Israeli artist Moshe Ninio has only one piece up at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, but it’s a doozy
By Michael Aushenker
Artist Moshe Ninio relies on technology in his photographic work. It’s just not very recent technology.
“I’ll never do something beyond human size. I’m not into spectacular work,” Ninio said last week at the Bergamot Station-based Santa Monica Museum of Art.
It’s there that Ninio’s singular 71”-by-22” art installation “Rainbow: Rug” stares back at viewers — and quite literally winks at them — from a space on the floor. It is a hologram, after all, and what you see depends on the angle you view it.
“Rainbow: Rug” is also a wink-wink commentary on today’s digitally oversaturated world, as Ninio purposely indulges in visual technology that is more akin to a View-Master reel than anything Steve Jobs begot.
“The carpet becomes a ghost of itself on a floor. You have to locate things in a picture looking down on the floor. It’s against all the conventions of holography,” Ninio said.
Just prior to the installation of “Rainbow: Rug,” the visiting Israeli artist discussed how many artists from his country create in digital media because “it’s easier to export the work and more accessible.”
Even before the advent of digital arts, “I’ve always been lens-based,” he continued. “I’m following technology but in a melancholic manner.”
And in obsolescence. Ninio said that “Rainbow: Rug” could not be created today — this work dates back to 2000 — because that holographic technology is gone. Fifteen years ago he traveled to Vermont to seek out John Perry, one of only a few artisans left who could imbue his creation with Ninio’s desired holographic effect.
Santa Monica Museum of Art Executive Director Elsa Longhauser saw an earlier incarnation of Ninio’s work while visiting Jerusalem.
“In 1996 it was installed in a dark, rough space on the lower level of Teddy Football Stadium, which was under construction in Jerusalem,” Longhauser recalled. “Being in Israel for the first time was a poignant revelation; getting to know Moshe Ninio has been similarly poignant.”
Based in Tel Aviv and of Turkish and Greek Sephardic descent, Ninio teaches at the prestigious Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, the same Jerusalem school where acclaimed “Exit Wounds” graphic novelist Rutu Modan teaches illustration.
“Success outside of Israel and contributing to Israel’s art scene, it’s not the same thing,” said Ninio, quick to distinguish between Israeli artists established internationally and the fine arts community inside Israel. According to Ninio, Israel’s native scene boils down to its largest metropolis, Tel Aviv, with Dvir and Zomer its two leading galleries (Dvir represents Ninio).
With “Rainbow: Rug,” Ninio has transformed a basic Palestinian rug into something in which “a way of life has become alien to itself because of technology.”
The rainbow, in fact, represents an extinct type of holography.
“It’s an unpleasant rainbow,” he said. “It’s a perverse technology. It’s an unpleasant return.”
The downside to being an Israeli artist is that one can’t just create art without viewers reading politics into it. Ninio acknowledged the unfair burden on Israeli artists when they present work in the U.S. and in Europe, where Middle East relations tend to overshadow the artistic conversation.
“It’s not always the case, but you are expected to give your position on the conflict,” he said. And if an Israeli does not opine on the political situation, the artist’s work may be dismissed as “formalist or escapist.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he says, is too often a person’s only frame of reference when it comes to Israel, a culturally rich and scientifically advanced country.
“They don’t have a file on Israeli culture or art because it’s what they see through the media. That’s the data they have. They try to fit it into a framework,” he said.
As a result, “You cannot be part of a trend. You cannot define a time. You have to do works that cannot be connected to a particular period,” he said.
See Moshe Ninio’s “Rainbow: Rug” through April 18 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station G1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 586-6488 or visit smmoa.org.