Lucid Contexture, 2007
James Gray Gallery,Santa Monica,CA USA
Essay: Godfrey Barker
It’s no surprise that Conceptual Art proves to be as alive in Israel as in the UK. It is the land of the missing concepts: peace, and the unity of mankind. No artist with a conscience can escape these themes, and Dorit Feldman, a member of the Women Beyond Borders artist group founded in California in 1992, has put them at the heart of her work.
Dorit Feldman’s journey from reality into imagination is long and deep. So deep, in fact, that the majority of viewers who look at her pictures and don’t see, will be lost in her conceptual labyrinth.
That means, for most, that Feldman’s paintings, sculptures and photographs made over 20 years will succeed or fail by their visual impact alone – by their beauty, their mystic air, their hints at ancient puzzles via ancient symbols. She is no artist of the “six-second hit” (six seconds being supposed, in the UK, to be the average time it takes for the viewer standing before Conceptual Art in Tate Modern or the Saatchi Gallery to figure out what it means). You can stand 100 times as long before Feldman’s works like ‘Private Cosmic Library’ and miss her point. Of course, this may not matter. When Norman Rosenthal of the Royal Academy confessed standing for three hours in front of the Sistine Madonna in Dresden, by definition he did not get to the fundamentals of what Raphael was about. Before great art, who wants to?
Dorit Feldman’s is an art about harmony and disruption, about parts and wholes, about fusion and unity, about the unity of opposites.These are political words; but Feldman long ago dug deep below them into the human condition and its failings. She sees the life of this world as a mystery accumulated over centuries, as the still rolling-forward sum total of diverse cultures, of spiritual discernments and of our ever-changing awareness of human existence based on the discoveries of science. She makes pictures and objects which hint at the soul of the universe, at the great chain of being, at the unity of past and present and future.
Art made in this frame of mind aspires to knowledge of what Plato called the noumenal, the ideal that hovers high above reality.
It also aspires to the condition of music, to the sort of insights into the meaning of life that music offers – insights best summed up, perhaps, in those four words that are the strongest presences in music and supposedly define the very elements of existence: air, fire, earth and water. Feldman has found deep meaning for herself in the philosophy of the kabbala, the tree of life, with its deep interest in the hidden mysteries of the Bible, in what happens to our essence after death and in the structure of the soul.
This is not, then, an art that lies upon the surface – or, in Dorit Feldman’s sculptures, rests merely on the wall. It defies and eludes and deals in paradoxes that few will grasp. That Feldman requires a struggle to understand is,
I don’t doubt, a deliberate part of her art. She is not out for casual response. Her own emotions before the world seem to be awe and yearning. She is on a journey of understanding; and she asks you to follow with her.
Godfrey Barker is a British art scholar, critic, and journalist whose reviews have been published in leading newspapers and magazines since the 1970s, including The Daily Telegraph, The Times, and The Economist in London, Die Welt in Berlin, and The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and ARTNews in New York.