Menashe Kadishman was born in 1932, in Tel Aviv. He studied sculpting with Moshe Sternschuss (1947 — 1950) and Rudi Lehmann (1954) and then went to London where he enrolled at the St. Martin’s School of Art and Design. There he became a student of Anthony Caro and Reg Butler. Kadishman finished his studies in 1960 and returned to Israel in 1972.
Kadishman’s works were first shown in the mid-1960s, when he created temporary installations in public gardens and parks. Participating in a symposium on sculpture in Montevideo, he discovered the tree as a natural material basis for art, a material also invested with high symbolic value in Jewish culture. In different works, Kadishman turned towards a contrasting, serial interaction of reflecting or pictorial, minimalist metal elements and organic plant structures. In a eucalyptus grove, Kadishman installed yellow steel panels on the trunks and branches of trees, to reflect incident light according to the time of day. He continued his negotiating of a natural and an artificial vocabulary of forms with a similar installation in Central Park, as part of an exhibition at the Jewish Museum New York.
In 1975, Kadishman transferred his conceptual work to unshaped exteriors, and Environments in natural space emerged. For example, he sank steel plates with cut-out silhouettes of trees into the ocean at Caesarea. Water and the patterns of waves then created the reduced image of a tree, a method one might also interpret as an act of land reclamation. Kadishman applied similar principles in his Canvas Forest (1975). He now used 6 meter high grey canvases as material for his cut-outs. The silhouettes of tree thus became the negative patterns of a constantly changing evocation of nature.
At the Venice Biennale of 1978, Kadishman kept pursuing the concept of generating a work through exchanging the processes of nature and art. As part of the theme »From Nature to Art – from Art to Nature,« he exhibited sheep with their backs painted blue as live images. Exhibiting live animals, Kadishman tried to abolish the boundaries of art concepts, an approach similar to that of Jannis Kounellis. »I want my works to address all the senses. Even those that art has neglected. The sense of smelling, of hearing, and of touching. Now, in Venice, in the pavilion full of sheep that move, eat, and excrete, the visitor trains all his senses, because I show a segment of real life. I do not want art with capital letters, with order and discipline, claiming ›right‹ and ›wrong‹ (Kadishman, qtd. in: Ausst.-Kat. Suermondt Ludwig Museum Aachen, 1999). Beyond the wish to fuse art and life, Kadishman also drew on the symbolic meaning of the sheep as sacrificial animal and as allegory of social community in the Old Testament. In pictures and material assemblages, he used the sheep as motif, staging the canvases he had grouped into ›herds,‹ as mobile objects in exhibition rooms, gardens, and cemeteries. Kaddishman kept producing these picture-objects in thematic series which he modified over the years (Die Herde (The Herd), 1995 — 99).
Starting in 1977, Kadishman also worked with figural sculptures, using the complex technique of cutting metal to create gestural expression. Seemingly weightless contours or silhouette-like cut-outs, done in thin iron or brass sheets, generated expressively moving body ciphers. Their sign-like character reminds of the silhouettes of Henri Matisse. In these mostly monumental works, motifs of sacrifice and birth from the Old Testament become underlying narrative patterns (Birth /Die Geburt 1980 — 1998; The Sacrifice of Isaac / Die Opferung Isaacs (1982 — 85). The sheep again emerged as motif in grouped installations of flat steel sheet silhouettes that appeared to hover over their supporting structures (Morgenlicht (Schafe und Schafe) / Morning Light (Sheep and Sheep), 1991 — 99).
One of Kadishman’s later works is the installation Shalechet (Fallen Leave, 1997 — 99) in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Kadishman used the symbolic power of the seemingly raw metal, cut to visualize the suffering and pain of the Holocaust. The walkable floor sculpture consists of more than 10,000 metal disks from which the artist cut out wide-open mouths and eyes, reduced to the character of signs.
In 1971/72, Kadishman exhibited his works at the Museum Haus Lange, in Krefeld. In the following years, his works were also shown at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and at the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg. Several solo exhibitions followed, for example, at the National Gallery Bangkok and, in 1997, at the National Gallery Beijing. In 1999, Kadishman’s work was honored with a large exhibition at the Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen.
Menashe Kadishman lives and works in Tel Aviv.
Menashe Kadishman, Shalechet, Häupter und Opfer: Ausst.-Kat. Suermondt Ludwig Museum Aachen, Mailand 1999
Myth Transformed, Painting and Monumental Sculpture of Menashe Kadishman: Ausst.-Kat. Tel Aviv Museum, hg. v. E.F. Fry, Tel Aviv, 1987