Menashe Kadishman – The Life and Work of a Jewish Asset

The main challenge for an artist, takes form in the constant struggle for pure authenticity on one hand, and the desire to be acknowledged on the other hand. Sometimes it seems like the two contradict each other, defy the very essence of the other's existence. This mission, to express your most sincere experience on various mediums and succeed to be understood and even revered, is on the verge of the impossible. Only few artists manage to find this peaceful and delightful sweet spot between the populist sellout and the misunderstood genius.

If such an artist ever lived and created in Israel, it is undoubtedly Menachem Kadishman. With a myriad of pieces priced at hundreds of thousands of dollars, Kadishman is well-known for some Iconic pieces such as his installation at Berlin Jewish Museum, the famous sculpture at Habima square, and of course, his chefs d'oeuvre – the various portraits and sculptures of sheep. His pieces can be seen in almost every point at the globe, from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, to exhibitions in Europe and even Japan. Despite his affection to sheep, Kadishman always found himself ahead of the herd and led the sheep, such an emblematic symbol of the Israeli and Jewish essence, into a unique artform.

Atonetto, our online gallery offers a rare collection of Menashe Kadishman artworks

An integral part of Israeli culture

Kadishman is one of the most iconic and influential artists known in the local art scene, and his works also bought him overseas, even at pre-globalization eras, when it was much more complex to interact and acquire recognition abroad. "Kadishman was a one-time artist," says Amitai Mendelson, chief curator of Israeli art at the Israel Museum. "He was a unique phenomenon in the art field and a rare, special human being".

He was known as a human magnet, accepting visitors from all over the world on a daily basis at his studio and home, with his iconic white Jellabiya, which bestowed upon him the biblical aura that was depicted in many of his pieces.


A wild sheep chase

Menashe Kadishman was born in 1932, in British Mandatory Palestine. Since his childhood years, he demonstrated outstanding talent in charcoal and pencil sketch drawings.

During his service in the Nahal Brigade, an IDF unit based in rural communities in the Israeli kibbutzim, Kadishmen spent most of his time herding sheep in Ma'ayan Baruch kibbutz and since then a love story began.

After his military service, he attended the St. Martin’s School of Art in London, where he started working on his first pieces. His metal sculptures during this period were raw and abstract, usually rusty and carrying a hunting quality. In many respects, such works were the foreshadowing for his later work in the Berlin Jewish Museum.

He painted his first sheep portrait at 1955, which became the opening item of a long series that followed his work until his death at 82.

Perhaps the most comical and notable manifestation of this artistic theme, occurred in the 1978 Venice Biennale where he amazed the attendants with a unique presentation. A herd of live sheep swarmed the compounds, adorned with a variety of vivid colors.     

The lamb of god motif

"At the artistic level, he has been very renewed both in Israel and internationally, and he has even done it twice - reinventing himself," says Amitai Mendelsohn, the head curator of Israeli art in the Israel Museum. "For the first time, he did it in the field of minimalist sculpturing in the 1960s and 1970s. One of his most well-known examples is "Elevation", his sculpture set on Habima square, which is still one of his most important sculptures. He expresses his fascination with gravity, the forces of nature. This uplift is so beautiful because it shows, even today, how art can rise above and resist the forces that try to suppress it. I always argue that when art is good and strong, it is timeless and relevant, and even today people still watch this statue and are feeling uplifted".

But as mentioned, it was only Menashe Kadishman's first wave. "The second time Kadishman reinvented himself was in the late 1970s, when an extremely dramatic turn occurred in his work and focal point, for the rest of his life, with his occupation with animals and especially sheep."

The sheep's image as a victim on one side, and a native animal to the land of Israel and a recurring motif in the biblical tales on the other hand, holds the whole contradictory nature of the Israeli identity. Kadisman's sheep have a power that is beyond every-day life, their benign and innocent nature gazes into us and touch us, not in a narrative form but into the deepest and sensitive parts of the heart.

A world-renowned and award-winning artist

Even though these sheep paintings are his most defining works, it was not Kadishman's greatest source of pride. For him, his most sincere and defining work, was the one he created for Israel's 25th Independence Day: "The Forest". Israel Museum in Jerusalem held a major exhibition for the occasion, and Kadishman was invited to exhibit it. The sculpture he created in honor of this exhibition consisted of painted metal panels which he attached to real tree trunks. He also painted, in the same manner, an oak tree growing in the Cross Valley located right below the museum compounds.

As the public tended to know him mostly as, "the sheep guy", it seems like the artists' community got a better understanding of the raw and relentless source of his authentic creation. When it came to awards and recognitions, he was mostly acclaimed and recognized for his sculpting works.

