Friday, May 4, 2012


I can say with confidence that today I saw what is the best art installation we’ll get to see this year in the Bay Area.  The Israeli artist Zadok Ben-David’s Blackfield installation is breathtaking. 

Prior to the work being installed, I saw the artist give a talk about the piece.  He discussed how growing up in rural Israel as well as coming from a long line of craftsman who made fine jewelry has informed his sculptures.  For Blackfield he uses thin aluminum.  With his assistants he makes hundreds of delicate, hand-cut aluminum flowers inspired by older engravings of flora.  They are all about 2”-6” tall and each is painted black.  They are installed on the floor, set in a field of white sand.  The initial effect reminds one of lace or even toile.

Imagine seeing an empty space, a circle filed with a layer of white sand.  And it’s filled with hundreds of these fine, hand-cut, metal flowers, all painted black.  You bend lower.  You realize you will have to get down on the floor.  The experience at eyelevel is totally different.  In his talk, Ben-David mentioned viewers comparing it to a forest after a fire.  Yes, it could be interpreted that way.  I saw winter and the leafless trees and black twigs sticking up through a layer of snow.  I stood up, and was taken back to winter on Cape Cod, with barren twigs poking up through sand dunes.

There is more.  All the individual pieces are installed, evenly, facing forward.  You slowly walk around to the backside and see that each individual hand painted plant and flower is no longer black.  The backside of each one is painted in intense, bright colors.  It’s dazzling.  Again you are drawn to the floor, needing to appreciate the piece at eyelevel.  The riot of color is spectacular.  Your eyes play tricks on you.  There is the allusion of movement.  It’s like a Monet come-to-life or a springtime California field in bloom after a very wet winter.  From the floor it’s seems as if there is a haze of color floating above the installation.  It’s an effect I have seen before in the Anza-Borrego Desert.  It happens when hundred of ocotillo bloom and create a blur of red haze.  You see the effect when you look towards a group of the  cactuses from a distance. 

Visiting Zadok Ben-David’s website will give you a good feel for his work.  It truly has to be seen in person.  Make a point of visiting the Contemporary Jewish Museum before September 9th to experience Blackfield, the Bay Area’s best art installation of 2012.


  1. Great commentary. Can't wait to see it. Is it in that weird triangular room in the cube section?

  2. I expected to see it in the cube as well. But no, it's in one of the 2nd Floor galleries. It's part of the "Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought" exhibit.