Curated by Rose Bouthillier, “OFF THE RULING CLASS” was Nevet Yitzhak’s first solo museum presentation in the United States. Yitzhak traveled to Cleveland in 2015 to explore the city and view objects held in local collections. She was struck by the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Rodin statue, The Thinker (c. 1880), which was bombed in 1970. While questions still remain about who executed this destructive act, many attribute it to the Weather Underground, a radical left-wing organization. After the bombing, CMA Director Sherman Lee reinstalled the damaged sculpture as a testament to a period of political unrest during the Vietnam War. For her project, Yitzhak documented the annual conservation of The Thinker, combining it with archival imagery and digital animation. The show explored vandalism and terrorism directed at art and the power of icons in secular culture—issues that are extremely relevant in light of the escalated destruction of ancient artifacts and monuments in the Middle East, raising questions about history, conflict, and collective memory.
On Nevet Yitzhak’s Off the Ruling Class
By Curator Rose Bouthillier, exhibition curator and alumni of the Artis Curatorial Seminar in Israel Program
This essay was originally published in 2015 as part of the Artis Journal blog, a series of essays and artist interviews exploring artistic practice and timely topics in contemporary art from Israel. The Artis Journal blog was active from 2015-2016.
Working with an artist on a new project always brings with it the possibility of the unexpected. Working on a commission with an artist like Nevet Yitzhak—whose ideas are sparked by stories, encounters, and human connections—is all the more unpredictable.
I was first introduced to Nevet in October 2014, while on an Artis Research Trip to Israel. She met the group at Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv to talk about her solo exhibition, "Where the Wild Things Are". I was immediately struck by how absorbing her work is. Viewers are pulled into her animated images, immersed in the sound. We started a conversation about bringing her work to MOCA Cleveland, and our desire to support the production of a new work, one that related to an aspect of Cleveland’s history, or an object held in a local collection.
Nevet visited Cleveland in May 2015, and among the objects, archives, and historic sites we visited, she became most captivated by a Rodin sculpture, The Thinker (c. 1880), which sits outside of the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA). The sculpture was bombed in 1970, and while questions still remain about who executed this destructive act, many attribute it to the Weather Underground, a radical left-wing organization. The Museum decided to leave the sculpture in its damaged state, and its fragmented body stands as a reminder to a period of violence and political unrest during the Vietnam War.
The CMA generously opened up their records to Nevet, and she had access to materials from the departments of conservation, photo reproductions, and curatorial records—she wanted to know and see everything! In July, Nevet worked from afar to instruct a local crew to film the sculpture’s annual conservation; these moments of tender care are some of the most impactful visuals in the piece.
The installation at MOCA Cleveland ultimately took the form of an installation with two projections. THE ANTITHINKERS appears like a research journal, combining archival photographs, video, and newspaper clippings with the conservation documentation. OFF THE RULING CLASS shows an animated 3D model of the sculpture, somberly contemplating its metal limbs and ruptured base. The title was drawn from the graffiti left on the sculpture’s plinth the night of the bombing, a clue to the vandals’ motivations. These works connect the trauma of the explosion to Rodin’s original inspiration for the figure: the Poet in Dante’s Divine Comedy (c. 1320), contemplating the value of art in light of human failure and suffering.
By taking on such an iconic cultural marking in the city of Cleveland, Nevet’s work has struck a chord with many visitors to the Museum, some of whom still recall the sound of the fateful explosion. One of the most common visitor responses is a feeling that Nevet’s work emphasizes the sculpture’s vulnerability and personality; introducing him in a new way. The dialog around the work continued in a panel discussion, ״OFF THE RULING CLASS: The Thinker Bombing and Other Acts of Cultural Aggression” that brought together artists, curators, and historians, and considered the themes of Nevet’s work through the lens of recent events.