Menashe Kadishman | From Nature to Art Menashe Kadishman’s oeuvre extends over more than 50 years, and presents a rich variety of themes and techniques. Prominent in his work are the trajectories on which the exhibition focuses: a particular interest in nature, notably animals and trees; developing and cross-linking ideas between different forms of art: a special affinity between sculpture and prints, and between drawing and sculpture. In some cases, the prints were made close in time to the sculpture and developed it further, while in others they are later documentation. In recent decades, motifs with emotional power have engaged the artist, with strong emphasis on the themes of death and birth, and some of these works are displayed in the exhibition. Menashe Kadishman was born in 1932 in Tel Aviv. As a young man he studied for three years at the Avni Institute of Art, where he specialised in sculpture and was taught by Moshe Sternschuss. During his military service (1950-1953), he served in the Nahal brigade in Kibbutz Ma'ayan Baruch in the Galilee panhandle, near the border with Syria and Lebanon. His work as a shepherd on the kibbutz would impact on his work and on interpretations of it, years later. In 1954 he studied for a year with the sculptor Rudy Lehmann, renowned both for his concise sculptures of animals, and as a master printmaker. The overlap between sculpture and print that typifies Kadishman may have come into being at that stage of his training. In 1959 he took further studies in London – then an important centre for sculpture. There was
special significance to his studies with Anthony Caro, the influential British sculptor
whose work in the early 1960s was at a major turning-point towards abstract steel
A process of reduction and abstract began in Kadishman's work during the 1960s.
There was a transition from working in bronze and stone to steel and glass, and
from themes of myth and ritual to sculptural issues - contrasts between mass and
space, stability and movement, floating and gravitational power. His work Segments
typifies the series of sculptures, mostly large-scale, that were installed in Israel and
other countries at that period. The sculptures Suspense, in the Israel Museum, and
Rising in Tel Aviv’s Habimah Square, exemplify this trend in his work.
Trees and forests
Kadishman gained success and international recognition in 1967, when he won first
prize for sculpture in the Paris Biennale for young artists. In 1969 the Museum of
Modern Art in New York acquired a large sculpture from his Segments series. The
same year, Kadishman embarked on a new trend - artistic creation within the
environment. At an international sculpture symposium, held in Montevideo, Uruguay,
he created Forest, an environmental installation of yellow metal plates suspended
randomly on tree trunks in a park. That intervention in a given landscape
underscored contrasts between the foundations of nature, the earth and trees, and
human products - between the grey-green forest tones, and the striking yellow,
between organic shapes and man-made industrial panels. Above all, it challenged the
boundaries dividing artistic endeavour from what is identified as natural, not-art.
Land Art - which takes place within the landscape, and Conceptual Art which re-
examines the definitions of art, were both notable trends in the international avant-
garde and major exhibitions were dedicated to them. Kadishman’s Forest was an
original expression of the trend, and was received with even greater acclaim in 1970,
when it was re-exhibited in New York. This time, the yellow panels were suspended
in Central Park, their colour in a dialogue with the city’s famous yellow cabs. The
series of Yellow Forest screen-print are based on documentation of the project in
both sites.

In 1972 Menashe Kadishman created another version of Forest in an exhibition held
in Krefeld, Germany, adding suspended glass panels to the yellow metal ones. The
same year, Kadishman took a further step towards merging art with nature, as part
of a group exhibition held at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, From Landscape to
Abstraction -- From Abstraction to Nature. While most exhibits were landscape
paintings and drawings, Kadishman created his work in the landscape itself - he
painted an oak tree near the museum, transforming it into Yellow Tree. Continuing
that trajectory, in 1975 he painted the earth itself, in the form of a square, Yellow
Stain in the Valley of the Cross
. Kadishman’s implied connections between
human beings and trees, between a painting and a painted object, were not
enthusiastically received by the gatekeepers of Nature – though the artist
meticulously used organic paint to avoid harming the tree. Kadishman continued
creating Painted Trees at the Israel Museum in various colours - but only as
The tree motif continued to engage Kadishman, and in 1975 he exhibited Laundry
at the entrance to the Israel Museum: it was an installation composed of large
sheets of fabric, hung on lines with cut-out silhouettes of trees. Visitors entered the
museum through those openings. It was a 'soft' version of the Trees in Negative, a
series of eight large steel panels with the shape of a tree cut out inside. The Trees in
that he displayed at the Venice Biennale furnished the basis for the Four
series of prints.
Earth and glass
In Kadishman’s early sculptures, the role of glass was to connect the weighty metal
units and to create the illusion that they were floating, against the law of nature. He
now began to use glass as a material in itself – buried in pits, installed along gallery
walls, and so on; transparent glass windows that let the outer world penetrate
inside, become opaque when glass shards completely block an opening, as displayed
in his exhibition in Krefeld (Broken Glass Door). At the same exhibition, he
scattered glass fragments on a photograph of Cracked Earth, placed on the floor
like an object or sculpture; an unusual practice, arousing thoughts about the place
and status of the image in art. The photographic source for those and similar works,
which he had already created in London, were Peter Merom’s photographs of the
drained Hula Lake. Merom had become renowned for his album of photographs
recording the life and death of the lake. Kadishman requested Merom’s permission
to use the photographs. The sights of arid, cracked earth after floods in the Arava,
the Sinai desert landscapes, and recollections of his work in draining the lake in the
1950s all informed Kadishman’s choice of that image.
