What do you remember of your youth? Can you separate personal memory from collective imagination when thinking of one of culture’s most represented periods of life? Even before one becomes an adolescent, culture teaches you what to expect in your teens, what sets of experiences and trials await us in that period; and when you are no longer considered a youth, the memories that were preserved often organize themselves in line with the existing structures – other things are more difficult to articulate, and by the very fact that one does not repeat them as a story, they shrivel into a rather vague emotion.
This emotion is the theme of the exhibition, “Wilds Ago”: what was shed but remains part of one’s being, cleaving to the explosiveness of youth from within, visiting ghosts like a song suddenly heard after many years and its words, all of them, come surprisingly to your lips. They stay part of what you are, despite the time that has passed, despite a life that went through countless other formative developments and experiences. They will burst out again at certain moments, signaling the brittleness of existence, opening wounds that were healed with great effort.
Youth is a transition period between absolute dependence and independence, a flexible stage in the crystallization of the self in which a negotiation takes place about liberating social rights and obligations through a formatting socialization process that entails subjugation to the boundaries of a “normative” social order. This involves processing, perhaps giving up, something of the pre-screened, pre-reasoned authenticity of life’s experiences before they become the “life experience.” It’s a time of life when transgressions are expected, forgiven, even encouraged, as long as youth is curtailed at a certain point, followed by “growing up.”
The idea of observing the concept of “youth” did not originate from my previous occupation with it. It sprang from an invitation to curate an exhibition of works from the Haaretz Collection and from my perusal of the collection itself. The idea for the exhibition gelled quite quickly when, amid the impressive abundance of works, I encountered anew works that accompanied my years of entry – first as a viewer, then in my first curatorial roles – into the Israeli art world: works by Israeli artists who entered the field shortly before the new millennium and around the transition to it. The initial choice of direction and of the works to be exhibited was highly intuitive and emotional, and took me back, through my professional youth, to my chronological youth. However, as the concept took shape, three axes of “young,” intersecting histories emerged, which in the curating process undergo a synthesis: my private history, the history of the collection, and the history of Israeli art in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The Haaretz Collection was launched in the early 1990s and became a major entity in the Israeli art world by the early 2000s. Although never a planned or declared strategy, the focus in the collection has been to acquire contemporary art in real time, particularly by young artists who had not yet established themselves. As the collection began to operate more intensively from the mid-1990s, and because this is the dominant type of art it acquired, it contains a very large representation, museum-scale in importance, of young Israeli artists who began to be active in that period.
The collection’s orientation and its turn to young artists did not occur in a vacuum, but faithfully reflected the period in which the collection began to operate. In the mid 1990s a new generation of young artists burst into the Israeli art scene with great vitality and changed its dominant artistic language and agendas. In addition, youngness became a theme in some of these artists work, especially through identity related representations. The art field ascribed to youngness a merchandisable value, which even the central, established art institutions discerned and sought to appropriate, while abbreviating the customary “maturation” time before an artist held a museum exhibition. In a rapid process, almost without a power struggle, a new generation of artists began to occupy center stage, and the most established art spaces began to take pride in emphasizing young art. Aside from those, a new generation of curators emerged, changing perspectives on exhibition making, and new venues and platforms opened and expanded the possibilities of exposure. Artistic discourse flourished with numerous art magazines and art reviews in the daily and local newspapers all stirring a lively discussion and voicing diverse opinions that were vital to ensure the art field’s dynamic existence.
The art scene was as lively and frenetic as it was small, seeking to amaze and innovate, or at least that’s how I experienced it. Indeed, Israeli art, which wanted to provoke, activate and shock with the power and energy of the youngness of the period, seemed to find – more than is the case today or in other moments of its short history – a bustling, inquisitive field with a range of platforms through which to be present, be seen, be considered and collected.
The exhibition “Wilds Ago,” which springs from the rich inventory of works representing the young era in Israeli art contained in the Haaretz Collection, aims to observe the traces of youth. Though youngness and youth are congruent, albeit not identical, concepts, the exhibition intermixes them in a deliberate, subjective mélange. Drawing on representations that surfaced and were given expression starting the historical moment of the mid-1990s by young artists of the period, the exhibition seeks to capture something symbolic in the volatile, chaotic, vulnerable, defiant experience, hazardous to the environment but primarily to itself, of being a youth in the world. Or more accurately, perhaps, it tries to capture the memory of those sensations from the distance of time – to summon up not the spirit of youth, but its phantoms.