Jewish Museum in Prague


Benjamin Levy - Encounters

An exhibition of watercolours and gouaches
Robert Guttmann Gallery

The exhibition runs from 25 April  until 27 May 2002
Open daily 9 am – 6 pm except Saturdays and Jewish holidays


Between Reality and Dreams

The work of Benjamin Levy is steeped in memories of his family. Many of the figures we see in his paintings stem from family recollections and stories. He comes from a large family with roots in Yemen that later moved to Palestine and settled near the port of Jaffa. His father, Ovadiah, did not have it easy in life. After the death of his first wife and two of his children, he remarried at the age of forty into a family from Turkey and, together with his second wife, Batsheva, brought up eleven children. The second youngest in the family, Benjamin, grew up in the colourful environs of the Yemen district of Jaffa. To this day his paintings are filled with exotic images from his childhood memories.


Levy has drawn a great deal of inspiration from his collection of family photos, many of which were taken before he was born. His paintings have absorbed a lot of the magic of these old photos, which is reflected in the distinct rigidity of his figures, the dream-like quality of his paintings and the theatrical setting of most of his portraits and scenes. Figures in full dress are arranged as if for a photograph, and the stage is fitted out with a curtain and scenes. 


Figures in Levy's paintings are like the residents of a small town from the past where time passes slowly and people move about stiffly like puppets, where nothing changes and everything stays the way it has always been. Strange contrivances are attached to their faces: they speak to each other through ancient mouth-pieces, while hearing-aids only serve to emphasize their solitude. They resemble figures from the Commedia dell’arte going through their never-changing stock of scenarios. 

This mechanical world, however, is disrupted by strange encounters: the moon, symbolizing the reverse side of our life, carries its figures under its arm. Some figures hold a yo-yo which slowly rises and falls as if set in motion by an unknown force that controls human lives in just as mysterious a way. In turn, coloured billiard balls are a telling symbol of the fickleness of fortune. The scene itself resembles a theatre or variety show, replete with magic wands and conjurors' caps, balls and clubs, monkeys and cats; there is also a tightrope walker balancing in a state of immobile equilibrium. Fish, the silent residents of the watery depths, are given wings like in a Chagall painting, hovering silently through the pictorial space. Strange encounters mostly take place between male and female images, almost always with erotic undertones, providing inexhaustible variations on the artist's eternal story.

Figures in Levy's paintings communicate with each other and with us through silence in the form of an almost forgotten language of symbols which permeates all his paintings. It is communication by means of gestures, views and symbols that follow on from an old tradition. Unexpressed messages are sometimes delivered by a small winged messenger, perhaps the inner voice of one's conscience or temptation. A little bird rests on some straw, a symbol of the human soul. Masks indicate the multiplicity of meaning and our ability to perform various roles. Levy's works are often in the form of letters, with some drawings made on the back of envelopes. Levy's barely sketched language of symbols links him to an old artistic tradition which surprisingly has something to say to us in the present.

In the mysterious and paradoxical world of Benjamin Levy, figures from the artist's life and his subconscious encounter each other in the space between reality and dreams. They send out signals which emphasize the unreal and dream-like space of his paintings and evoke an atmosphere that recalls the metaphysical works of de Chirico and Magritte. A spectral timelessness creates the impression that there is another scenario that is forever unfolding on the other side of our lives, in our dreams and in our unconsciousness. His paintings give us an unexpected sense of déjà-vu, recalling encounters with our own past, unconsciousness and dreams. All you have to do is stop and listen.

Arno Paøík
Exhibition curator


Benjamin Levy was born in Tel Aviv in 1940. He studied art in Israel under Abraham Yaskil, in Paris at the École de Montparnasse and in New York at the Pratt Graphic Art Center. After his studies he returned to Tel Aviv, where he set up a studio and later got married. In 1965 the Levy family moved to New York, where he soon achieved success and recognition. He now lives in New York, Tel Aviv and in the Ein Hod artistic colony in Israel. Since the late 1960s he has held over 80 one-man shows and has taken part in over 100 group shows in Israel, the United States and Europe. His work is included in many private and public collections throughout the world.


Recent one-person Exhibitions:

1998      Bryant Galleries, New Orleans, Louisiana

1997           Museo Sefardi, Toledo, Spain

1995      Nathan Gallery, New Orleans, Louisiana

1995        National Arts Club, New York, New York

1994      Nathan Gallery, New Orleans, Louisiana

1994        The D. F. Boyden Gallery, Saint Mary´s City, Maryland

1993            Nathan Gallery, New Orleans, Louisiana

1993      B´nai B´rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, Washington, D.C.

1992           Galerie maguy, Geneva, Switzerland

1991      La Gravida Gallery, Rome, Italy

1991        Roslyn Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1991        Union League Club, New York, New York

1991      Yeshiva University Museum, New York, New York

1990            Roslyn Fine Arts, Margate, New Jersey

1985            Goldman Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

1985       Galerie Fabien Boulakia, Paris, France

1985       Sander Gallery, Daytona Beach, Florida

1983       Chrysalis Gallery, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

1983        Holdsworth Galleries, Woollahara, Australia

1982       The University of South Carolina McKissick Museum, Columbia, South Carolina

1982       Editions Galleries, South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

1981             Galerij S65, Aalst, Belgium

 Public  Collections:

B´nai B´rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, Washington, D.C.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan

Hedendaagse Kunst, Utrecht, Netherlands

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianopolis, Indiana

The Jewish Museum, New York, New York

McKissick Museum, Columbia, South California

Museum of Arts and Sciences, Daytona Beach, Florida

Museum of Modern Art, Haifa, Israel

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Caracas, Venezuela

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Panama City, Panama

Museo Sefardi, Toledo, Spain

New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana

New York Public Library, New York, New York

The Olga Hirshhorn Collection, Washington, D.C.

Skirball Museum, Los Angeles, California

The Stedelijk Museum, Amserdam, Netherlands

Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel

City of Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel

Yeshiva Univesity Museum, New York, New York


Home  About us  Information for visitors  Exhibitions  Robert Guttmann Gallery  Education and Culture Centre  News  Cultural Programmes and Public Services Newsletter  Shop