Willy Neumann: Question everything

(Photo by David Gordon)

(Photo by David Gordon)

While serving in the Israeli Army Reserve, a duty required of every Israeli citizen since 1971, Willy Neumann told his commanding officer he would not fire on West Bank Palestinians. His feelings about war are expressed in a series he did on spears and art. The pieces vary in size and in spirit, from a whimsical Kilroy cartoon face to a deadly serious elongated military jet, the spear’s modern descendant.

“I’m an opinionated person,” he said. “Art is my way of giving my opinion.”

Some 30 years of the expression of those opinions will be on display at the Saugerties Performing Arts Factory Saturday, Aug. 24 through Sunday, Sept. 1. The opening night, Aug. 24 from 6–9 p.m., will feature a performance by the Saugerties Community Band. On Aug. 25, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, the exhibit will be open from 3–9 p.m., with live music on Saturday, Aug. 31. The performer has asked that his name not be revealed prior to the performance date, Neumann said.


Neumann studied at the School of Plastic Art in Israel prior to his military service and following an apprenticeship to a graphic designer. When he finished his military service, he moved to the United States, where his girlfriend was completing her master’s degree in musicology at Juilliard. They were married, and Neumann became a citizen.

“I was painting, but I wanted to be a sculptor, and I began peeling pieces off the canvases,” Neumann said.

Several of these pieces, with shapes standing clear of the canvas, hang on the walls of his Livingston St. studio. Much of Neumann’s work is playful, like the huge blue egg or the various pieces that play with light and shadow. Another series, inspired by the availability of large diameter wooden logs—which he could never get in Israel—spawned a series of large carvings, which Neumann calls “do touch,” in contrast to the customary “do not touch” signs on most sculpture.

Then there’s the vanload of assorted dowels Neumann got from a factory in Brooklyn. “I didn’t want to make sculptures that were dowels into the air,” he said. “I cut these dowels into thousands of pieces, glued them into sculptures and threw colored light on them from all kinds of angles.”

As he prepares for the SPAF show, Neumann is also gearing up for his annual trip to Brooklyn to paint the 60-foot shadow of the Twin Towers as it appeared before Sept. 11 on the Williamsburg street where his studio was located.

While the show is a retrospective of Neumann’s work, he will be selling pieces, a necessity since he recently broke his neck in a fall and has been unable to get around as much as usual.

“I want you to see that art is a language, and you can understand it,” Neumann says. “You can come into his world if you learn to see I, and to understand the language.”