Written by Jacob Goldbas
Updated June 27, 2020
Originally Published February 5, 2018
Ronit Levin Delgado is a multidisciplinary artist from Tel Aviv, Israel, with international influences. Ronit’s award of a Fulbright scholarship in 2011 led her to New York City and she earned her MFA from the Montclair Art Institute.
The connection between Levin Delgado’s art and her life is curious. On December 15th, 2017, the artist opened a show of paintings about fire at Hadas Gallery in Brooklyn, near the Pratt Art School Campus. On December 19th, however, in a freak accident another tenant in Levin Delgado’s home apartment burned their building down. This uncanny coincidence makes the artwork that much more exciting.
Levin Delgado’s flame paintings have particular significance in Judaism and religion. In the case of the Sabbath, Jews light candles for dinner every Friday night, and of course Hanukkah is “the festival of lights”. Flame is a complex symbol because of its destructive aspect – its combustion is what makes it useful. This fundamental change is why Pre-Socratic philosophers, the Eleusians, were basically obsessed with bread and wine; the idea is change in objects also change the perspective of the person considering those objects. (Hopefully not too literally, as in the case of Ronit’s apartment!) Wine, which makes a person drunk, changes a person’s perspective in that way, and bread starts as wheat and is ground and baked until it’s food. In this way these three symbols also represent civilization, because they take time and cultivation in order to create them and use them effectively. Christianity didn’t get rid of these symbols of wine, bread, and fire, but made them more specifically objects of a specific faith, that is through Jesus Christ (that is, in Christianity one is urged to form her own perspectives).
Themes of repetition, impressionism, and the self are present in Levin Delgado’s “Moi” which is a painting painted entirely with kisses in the form of a self-portrait of an artist doing a kiss. Thus the painting’s title is also a pun on the onomatopoeia, that when people kiss they sometimes say, “Muah!” Levin Delgado here has subtle references to Jewish philosophy, and if not explicitly, she has kindred spirits with the existentialist philosopher and theologian Martin Buber, who wrote that, contrary to other existentialists, the conversations and discussions of people create a more true, more real reality, that after the I and the Thou there is a third entity, called the I-Thou, which in Rastafarian religion is called the I&I. Whereas certain artists might be caught, trapped in solipsism or lonely individuality, here Levin Delgado doesn’t have any question of whether her lover exists, or if she loves him (or her). He does, she does, they do.
This modular painting also tests the boundaries of painting by making the painting more craft-like. Art critics Michael Fried and Clement Greenberg were interested in pushing the boundaries of paintings-as-paintings (in philosophy: paintings qua paintings). So artists who embraced formalism or post-structuralism were lauded as exemplary of painting and art more generally. Jackson Pollack was considered to be in this category. By using kisses, instead of brushstrokes, Levin Delgado turns the act of painting into a physical testimony to her lover. Painting is a craft like glassblowing and basket weaving, with important differences between the two. Here Levin Delgado willfully bridges that lacuna and while I don’t think this painting is aesthetically her best, I do think this intelligent conceptualism is as good as the greatest painting.
This bridge between painting, women’s craft work, and action and image, is part of the reason why Levin Delgado’s performance art is so excellent. In her “Kissing Wall” series of artwork, Levin Delgado depicts the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, performing its ritual and focusing on the kissing aspect, creating a wonderful and strange complicities between the spirituality and Eros, in the form of a video art, photos, paintings and sculptures. In “Project Forgiveness” Levin Delgado’s Solo show at Sensei Gallery and Shachama in 2017 , the artist goes on a long self- discovery Odyssey to meet her long lost paternal family in Paraguay for the first time. This moving and poignant trip was documented the encounters from the first moment onwards, by accompanying photographer Mara Catalan, and transformed to a beautiful documentary short film and an installation work.
One of my favorite subjects in art is when an artist stops arguing and posturing and makes a work of art, regardless of whether it persuades the viewer or not. This action, of tearing down or putting up pretenses is a completely different game all together. This is especially poignant in Levin Delgado’s 2012 video art, “Holocaust Memorial Day,” where the artist contrasts the solemnity of the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel versus the absence thereof in the United States. In this film the artist turns off happy go lucky American pop music to answer the phone and listen to emergency sirens of the memorial in Israel over the phone. The United States has keen and I think appropriate amounts of grief – the Holocaust museums in New York City and Washington, DC that I’ve been to look the same as Yad Vashem in Israel – but we don’t have emergency sirens. This discrepancy between the willful ignorance and violent painful remembrance makes this piece of art harrowing.
Levin Delgado at a very young age has accomplished a great deal: having earned an MFA, a Fulbright Scholarship, and an apprenticeship with world renowned Israeli artist Nir Hod, Levin Delgado has led a big life and shows the rewards of daring to think big. Levin Delgado’s works were part group and solo shows in Israel, US and Europe. You can see more of her work at her upcoming shows: in March 2018 Levin Delgado will be participating at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show, “Stranger comes in town”, curated by Katya Valevich, in Times Square, New York, which is one of the art shows among the other famous shows such as Armory Show, along with the New American Art Dealers (NADA), PAPER Festival, openings in the Chelsea Galleries, among others, which is the most exciting week for arts culture in New York City and quite possibly the entire world.
Also, on February 28th Ronit will be performing at PPPPPPurim 2018: Prophetic Post-Patriarchy Purim Performance Party, at House of Yes in Brooklyn.