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Fine art training and practice in Israel may be traced back to the pioneering work of Lithuanian-born Professor Boris Schatz (1867-1932), who founded the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Crafts (now the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design) in Jerusalem in 1906 with the aim of encouraging talented young Jews to study art in Palestine. By 1910 the school had 32 different departments, a student body of over 500 and a ready market for its works throughout the Diaspora.
In subsequent years a distinct early Bezalel 'style' of art emerged from attempts to create an 'original Jewish art' by fusing European techniques with Middle Eastern influences, resulting in a profusion of paintings of Biblical scenes depicting romanticised perceptions of the past linked with utopian visions of the future. This national-oriental style narrative style was subsequently eclipsed by the work of newly-arrived artists who began to search for a new definition of cultural identity based on the daily reality of the Near Eastern environment. In the years which followed many different creative influences were brought to bear, but throughout the pre-state period art continued to comprise largely formal and iconographical variations on European styles and trends. At this time a number of leading artists, including Nahum Gutman, Reuven Rubin, Anna Ticho, Mordechai Ardon and Yosef Zaritsky, began to achieve international recognition.
After 1948 several new art movements appeared, including one influenced by the emerging 'Cana'anite' ideology which revived ancient Hebrew myths and pagan motifs in support of attempts to establish a direct link between the Jewish settlers and the original inhabitants of the land. However, perhaps the most significant was the 'New Horizons' abstract movement, which employed a vocabulary similar to that of abstract movements in Europe in its attempt to free Israeli painting from its local associations and bring it into the sphere of contemporary European art. Key figures of this movement were Yosef Zaritzky, Avgdor Stematsky, Yehezkel Streichman and Marcel Janco, one of the founders of Dadaism.
Pop Art made little headway in Israel, but the 1960s were notable for the activities of a second generation of 'New Horizons' artists, including Raffi Lavi, Uri Lifschitz, Lea Nikel and Aviva Uri, who brought a hitherto unseen element of individualism into Israeli abstract art. In so doing they paved the way for the innovative conceptualist and minimalist work of Joshua Neustein, Pinchas Cohen-Gan and other artists of the 1970s, often seen as Israel's most interesting period of artistic development.
The 1980s and 1990s have witnessed further attempts to broaden the definition of Israeli art, both as an expression of indigenous culture and as a dynamic component of contemporary western art. Artists such as Gabi Klasmer, Tsibi Geva, Zvi Goldstein and David Reeb, who are amongst the first generation of native-born artists, have shown themselves more open to international themes.
Tel Aviv is currently the principal hub of fine arts activity in Israel; important centres of creativity in the city include the Tel Aviv Artists' Studio, Misrad BeTel-Aviv - Office in Tel Aviv and a selection of commercially-run galleries including the HaMumheh, Alternative Space, the Chelouche Gallery for Contemporary Art and a number of others in the Gordon Street area. Visual arts development in Jerusalem focuses on the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, the Artists' House Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Print Workshop; key centres of creativity around the country include the Ein Hod Artists' Village near Haifa, the Safed Artists' Colony in the Galilee and the Mitzpe Ramon Artists' Colony in the Negev. The Israel Painters and Sculptors Association maintains branches in several Israeli cities.
The work of Israeli artists has been well-represented at major international art festivals for many years, and has played an important role in biennales such as Venice, Istanbul, Johannesburg and São Paulo. In recent decades the high quality of Israeli curatorial talent has also begun to attract attention overseas and an increasing number of Israeli art museum/gallery directors have been invited to participate in festivals, conferences and seminars. Israel hosts several major international art festivals including the Art Focus - Contemporary Art in Israel festival, the Artlink@Sotheby's International Young Art Programme and the 'Passage' International Art Encounters Project.
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The same trends that influenced the development of Israeli painting during the pre-state period also inspired attempts to fuse Middle Eastern and European styles through the medium of sculpture. During this period the work of Moshe Ziffer, Aharon Priver and Batya Lishansky dominated the field.
In the years immediately after 1948, the 'Cana'anite' ideology influenced the work of numerous leading sculptors, notably Yitzhak Daniger. However, during the 1950s, with the availability of new materials such as iron and steel, Israeli sculpture became increasingly monumental and abstract in nature.
Sculpture was given new impetus during the 1960s with the launch of a comprehensive programme to commission and erect sculptures in public places (primarily in remembrance of those who fell in Israel's wars) and the opening of several new purpose-built sculpture gardens. Since that time several Israeli sculptors have gained international recognition, including Dov Feigin, Israel Hadany, Yigael Tumarkin, Michael Gross and Dani Karavan.
Both of Israel's two major annual sculpture events - the Ein Hod Sculpture Biennale and the 'Stone in the Galilee' International Sculpture Symposium at Ma'alot Tarshicha - place emphasis on the importance of dialogue between contemporary sculpture being created in Israel and overseas.
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The origins of Israeli photography may be traced back to documentary work undertaken by photojournalists during the British Mandate period in support of the pioneering efforts of early settlers. Since 1948 photography as a pure artistic medium has become a legitimate art form, and a number of important creative photographers have emerged, supported by an increasingly large network of photography schools, museums, galleries, curators and collectors.
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A large variety of crafts is produced in the State of Israel, ranging from the production of objects which fulfil a functional role in religious ritual or everyday life to items which serve a purely decorative purpose. As in all major tourist destinations around the world, many of the craft works produced in Israel are aimed at the overseas visitor.
The crafts heritage of the Jewish majority is particularly strong. According to the teachings of the Talmud it is not enough to obey the commandments; one should also beautify the ritual with pieces of art. For this reason Israel has become known for its production of Judaica such as menorot, mezuzot, kippot and other ritual items, superbly-crafted in precious metals and sold in specialist jewelry stores in every centre of population. During the early years of the British Mandate period Israeli metal jewelry became strongly identified with that of the Yemenite community, mainly as a result of the early predominance of Yemenite teachers at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Crafts. However, since the 1930s the increasing influence of European schools has been reflected in a more delicate and refined design.
Whilst no significant indigenous tradition of ceramic production existed amongst the Jewish communities of Ottoman Palestine, a combination of regional traditions, archaeological finds and modern European trends inspired the development of this craft during the British Mandate period. The foundations of modern ceramic production were laid during the 1930s and 1940s with the influx of a wave of German potters, who set up studios in various cities. Since that time clay has been used in sculpture and in ceramic murals, as well as performing an important decorative function in urban society. Leading ceramicists include Lidia Zavadsky, Hilda Merom, Magdalena Hefetz, Nora Kochavi, Naomi Bitter, Maud Friedland and Meira Unna.
Israel is one of the world's most important diamond centres and also produces a number of other precious stones. The green or turquoise semi-precious Eilat stone, which emanates from the hills around Eilat, features prominently in rings, necklaces, earrings and pendants.
Other important crafts produced amongst Israel's Jewish communities include weaving and textile production, woodwork and leatherwork. Strong traditions of glassware, ethnic embroidery, basketware and olive-wood carving are preserved amongst Israel's Arab communities.
All of these craft traditions are represented at the commercially-run Khuztot Hayotzer International Arts and Crafts Fair, which takes place outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem every August.
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