol of regeneration while the passages spoke of reconciliation and God’s mercy. 

Throughout his career, Gershuni was the recipient of many awards and prizes. In 1988, he was awarded the Prize for a Young Artist for Art and Sculpture by the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture, though this did not deter him from challenging bureaucracy later in his life. In 2003, Gershuni was meant to receive the Israel Prize of Art, one of the highest public honors for artists in the country. The artist publicly announced his refusal to shake then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s hand­—which would be required at the award ceremony. Gershuni then stated he would not attend the award ceremony, which led the cultural minister to revoke the prize. In response, Gershuni took the Israeli state to court, but lost the case. That same year, Israel’s LGBT community bestowed an award on the artist to acknowledge his vast cultural contributions. Gershuni’s most recent achievement was an honorary doctoral degree from the Hebrew University in 2013.

His last exhibition was held in 2014 when the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin opened a career-spanning survey of Gershuni’s work, entitled “No Father No Mother,” to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. Gershuni’s works are held in the collections of major international institutions including the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, London’s Tate Britain and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Brittany Dale is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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