Slate's artist of the month.
Welcome to Slate's "Gallery." To supplement our regular art criticism, Slate offers this monthly feature that showcases art we think is worth taking a look at. The slide show is selected by Mia Fineman, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who writes regularly for Slate. (We'll have some guest curators, too.) Slate "Galleries" are wide-ranging, with an emphasis on exciting new video and digital art—the kind of art that is hard to reproduce in print magazines.
Tamy Ben-Tor, Alejandra Imagine a Cindy Sherman photograph come to life, in full color, ranting about Hitler in an indeterminate foreign accent. Now add a few jokes, some background music, and a dose of caustic satire à la Sarah Silverman, and you've got a pretty good picture of the invented world of 30-year-old Israeli artist Tamy Ben-Tor. Like Sherman, Ben-Tor uses costumes, wigs, and makeup to transform herself into a variety of female personas, adding incantatory monologues to bring her characters to life in solo performances and videos. These are not the kind of people you'd want to find yourself sitting next to on a long flight. They're bigoted, petulant, bitter, bewildered—and unnervingly familiar.
Ben-Tor, who is tall and slender with unruly blond hair and protean features, studied experimental theater in Jerusalem before moving to New York to attend Columbia's M.F.A. program in art. Now in her second year at Columbia, she already has a cult following among critics and curators (myself included). Her best-known work, Women Talk About Adolph Hitler, was a highlight of P.S. 1's "Greater New York," an exhibition gathering talented young New York artists, last season. In this mockumentary, Ben-Tor channels a loopy series of characters—from the Southern-accented author of Healing Hitler to a mute neo-Nazi with a tiny mustache—deftly satirizing the self-serving testimonials of professional talking heads. This work is also included in her first full-scale gallery exhibition, "Exploration in the Domain of Idiocy," now on view at the Zach Feuer Gallery in New York. The show consists of five videos and a mesmerizing live performance, Exotica, the Rat, and the Liberal, staged at the gallery at 4 p.m. every Friday and Saturday through Jan. 14.
Tamy Ben-Tor, The Contractor Ben-Tor's keen eye for pretension and self-delusion is at its most incisive in her shorter video portraits, two of which you can preview here. In Alejandra, the artist transforms herself into a generically foreign, divalike woman who sits at a table droning into her cell phone: "If I'm not in a good mood, what good am I to others?" It's a miniature case study of narcissism masquerading as benevolence. In The Contractor, she channels the bitter exasperation of a businessman gradually losing his grip as he rattles off an obsessive litany of numbers and measurements.
This art is not easy to love. Ben-Tor's characters can be irritating, obnoxious, at times, even offensive. But by leading us into this babbling domain of idiocy—where most of us spend more time than we'd care to admit—her work also holds out the promise that there is a way out.
Mia Fineman is a writer and curator in New York.
Tamy Ben-Tor, Alejandra, 2005 and The Contractor, 2005. Videos courtesy the artist and Zach Feuer Gallery (LFL), New York.