Ofer Shapira: Not deterred by controversy - as long as it makes for a good artwork

By:
Na'ama Lurie
August 25, 2019

Located in Tel Aviv's well-appointed/befittingly named Museum Tower Shibolet &Co. Is a law firm that has evolved into a semi-art gallery. One of the partners and the man behind the firm's unique art collection—which spans high-profile contemporary Israeli artists, such as Michal Na'aman, Ido Bar-El, Yair Garbuz, Shai Azoulay, and Khen Shish—is Adv. Ofer Shapira, "an avid art aficionado and a collector in his own right," as one of the firm's employees attests."Every now and then, when we meet with clients and they are curious about an artwork, he is the one who can tell them all about it. He even gave us a guided art tour on the company's staff trip to London."

"As an Israeli law firm, with quite a large foreign clientele who visit our offices from time to time, we strive to express our Israeli identity through our art collection. Therefore, in our purchases we concentrate mainly on Israeli artists and Israeli themes," says Shapira. "Not everyone who comes in is an art expert," he adds, "but many are able to appreciate it nonetheless. Ultimately, people with varying levels of knowledge react to a masterpiece when they see it."

The subject of art as decoration naturally comes up in an environment such as this. According to Shapira, "A beautiful work of art does not necessarily lack validity. Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi's works are stunning, and it doesn't take away from their bold social commentary. We appreciate the way in which she discusses burning topics pertaining to life in Israel. One of her works in our collection depicts a gallery in a museum, but the staffmembers who usually remain behind the scenes are given center stage, virtually overshadowing the art that surrounds them. Transparent figures, such as museum employees and minorities in Israel, are the focal point of her attention. In the background there is a work by Philip Guston, another Jewish immigrant. Cherkassky-Nnadi ties his story to those of more recent immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia, recounting the continuous tale of the Wandering Jew." 

The average office might go for a rather low-key conservative collection, but that is not the case here. More than a few works in the Shibolet collection are quite challenging, i.e. Moshe Gershuni's Shalom Soldier. "I personally admire Gershuni's hardcore political commentary in the 1980s, and think this was his strongest period. I'm not deterred by the fact that a work of art employs the vocabulary of abjection to speak about such themes as sexuality and death, as long as it is a good work. This piece in particular is highly representative of his oeuvre. Naturally, not every work can be shown in an office, but to me it solely depends on just how nuanced and stratified the work is."

The connection between law and art is not obvious at first glance, but perhaps one could be made. "I doubt that there are many legal practitioners with an artistic way of thinking, and I guess the reverse is also true," says Shapira, "although in a way, artists and legal practitioners tend to be concerned with moral questions of justice, truth, and wrongs in society."

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