Dealing with loss is at the heart of The Gift, now on exhibit at Ticho House, with quiet works by Nomi Bruckmann, curated by Timna Seligman. Bruckmann, a veteran artist and teacher at the Israel Museum’s Ruth Youth Wing, focuses on a gift from her father, which she received for her 4th birthday, shortly after he was killed in Jerusalem fighting in the 1948 War of Independence.
Bruckmann, an observational painter, is preoccupied at various times with still life objects, landscapes, plants, and, perhaps, is best known for her self-portraits. I’ve addressed her works in articles twice before, here and here, the earlier one regarding an exhibit at the Barbur Gallery.
Barbur has been having a chain of challenges and threats to its continuation in its Nachlaot location. The gallery is an anomaly in the neighborhood, an area with an eclectic mix of old-timers, gentrifying Westerners, newly religious, and students drawn to the music scene, thriving nightlife, or the vital culinary mélange at the adjacent Machaneh Yehuda market. At summer’s end, the latest round resulted in a District Court decision indicating eviction, but the gallery says it’s not over till it’s over.
Ticho House Gallery, on the other hand, is revitalized, despite many changes. Originally the home of the Ticho’s, after artist Anna’s passing, it was bequeathed to the Israel Museum. Once an idyllic gathering spot for meeting friends in the garden café, it now sits dwarfed in a canyon of luxury housing towers, accessible from historic HaNeviim Street. The secular Ticho’s, with their cosmopolitan outlook, entertained diverse figures in their salon. This nearly hidden spot is a vital anchor for art and culture in the rapidly changing city center, a fitting legacy for the couple who once lived there.
Recent renovations have enlarged the gallery and it mainly shows exhibitions of contemporary art. Though still without natural light in the galleries, the new design allows for large works and technical improvements were also made.
Works depicting Bruckmann’s birthday gift are exhibited interspersed with self-portraits, and the dollhouse itself. Long stored, it was brought to her studio, and it struck an emotional chord. This gift, hand-made by her father, was meant to be given to her by him, yet it became associated with his death at age 39, protecting Jerusalem at the San Simon Monastery. Gad (Gerhard) Bruckmann’s passing was also a loss to science. He held a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Berlin from 1933, the year of his arrival in British Mandate Palestine. At the time of his death, he was a pharmacologist at Hebrew University, with papers published relating to diabetes research. Her mother, herself a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1936, after losing most of her family in WWII, was left to raise Bruckmann and an older daughter on her own.
Born in Jerusalem, Bruckman studied art in École Supérieure des Arts Modernes, Paris; School of Visual Arts, New York; Brooklyn Museum Art School, New York, and The Jerusalem Studio School. As a young girl, she was a serious gymnast, the discipline perhaps underlying her ability to devote long attention to her subject matter.
This is not her first foray into dealing with her father’s memory. In her 2012 exhibition at The Zaritsky Tel Aviv Artists’ House, My Father’s Bird, she related to a wooden mood bird from her father’s few pre-war belongings, also on display.
As a 4-year-old, Bruckmann notes, she had been taught to say that he “fell in the war,” while not really comprehending its import. Entering the gallery, one senses that the act of painting this dollhouse with unflagging observation was heavy with longing.
Bruckmann’s many years as a representational painter, her work changes through experimenting with varying her materials but does not show great shifts in her way of painting. It is closely observed, faithful to the subject, with great attention paid to transitions in color using the sfumato technique. She changes the materials, lighting, positioning, canvas formats, and media, which include charcoal, printing inks, and oils.
A devotee of classic Western art, among the painters she admires are Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Kathe Kollwitz, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Lucien Freud, and William Baziotes. About Baziotes, she recalls (in her 2012 book), his intention that his paintings should impart a very slow effect, whose presence should obsess and haunt the viewer. One can feel this influence, particularly in the self-portraits.
A little girl’s fascination with a new toy is buried in these works, which became the object of scrutiny through the eyes of the now-aged woman. Several self-portraits show her elderly eyes meeting the viewer from her softly-handled face. Bruckman’s many years of documenting her aging body, sometimes in severe unflinching detail in large formats, are contrasted with this now mellowed view, bared to its essence.
The realization that her father’s hands held and built these objects seven long decades ago is met by Bruckmann’s careful strokes, creating a posthumous caress. This small house is coolly observed and charged with representing Bruckmann’s emotional home. She paints it with the idealization of her father in her life as only known through very young eyes, a time before the parent is pulled from the pedestal, before teenage disdain or judgment, and before witnessing deterioration of the infirm. Adoration and innocence prevail, not easily accomplished through eyes which have seen much in a lifetime.
This exhibition is really a gift exchange. Her lifelong inability to interact with her father seems to burst forth in these many works, the gift of her hands to the looming absent father.
Bruckmann uses his gift as a muse to make her gift to him.
Through September 30.
All images courtesy of Ticho House, The Israel Museum.
A book of the exhibit is available at the Anna restaurant upstairs.
Ticho House, 10 HaRav Agan Street, Tel: 02-645-3746
E-Mail: ticho @imj.org.il