Michal Nachmany turns found objects into art, layering memory, memorabilia, meaning and color in her original collages and works on paper. The work reflects her journey from Israel to America, and also, as is timely for the beginning of the New Year, a journey within.
Her debut exhibition, “Journey: From the Land of Milk and Honey,” is on view through September 18th at La Boite, Lior Lev Sercarz’s celebrated spice shop and exhibition space, where the Israeli-born chef mixes his own blends of spices from around the world. The air is fragrant of cardamom, sumac and other spices, and the viewer is easily transported.
In conversation, Nachmany is nostalgic for the Jerusalem of her youth, for another time, when the city felt like a small town. She’s playful with images of Jaffa oranges, pioneers and the map of Israel that hung in the classrooms of her childhood. Along one wall, she features collages with representations of Ben Gurion, Herzl and others, along with historic items and ice-cream cones made of bank notes. For Nachmany, Israel has shifted from the land of milk and honey “to the land of ice-cream and money.”
Talking about her art, Nachmany is warm, effusive, and full of ideas and connections. The show is a significant personal achievement, as this was a dream: She has always been artistic –- as a child, a drawing of hers was selected to be made into an Israeli postage stamp — and has long been a collector, in the tradition of her late father, Shamai Zweigreich, to whom the show is dedicated. But she only began seriously exploring art again and studying with two artists she admires when her youngest child left for college.
“I always loved old and new,” she says, explaining the eclectic style that informs the exhibition. When a friend from her synagogue on the Upper West Side recently offered her some items from his late parents’ apartment, she couldn’t refuse.
“I always take things. I never know what is going to happen,” the artist says. “Sometimes something comes alive.”
Nachmany ended up with a large glass bowl filled with matchbook covers from the 1950s and 1960s, tiny souvenirs of this family’s extensive travel. While many New Yorkers might recall similar collections from the days when matchbooks were ubiquitous in restaurants, hotels and even weddings and Bar Mitzvah celebrations, Nachmany had never seen anything like this. Her friend went through the pile, sharing memories of visits to the Concord Hotel, the United Nations, Russian Tea Room, Old Oak Country Club, Waldorf Astoria and the Playboy Club too, and she took notes.
She later enlarged and embellished the cover images, and put some of them together on a panel resembling a door, connecting the line “Close Before Striking” with closing a door. With its mix of typefaces and logos, “Striking Door” evokes that earlier era. Also on view is an open tattered suitcase – which also belonged to the family – holding “books” that are enlarged prints of other covers, with notes on them and library cards at the back.
Another piece, “America the Beautiful,” is a map made of matches on handmade paper. Her vibrant “Journey” series mixes elements of the matchbooks, along with designed papers and other images on square panels of collage; one is cleverly titled, “The Matchmaker.” All of the pieces in the show, which was curated by Heather Zises, were made in 2015. (View the art at Nachmany's website.)
Nachmany has been living in New York City since 1985, when she began working as a translator for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations. She has taught Hebrew in many venues since then and now teaches privately and also does a podcast on Hebrew words. Her teaching method, as she describes, is collage style, sharing the language through her passion for the culture, food, spirituality and land of Israel.
Michal Nachmany's “Journey: From the Land of Milk and Honey" is on view at La Boite, 724 11th Avenue (52nd Street) through September 18th. Gallery hours are 10 am to 6 pm, or by appointment with the artist.