by Lisa Traiger
Ironically, the best word to describe the newly forged connection between two art academies – one here in Washington, D.C., the other in Jerusalem – is b’shert, Yiddish for “meant to be” or “preordained.” Last week at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design’s Gallery 31, the renowned art school inaugurated an educational exchange program between the Corcoran and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
The Deane and Paul Shatz International Student Exchange Program is meant to incubate a global community of artists fostering rich cultural collaborations between art students from both countries. The first cohort, a group of eight photography students, will spend two weeks together at the Corcoran in Washington followed by two weeks at Bezalel in Jerusalem this coming May and June. The four students from each institution will participate in cultural exchanges and learn firsthand about the diversity and artistic climate of each city locale. While Washington is a city of iconic monuments, marble-facaded temples to art and politics and tree-shaded neighborhoods of various social strata, Jerusalem’s unique character stems from an intermingling of ancient and modern, religious and secular, in a polyglot society where politics, religion, spiritual beliefs and a diversity of cultures intersect.
The program came about unexpectedly. Bob Shatz, the son of Paul and Deane Shatz, who have lived in the D.C. region for about 25 years, was on a visit to Israel when he stopped in at Bezalel, which is celebrating the 106th year of its founding by Boris Schatz. He toured the gallery and then said to one of its directors: “You know, I’m a Shatz. I think we’re related.” At first his suggestion was laughed off: “In Israel, everybody’s a Shatz,” he was told.
But family stories and a little genealogical research bore him out. It turns out that Boris, who was a court sculptor to Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria at the end of the 19th century, was the cousin of Paul Shatz’s father. “I remember my dad spoke about meeting [Boris Schatz] at the airport in Philadelphia or St. Louis and helped him when he came to raise money” in the United States for his then-young art school.
While it took more than a generation, the ties between the Schatz family and the Bezalel school have been cemented as a result of Deane Shatz’s involvement with the Corcoran, where she has served on the board and been a longtime supporter. One tangible result, prior to the student exchange program, is Bezalel on Tour, an exhibition of 124 works – 2D, 3D and animated – from 21 artists on display through Feb. 17 in Gallery 31, the Corcoran’s free exhibition space.
Showcasing the ingenuity and innovation at the heart of Israel’s creative class, the show features works on paper, video, sculptures, painting, photography, ceramics, architectural models, jewelry, fashion, books, fabrications for everyday objects and lifestyle pieces using 21st-century technology. Curator Muli Ben Sasson, head of Bezalel’s ceramics and glass design department, selected items to showcase the best and brightest from among the school’s recent graduates.
For example, Galit Begas’ “Footprints” are heat-formed plastic shoes created in vibrant shades of red, blue and yellow using recycled plastic grocery bags. They’re “flexible, comfortable and unique,” the artist wrote, and are meant to find a use for objects that are more typically thrown away or end up as litter on the street. Dave Bortz’s “Wear Your Heart on Your Chest” mediates between technology and fashion. It’s a finely tailored white shirt with imbedded gold wiring and a brooch that features a light pulsating to the beat of the wearer’s heart, picked up via ECG from the wiring in the chest and cuffs.
Nir Shalom tried to solve a problem some pet owners face: how to help handicapped dogs. His invention, the “Amigo,” is a prototype for a new, smartly designed walking aid for pets featuring wheels on the back and a supportive base for the dog’s carriage. Photographer Kokhee Lee’s large-scale digitally printed images of landscapes shot from high points within Israel “give vivid feeling to viewers as if watching from a window,” the artist wrote.
And Dafna Amar’s “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” is a fantastic collection of fabricated shoes and boots made from sewed and stretched leather and press studs that, by snapping in various patterns, can change the shape and design of the shoe – some can revert to a completely flat piece of leather. Ayala Sol Friedman’s “Pulses” are lovely high-temperature-fired vases, painstakingly built from porcelain, paper and clay that feature simple repeating patterns with variations of color that give the pieces rhythm.
Paul Shatz, 89, who spent a career as a stockbroker in St. Louis before settling in Bethesda to be closer to his daughters, feels that his greatest legacy is one his wife cultivated: bringing together people of different cultures. Deane, a great follower of both politics and the arts, opened the Shatz family home to visitors from around the world – students on exchange programs, foreign pilots getting air force training, and many others.
“Deane and I have been doing this for years,” he said, “Trying to bring people together. We think probably the most important thing we can do is to get people acquainted … and see what happens.”
Bezalel on Tour is on display through Feb. 17 at Gallery 31, Corcoran Gallery of Art in the District. It is open to the public on Wednesdays: 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Thursday-Sunday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, go to www.corcoran.org.