An Israeli Artist Offers Ironic Commentary On Our World And Her Generation’s Place In It

Netta Witztum and her work

The patriarchal Judeo-Christian orthodoxy has been teaching us for ages that Eve took a bite from the forbidden fruit because she was, as the prototypical and archetypal human female, weak and easily led into temptation by rascals like the serpent. Perhaps they could sell that bit of nonsense to men who lived their entire lives surrounded by other men, but anyone who knows anything about women can tell you that it wasn’t the case. Eve bit into the apple because she was BORED.

I mean what woman would want to live forever in a world without shopping, without gossip, without love, without sex, with only a manchild, a five year-old in a full-grown man’s body for companionship? It’s true that for a few millennia before the invention of epidural women had to pay the heavy price of painful childbirth and men never really grew up, at least not emotionally, but we cannot deny that Eve’s choice made all of our lives that much more interesting.

Innocence without wonder, a pout and an acronym

In my critique of the Israeli artist Netta Witztum, I find myself walking a fine line. Everyone is placing the modifier “young” before her name and I nearly did so as well. The YOUNG Israeli artist, I wrote, automatically. Well, almost. But you know what else is boring? Clichés, that’s what, and “young Israeli artist”, especially when applied to an actual young Israeli artist, is definitely a cliché. I doubt that Netta would want us to think of her as such and since I am genetically programmed to pander to the desires of young women, I shall oblige.

Eyebrows rule

Mathematics teaches us that every function must have an inverse, so if cliché is a function that takes something interesting and trivializes it, what is its inverse? Though it may be impossible to prove, I posit that the inverse of the cliché function is the irony function. Irony, an ancient Greek term that came into being at the time of the great classical playwrights in fifth century BC Athens, is what makes everything, even mundane stuff, interesting.

Beautiful, dispassionate, robotic, perhaps like Adam was before Eve showed him some good times

The noted Shakespeare critique Harold Bloom has often remarked how ironic the Bard’s tragedies and comedies were, an irony, he argues, Shakespeare had found in the pages of the King James Bible, especially in the Book of Genesis. After all, what is more ironic than Balaam’s ass, who opens her very female, very sassy mouth and warns the old shamanic prophet, the guy whose JOB is to see things that are supernatural, that their path is blocked by an angel wielding a huge flaming sword, neither of which are visible to him.

Even as the father of two young adult daughters I know nothing of what it means to be a young woman today, but I suspect that our modern existence has placed in their paths many challenges that are best overcome with a great sense of humor and a fine appreciation for irony. In Netta’s paintings, beyond her mastery of the color palette and her skill in applying paint to canvas, I do not see much artistic tension, but I do see a lot of irony and perhaps even lament.

A boy? A girl? Does it even matter?

Her men and women are as gorgeous as they are chaste and even asexual. In fact, they are simultaneously pre and post-apple. They are innocent without wonder, innocent as a choice, innocent because they have tasted debauchery and found it boring. They seem to wish that the apple had remained intact, that the snake could have given Eve an iPhone rather than the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. They stare into space or into each others eyes with dispassionate expressions devoid of lust, expelling only ephemeral bubbles waiting to be filled with meaningless acronyms; LOL’s and TTYL’s.

In a painting that looks like a self-portrait, Netta is holding an index finger to her lips, telling us to be quiet, though it seems to me that it is herself that she is shushing, that she wishes to leave her commentary on our times to her works rather than to her words.

I find much to like in Netta’s website, where she presents her art as hanging on the walls of expensive though impersonal modern condominium apartments, making it more about commercial success than artistic expression, an ironic stance in its own right. “This is where my art belongs,” she seems to be telling us, “if you can afford to live there, surely you can afford my paintings.”

Everybody today is choosing sides; pro this and opposed to that. Everybody is dead serious and ready to fight for their beliefs. Boring. What we need is more people like Netta, people who can look at the world with irony, not shying away from commentary, but not making it the end of the world either. To me, that is who Eve was, that is the essence of true femininity; a quick glance, a sub-laugh, as the French would call it, is all it takes to conquer the world.

Netta is having her first-ever solo exhibition on July 4th at the Simta Theater on 8 Mazal Dagim Street in Tel-Aviv. You can also visit her website at https://www.thenetart.com/ and follow her on Instagram and Facebook @thenetart.

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