"Broken Promised Land"

Shai Kremer's subtle treatment of Israel's disfigured landscapes
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REVIEW "Broken Promised Land" is a distracting title for Israeli photographer Shai Kremer's exhibit at the Robert Koch Gallery. Though broken dreams and bombed-out promises are certainly present in the 11 color photographs on display from Kremer's seven-year project shooting Israel's militarily disfigured landscapes, it's ultimately the subtlety of his work that defines its wide-ranging resonance.

Kremer also has shown works from this series at New York City's Julie Saul Gallery. They grabbed the title "Infected Landscape," part of the name of Kremer's forthcoming monograph from Dewi Lewis Publishing, advance copies of which are available for perusing at Robert Koch. That name is fine but "Broken Promised Land" might have been more potently called "Earth" — or in Hebrew, "Eretz." Kremer's exquisitely lit land of riddled targets, separation walls, and military training centers with their sad, flimsy, make-believe villages appears simultaneously abandoned by humanity and swarming with energy, spiritless and ghostly. The edges of the landscapes feel as if they're about to swallow up entire scenes and spit them out, dispensing with the human elements. Burned Olive Trees and Katyusha Crater, Lebanon War (2006) combines the beauty and timelessness of a Mediterranean hillside village with a scar in the landscape so severe that every glance reveals something different in the foreground: a controlled burn; a clean photograph of an olive grove, mounted on a dirty one; or the destruction wrought by a rocket. Shooting Defense Wall, Gilo Neighborhood, Jerusalem, Israel (2004) displays a wall strangely painted to blend in with the street and landscape.

Kremer, born in 1974, shares a broad affinity with younger Middle Eastern artists such as Oraib Toukan, whose interest in cultural memory is returning significant results. "My goal is to reveal how every piece of land has become infected with loaded sediments of the ongoing conflict," Kremer has stated about the series. Unfortunately, he's immensely successful.

BROKEN PROMISED LAND Through May 31. Tues.–Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Robert Koch Gallery, 49 Geary, fifth floor, SF. (415) 421-0122, www.kochgallery.com

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