Israeli art hits the road in U.S.

After he was shot out of the sky during a foray as an Israeli army paratrooper in the 1980s, Itzhak Assour turned to sculpture during his rehabilitation.

Determined to help his country as well as other Israeli artists affected by the decline in tourism, he took the work of his colleagues on the road, to markets in North America and Europe.

Now his son Major Assour, 35, a sculptor who also holds a degree in business, is continuing the mission. From March 24-30, he is bringing the works of more than 100 Israeli sculptors, painters, jewelry designers and Judaica artists to Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills for an exhibition and sale.

The traveling exhibition is the largest collection of Israeli art to tour the United States, according to organizers.

“It’s one way of showing the other side of Israel — the artists’ side,” Major Assour said in a phone interview from his home in Tel Aviv. “Most of the art is very vibrant and alive, and that’s basically the Israeli spirit. We believe in what we do and we see no other choice for us.”

Titled “Expressions: Art Showcase,” the traveling exhibit includes works of well-known artists Yaakov Agam, Frank Meisler, Tolla Inbar, Baruch Sakstier and Major and Itzhak Assour. Beth Am is the sole Northern California site for the show, which has traveled to other synagogues and Jewish community centers in North America.

In tandem with the exhibit is a speaker series with talks by Major Assour, local author Donna Rosenthal, Israeli artist Michal Gavish, art collector Alan Breus and BlueStar PR founder Jonathan Carey. On March 29, South Bay vocal group HaShirim will perform a farewell concert for the exhibition at 7:30 p.m. The exhibit and lectures are free.

Growing up, Major Assour assisted his father in the studio and partly learned the craft by observation. But he majored in business at Tel Aviv University and didn’t begin formal art studies until his early 20s. After that he “decided to go into it, all the way.”

Comparing his own work to that of his father, he said, “My father is a lot more figurative. I’m a lot more modern. Most of my sculpture has no faces.” Also, much of is neither feminine nor masculine, so “everyone can feel attached to it.”

These days his business background is critical to his work as an impresario of Israeli art, organizing international exhibitions. His salary is underwritten by the Israeli government, and his mission, he emphasizes, is not to promote his own work but to help his country and its artists.

“It’s very uncommon for an artist to be also an art dealer,” he said. “I see it from the business point of view.”

Assour now spends three to four months each year exhibiting and selling art around the world. But he would prefer to remain in Israel, where he lives with his wife and daughters, ages 2 and 5. The journey has been particularly difficult lately because his mother, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, hasn’t been well, and his father has been unable to journey with the show.

“I wish I could stay [in Israel], but it’s a price we are willing to pay,” he said.

As he travels throughout the world, Major Assour steers clear of political discussions. “I put art on one side, and politics on the other side. I show the other side, the artists’ side, the beauty of their works.”

Proceeds from the sales go to the artists, with a portion donated to Magen David Adom, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Israel Emergency Campaign and Friends of the IDF.

The economic effect of Mideast unrest has been dire for the country’s artists, he notes, making it necessary for them to sell their works abroad. Although tourism is rising again, it’s still “not enough” to sustain them, Assour said. “Whatever we get, we say thank you for.”

“Expressions: Art Showcase” runs Sunday, March 25, to Thursday, March 30, on the lower campus of Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills. A preview reception, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24, is $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Exhibit hours: 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 25, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. March 26-29 and 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. March 30. Reservations and related events: www.betham.org/IsraeliArtExpo or [email protected].

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].