Menashe Kadishman was born in Tel Aviv in 1932, and began his artistic career in the early sixties as a minimalist sculptor in London. He continued on to become a pioneer of conceptual art in the late sixties. His work from this period was well-represented at the 1971-72 show at the Haus Lange Museum in Krefeld.
An important international indication of the artist’s need to bring Nature back into the museum halls was made by Kadishman at the1978 Venice Biennale in his appearance as a “shepherd” with live sheep.
The minimalist artworks in earth and glass which Kadishman produced in those years influenced an entire generation of artists who came after him.
Towards the late 1980s, Kadishman returned to sculpture and painting, where a naturalistic imagery gained new significance and took on a very important dimension in his work. The Birth series appeared toward the end of the 1980s. lt represents the “Great Mother” who gives life and, at the same time, symbolizes the taking of life. These works are among the most expressive in Kadishman’s oeuvre of that period.
In the Birth series, the winding line curves in and out, as if trying to express in iron the pangs of birth and the bursting forth of the newborn into the world. The pain and anxiety of the mother inherent in the birth process, together with the life—force of the newborn infant, intertwine. Kadishman is perhaps the only artist to relate to the sentence “in sorrow shall you bear children.”
In an astonishing manner, Kadishman connects the maternal fate with another topic, one to which the artist has devoted many works in sculpture and painting — “the binding of Isaac.” In his unique treatment of this subject, the artist accords Sarah, the mother, a role of no less importance than of the father Abraham in the intended sacrifice of the son, Isaac.
Sarah becomes a modern image of the mother of the fallen Israeli soldier — of all soldiers in all wars.
In Kadishman’s work of the 1990s, it is the mother who gives birth and the mother who sacrifices her child which is combined into one integrated personality aware of the limits of her ability to protect and keep her child alive.
Other works of this period bring animal and landscape into one inseparable unit. It is as if the work is pregnant with the landscape, as if the landscape has been absorbed and thrives within the work, within the body of an animal.
It envisions a utopia of “the nation returning to its land,” with plowed fields and houses set in the shade of a palm tree. The identification with local flora and fauna make possible their acclimatization. Yet, it is a very painful act, in terms of both the physical and the spiritual-cultural climate of the years before the establishment of the State. Kadishman’s return to these landscapes in the 50th year of the State attests to a longing to return to the naiveté which typified the pioneering era. To this series and to the Sacrifice series Kadishman gave the title: “Valley of Sadness.”
The present stage of Kadishman’s work confronts the tenderness between rough, industrial materials and human feelings. The sheep has become a symbol representing human sacrifice.
The walkthrough installation of rows upon rows of painted sheepheads amassed on the floor in an upright position invites comparison either with a colorful flower garden showing the vitality of life or the white squares of a graveyard, the “other” side of life.