  • In 1967, he won the first prize for his sculpture presented in the 5th Paris Biennale.
  • In 1995, Kadishman won the Israeli award (the greatest respect an Israeli can receive by the state) for his contribution to Israeli sculpting.
  • In 2002, he received the Honorary Fellowship Award from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Over the years, his sculptures represented Israel in numerous art occasions of great importance all over the world. His work, "The Sacrifice of Isaac" was presented on exhibitions all over the U.S., and he performed in countless other events in the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Germany, and the U.K., where he was tremendously acclaimed.

The face of horror

Between the years 1997-2001, Kadishman created one of his most dark and famous pieces – his installation at the Daniel Liebskind building in Berlin Jewish Museum. This unique piece, named Shalekhet (fallen leaves), consists of over 20,000 rusty steel faces, with an anguished expression frozen eternally on their faces. The small faces are flat, and their mouths open with a silent cry. The rust covering the faces makes them look as if they are wounded or bleeding. The faces cover the entire building floor, as an unusual and morbid metal flooring.

However, these metal faces are not just there to be watched. The visitors are forced to step on them, thus making them accomplices, or at the very least bystanders, providing their tacit consent. When stepped on, these faces produce a loud and screeching sound, awakening the silent cry into the thundering screams of the victims, demanding to be acknowledged. With every step, the visiting bystanders find it more and more difficult to make progress and ignore the outcomes of their deeds.

This motif of the faceless body can be found in many of Kadishman's pieces, and mostly represents death, loss, and fear of the oblivion. This motif is particularly noticeable in his famous work "the sacrifice of Isaac". In "Shalekhet", however, this idea wears its most intense shape, as the promise of the soft rustle of leaves is violated by the ear-piercing screeching sounds of rusting metal, deepening the horrific realization of the unprecedented extent of violence, hatred and cruelty of world war II.  

The legacy lives on

Kadishman's passing at 2008 left a huge gaping void in the Israeli artistic community. Nevertheless, his life's work is a source of inspiration and influence for many artists around the world. As his daughter, Maya Kadishman, described it: "His sheep are like the icing on the cake, they are what you see externally, but the cake itself is much bigger than that". Maya and her brother Ben keep their father's studio in Tel Aviv in the same state he left it. They see this place as a sacred temple and cannot bring themselves to make any changes or dismantle the workspace. Over the years, the studio has been visited by quite a few artists and critics who wanted to see it, study it, and seek inspiration.

The volume of works Kadsihman left after his is immense. Even now, years after his passing, Maya still finds new pieces. "We have an archive with most of the information," she says, "but I still discover new things and it fascinates me. Things like a sketching model of a statue made five years before the statue itself, for example. I don't know if these are things he did consciously at all, but today when I look at the works I see a lot of connections, for example, between works he did in the geometric period and those he did in the iron sculptures period. I used to think he acted completely differently during those times, but no - it's really a direct continuation in each and every step. "

Vast variety of collections worldwide

In the entirety of his lifetime, Kadishman's work respected many exhibitions around the world and many of his pieces were commissioned in luxurious collections in prestigious art institutions around the world.

  • Jerome and Allen Stern collection. 
  • "Forest" – New York Jewish Museum 1970.
  • Haus Lange Museum – Germany 1972.
  • "Suspended" – 1977.
  • Unicorn Gallery – 1977.
  • Goldman Gallery International art fair – Basel, Switzerland 1982.  
  • "Segments" – Dallas, 1968.
  • Various works in Israel Museum.
  • Berlin Jewish Museum.
  • "The sacrifice of Isaac" – New York Jewish Museum 1985.
  • "The Flock" – Shenzhen Museum, china, and Bangkok National Gallery 1998.
  • "Morning Light" – Installation in Helsinki 2000.
  • Ilana Gur Museum.
  • The Rita and Arturo Schwartz collection.
  • Tel Aviv Museum sculpture garden.

The life and work of Kadishman is a part of Israel's culture beating heart. He left after him a loyal herd of colleagues, collectors and family members that commemorate his unique contribution, by sharing memories, talking about the pieces they have purchased and attending the exhibitions conducted by his children. In the words of his daughter, Maya, "He aspired to be the great shepherd - if everyone will have a sheep, everyone will be part of his herd, and he could look after them through his art."

Atonetto Gallery - Kadishman Artworks Online 

Atonetto, our online gallery offers a rare collection of Menashe Kadishman paintings and sculptures. All of our artworks come with the artist's signature and certificate. Our gallery specializes in express shipping fine art items all over the world. We also offer a fine selection of modern Judaica items.
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