Holy Moly

Despite the overwhelming sensation of postmodern radical chic, there is more than enough substance here to make for a compelling show. Gilad Ophir's stark black-and-white photos from Kiryat Rishon, a development of tract houses in a suburb of Tel Aviv, are outstanding. Ophir photographs these generic homes for the upper middle class in varying states of construction; his bleak, unpopulated landscapes are a sharp contrast to typical images of awesome ancient architecture or lush kibbutzes.

Ariane Littman-Cohen cunningly embraces a cliche -- and transcends it stupendously -- in Holy Land for Sale, a wooden crate filled with small sacks of dirt. Earth from Jerusalem and water from the Dead Sea are commonly sold as tourist souvenirs. But Littman-Cohen has given the concept a wonderfully subversive twist, by convincing Arim, a government-owned company, to participate in her work. Arim, whose logo is embossed on the bags, administers technological development projects throughout Israel, essentially selling off the scared land for capitalist gain.

The Bass's upstairs galleries are devoted to sections titled "Anxiety and Terror" -- which includes Lin's Cold Blood -- and "Local Identity/the 'Arab' and the 'Israeli'." This last subject is subtly evoked in two beautiful abstract paintings by Tsibi Geva, one of the few artists who successfully take banal images and make them their own.

The first painting, a large, lightly textured work that takes up an entire gallery wall, is inspired by the flecked pattern of the typical terrazzo floor tile found in most Israeli apartments.

Geva says he first became interested in the tile as a subject because of its Arab name, balata, by which it is also known in Israel. Balata is also the name of a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. As Geva studied the surface of this common material he'd never taken particular notice of before, he began to think about its significance in both Arab and Israeli cultures.

"For me the idea is to take an object that is a symbol of the other, to work with it and to learn to talk through it, so it develops new meanings," the artist explains.

His other painting, Kaffiyeh #21, is based on the black-and-white Arab headwear typically identified with Palestinians. Geva has been making paintings inspired by the head covering for some years; in this version the scarf's gridded pattern has evolved to look like a chainlink fence, floating over a row of vertical stripes that recall the design of a Jewish prayer shawl, or tallis. The painting can be interpreted as a symbol of the violent conflict and common bonds of two cultures or appreciated simply as a lyrical abstraction.

"There's a relationship between a romantic and a frightening feeling, which I think is very typical in my country," says Geva, aptly capturing the atmosphere in both his homeland and his work. "That's what you feel when you live there."

Desert Cliche -- Israel Now-Local Images. Through June 30. Bass Museum of Art, 2121 Park Ave, Miami Beach; 673-7530.

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