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Israel, “The Clock,” and a Great Coup in Art–and Why No One’s Talking about It

Israel, “The Clock,” and a Great Coup in Art–and Why No One’s Talking about It

It’s hard to overstate the euphoria that greeted Christain Marclay’s art-video “The Clock” last year. When the work—a 24-hour film, made of hundreds of spliced together movie clips, each showing the hand of a clock at precisely the right second—went on view at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York last winter, critics and art-lovers swooned. The gallery’s hours were extended; then, the length of the exhibit itself.

Roberta Smith of The Times called it “the ultimate work of appropriation art” (in a good way), and her husband, the New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz was equally balled over. “A metaphysical tour de force of untethered meaning,” he called it (also in a good way); at the end of the year, he ranked it as the best art show of 2011, beating out de Kooning’s retrospective at MoMA.

So why the mainstream media, and even the Jewish media, has been so quiet about Israel Museum’s recent acquisition of the piece confounds me. It would be foolish to compare “The Clock” to “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,” but it’s almost certainly one of the great works of art made in the last few years. The Israel Museum, which bought it in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou and the Tate Modern in London, scored a major coup. And while Israel’s art scene has had plenty to cheer about in the world of contemporary art, the presence of “The Clock” in the museum’s halls could not truly make Israel a major art-world destination. A Bilbao, part two.

Hopefully a little attention here, on this meager corner of Jewish world journalism, will help boost this overlooked story. And here’s hoping the Oscar awards later this month will add to the hype. After all, no one who’s seen the piece fails to mention that it is more than a phenomenal work of art. It’s also a paean to filmmaking and the history of cinema. With films like “Hugo” and “The Artist” getting attention for the exact same reasons, it’s a little unsettling that so many culture aficionados are passing over “The Clock.”

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