At that period, earth had a strong presence in environmental and conceptual art. It
was a material that signified more than anything the urge for creating distance from
the traditional art of urban culture and instead engaging with the basic materials of
nature and art. In Israel, the use of soil also had political implications. In Kadishman’s
work, the role of cracked earth was to evoke a kind of longing for the soil of the
motherland, and perhaps also for the Zionist ideals on which he had been reared. In
the print Cracked Earth (1972-1973), Kadishman physically merged the image and
the material used to render it. It was a parallel, inverted, move to painting the soil
Urban landscapes
Among the pages of the Phone Books in the different cities he visited, Kadishman
‘discovered’ forms of landscape concealed between the lines of names and numbers.
A grid of latitude and longitude coordinates, order and logic that are essential
foundations for the information in the phone-book, also track random permutations
of people and create curving lines in the margins of each column. For Kadishman,
those lines resembled landscape contours, or the lines of a graph recording
heartbeats in Phonebook Cardiogram.
Means of communication were a major focus for 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. A series of works by Kadishman made an original
contribution to the trend, and he used the phone book in various ways - as a paper
for sketching, as a printed visual phenomenon, and to study the concept of order
based on arbitrary permutations.
Urban architecture was often a stimulus for ingenious and witty prints. In the early
1970s, Tel Aviv’s Shalom Tower – then the highest tower in the Middle East –
inspired abstract images of dots and lines. In the early twenty-first century Tel Aviv
were the theme of a series of etchings, with a caressing gaze at scenes of
long-ago Tel Aviv, with its solar-heaters, television antennas, and laundry flapping in
the wind. Most of the prints engaging with Tel Aviv are devoid of colour, and are
reduced to lines and points in black-and-white.
Kadishman’s works that are characterised by suspension from above were
nicknamed ‘laundry’ – like the laundry forests mentioned previously, and Glass
made of glass pieces hung over a wooden frame. This early work, which
has not been exhibited to date, combines the artist’s interest in glass as an artistic
material, its transparency and fragility, and his interest in gravity and suspension as a
sculptural factor. Unlike the metal and glass panels hanging from trees, the pieces of
glass shown here are self-contained, a simple and transparent group, almost lacking
materiality. In contrast, Iron Laundry is made of three small iron panels suspended
from an iron frame, is one of the small iron sculptures that Kadishman creates in
tandem with the large, public sculptures. The iron fragments hang loosely, as befits
laundry, and a single line is cut in each one, creating an element of landscape - a hill,
tree, and birds in flight. Like other Kadishman sculptures, the laundry sculptures are
frontal, almost flat, and in essence closer to drawing and printing.
The statue Birth, in the lobby of the upper floor, is part of a group of sculptures on
the subject that Kadishman first created in the early 1990s. Here, the woman is
standing and the baby is expelled from her body and falls downwards. At the
moment of separation, mother and infant are united by a cry of pain. The theme of
birth is uncommon in art, particularly among male artists. Kadishman’s focus on the
moment of pain with which life begins, grew from other subjects dealing with
suffering and death, and in particular the theme of the biblical Sacrifice of Isaac that
centres on sacrifice of the son. He first engaged with the theme in the context of the
First Lebanon War. Like his other figurative sculptures, for example Motherland
shown in the museum courtyard, the figure is a silhouette in profile. It is cut from a
steel sheet, and the long hair provides support for the statue.
During the 1970s, Kadishman engaged with the landscape through minimising the gap
between nature and art. By presenting a flock of sheep as a work of art, he took
another radical step in that direction. In 1978, as Israel’s representative at the
International Venice Biennale, he brought a herd of live sheep into the Israeli
pavilion, painted a blue patch on each one and rendered the flock a sort of moving
painting. Throughout the months of the Biennale, he was present at the site,
shepherding the living artwork of painted sheep, moving around the pen. The
photographer Yakov Agor documented the artist with the sheep, and later
Kadishman used his photographs to create the Sheep in the Pen series of prints.
Gradually he started enriching the images by adding outlines and colour. He then
made the transition to painting, separating the sheep, and focusing on the head - a
sort of individual portrait of each sheep. Small paintings from the beginning of the
1980s, shown here for the first time, are early examples of paintings on the sheep
theme that the artist continues to create. The hundreds of paintings of sheep,
displayed together in The Flock, are recorded in a video film screened on the
upper floor.
F1The sheep motif led the artist to develop the theme of the Sacrifice of Isaac, in
which the ram has a pivotal presence. Two early sculptures from the 1950s are
exhibited here, reflecting Kadishman’s early interest in the animal: Head of a Ram
– originally carved in stone, and later cast in bronze, and Pair of Rams composed
of found objects. His early attraction to the theme linked up with mythological and
primeval aspects of the figure of the ram, and hence also the style recalling archaic
sculpture from the Ancient East – a style prevalent in 1950s Israel. The two rams
attest to a freer, playful approach, using random, cheap materials, meshing with a
new trend in European art of the period.
Shalechet (Falling Leaves)
The first version of this work was shown in 1997 in the Julie M. Gallery in Tel Aviv.
The hundreds of cut-out heads, with gaping mouths - that had been familiar until
then as part of the Sacrifice of Isaac and Birth sculptures – were scattered on the
gallery floor, arousing considerable interest and excitement. Four years later, the
installation with over 10,000 pieces was a central piece at the opening of the Berlin
Jewish Museum, where it is on permanent display. A smaller version of the
installation was adapted for the Negev Museum of Art.
The title – Fallen Leaves – allows multiple meanings to be ascribed to the work.
Alongside the bleak feeling aroused by the corpse-like heads, one can also perceive
the autumn leaves as signifying part of the natural cycle - death followed by rebirth and blossoming. Spectators are able to observe the installation not only from the side, but also while walking on the scraps of iron, offering an experience that transcends words. Dalia Manor, curator of the exhibition



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