Ezra Orion (1934-2015) was born in Kibbutz Beit Alfa and grew up in Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan. In the early 1950s he studied at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, and in the mid-1960s he continued his studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art in London. When he returned to Israel in 1967, he moved to Midreshet Sde Boker in the Negev, where he founded the Desert Sculpture Gallery, taught, and created until the early 2000s. Alongside his work as a sculptor, Orion was a poet and philosopher, and he also founded and edited the periodical Svivot.
During his studies Orion focused on iron and stone sculptures in dimensions suited for gallery spaces, but after he completed his studies and moved to Sde Boker in the Negev he began thinking about sculpture that is no longer limited to gallery and urban space dimensions: sculpture that would envelop the spectator, contain him, and evoke in him a spiritual existential experience. From then on Orion began to create situations, moments, and environments that were designed to serve as “launch sites” for human consciousness. The aspiration to create an experience that confronts human beings with the transcendent and the cosmic became the increasingly irrefutable logic throughout Orion’s work. His field of action moved to the desert expanse, to movements and changes in the Earth’s surface, and then to outer space. This exhibition traces Orion’s creative development from Architectural Sculpture, through Tectonic Sculpture and the Mars Project, to Intergalactic sculpture. All these are examined through original works alongside documents from the artist’s archive. A clear line can be drawn from Orion’s early sketches in the 1960s to his space projects. According to him, they were all part of an attempt to engender a unique human and personal observation.
Orion’s work is located between two fields of action: land art and conceptual art. On the one hand his desert sculptures connect with artists like Richard Long and Robert Smithson (albeit his action differs from that of artists who go out of the city to the natural environment, as has been argued in the past, since it emerges from his own life in the desert expanse and the edge of the frontier). On the other, especially with regard to his outer space works, Orion is revealed as a conceptual artist in terms of the way the aesthetic visual aspect is neutralized in some of his works, and in terms of the mental experience these works seek to create.
Orion’s Romantic and Modernist logic poses a single universal challenge and dismisses out of hand any transitory and local question concerning the artistic act. This is an impressive approach in its ambition, which at times also seems naïve and narrow: Orion dismisses the importance of the context of his action as an artist, as an Israeli-Jewish-man acting in this place and at this time, the historical and military contexts in which he developed – and which erupt from his tongue in every description of a sculpting act – and the context of the act of conquering the desert. In their place he proposes a language of transcendence, of a view from above. A universal language that is timeless and placeless. In this regard it is interesting to examine the political letters he wrote to Israeli leaders in which he is troubled by the affairs of the country, and proposes overall solutions, in outline form, while completely disregarding the passion and instinct that drive the struggles being waged on this land.
Even today Orion’s activity in the extra-gallery space, the desert space, and outer space is impressive in its dimensions, ambition, and form, while the scope of his work makes him a unique artist who did not gain sufficient recognition during his lifetime. The exhibition focuses on Orion’s proposals, sketches, and ideas in attempt to investigate and explore the logic of the action, not only its products. Now, from the perspective of time, observing Orion’s work is also an invitation to examine his contemporaries, as well as the local context which he sought to overcome with an overview perspective, to trace the political aspects of the artistic act, and consider the limits of imagination concerning the space in which the action takes place and the people on whom it acts.
Curators: Udi Edelman and Yael Messer
Research assistant: Omri Shapira
Editor: Asaf Schurr
English translation: Margalit Rodgers
Our thanks to the people who devoted of their time and assisted in the research, the stories, and in obtaining archival material: Dafna Horev, Avraham Hay, Yigal Zalmona, Amnon Barzel, Micha Levin, Noga Raved, Danny Sasson, Doron Polak
Special thanks to Alon Orion