Sacred Places/Fluid Borders
Military Heroism
States of Emergency  
The Quest for Identity

Press Release
Public Programs

In the dawn of the post–cold war era, questions of nationalism are being debated with great urgency as the world changes at a rate faster than ever thought possible. This is particularly true in the Middle East. In Israel, national identity is inextricably linked with the idealist goals of Zionism. Desert Cliché presents the work of eighteen artists who deconstruct myths and stereotypes about Israel—the desert metaphor, the sabra trope of prickly-outside-sweet-inside for native Israelis, holy places, traditional memorial ceremonies, military might, courageous women soldiers, and heroic macho men. The artists shown here explore these charged themes from a post-Zionist perspective. Using humor, cynicism, and irony, they expose the social and psychological conditions of a life fraught with dangers and contradictions.

Desert Cliché does not celebrate the untarnished optimism of the early days since Israel’s founding fifty years ago. As the nation matures, artists in all disciplines are questioning reigning social ethos and mores. Like their counterparts around the world, contemporary Israeli artists work in a variety of media and employ postmodern strategies, undermining the meaning of once-sacred images and recasting them as trivial and cliché.

In his book Mythologies (1957), the French philosopher Roland Barthes asserted that a society produces images as magical instruments to enforce social order. The conquering and blooming of the desert—the miracle of reclamation—is the most common and most romantic cliché about Israel. As the predominant metaphor for fantasies about Israel, desert mythology inspired the title for the exhibition. Through their explorations of this and other clichés, the artists offer fresh and individual interpretations of what it means to be an Israeli.

Desert Cliché is curated by Amy Cappellazzo and Tami Katz-Freiman and organized by The Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Florida, in collaboration with the Israeli Forum of Art Museums. Support is provided by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Consulates General of Israel in New York and Miami; El Al, Israel Airlines Ltd.; The Friends of the Bass Museum, Inc.; State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs; and the City of Miami Beach Visitors and Conventions Bureau. Additional funding is provided by the Abby Weed Grey Trust.