ART CITY ISRAEL
While Jerusalem is home to Israel’s major museums, Tel Aviv is its contemporary arts capital. It is a livelier, more progressive city, where young artists live, work and show their wares in more than 30 contemporary galleries, a third of which opened in the last two years.
Unlike art hubs like Berlin or even Dubai, Tel Aviv still feels intimate and undiscovered says The New York Times . Moreover, the emerging art displays a strength and seriousness that is undoubtedly informed by Israel’s entrenched contradictions and intractable conflicts. Art in this beachside city, it seems, stands for something.
“In Tel Aviv, it feels like every conversation, gesture, project and event has a sense of meaning to it that I’ve never felt in such concentration elsewhere,” said Shamim Momin, a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, who visited Tel Aviv for Art TLV. “Yet at the same time this place feels remarkably joyful and — dare I say — decadently laid back.”
But one thing the city’s art boosters are not laid back about is their plan to make Tel Aviv’s art scene, and Israeli artists in general, known to the world. Art TLV, started by a cadre of art dealers and curators, including Irit Sommer, Rivka Saker, Yehudit Shapira Haviv and Shifra Shalit-Intrator, was a rigorous five-day marathon that included lectures, openings, dinners, museum and home tours, private screenings and hourlong jaunts to Jerusalem.
MANY galleries are clustered along Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv’s most elegant street, lined with Bauhaus buildings, banks and the former mansions of the city’s founders. Running down the middle is a shaded pedestrian path dotted with tiny cafes and boules courts where old men play. As the art events got under way, it became a veritable runway for gallery-hopping curators and collectors.
A steady stream made its way to galleries like the Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art, a narrow two-story space on a palm-lined side street known for provocative and often amusing works, mostly by Israeli artists. On exhibit were a series of lushly colored photographs and time-lapse video still lifes by an Israeli, Ori Gersht.
But Tel Aviv’s sunny and casual art scene, like everything else in Israel, is tempered by Middle Eastern politics and bloodshed. Only four years ago, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a cheese shop near the intersection of Rambam and Hacarmel Streets, less than a mile from the galleries, killing three and injuring more than 30.
That peculiar way of life — a laidback Mediterranean vibe salted with an ever-present fear of violence — infuses the best of Tel Aviv’s contemporary art. At Dvir Gallery in the city’s north, large-scale photographs by Pavel Wolberg, a Russian-born photojournalist who lives in Tel Aviv, depict masked Palestinian youths with slingshots, Orthodox Jewish weddings and tense and often poignant interactions between Jews and Muslims. His images are defiant scenes of a young nation struggling to contain contradictions and honor traditions.
Other darlings of the Tel Aviv contemporary art scene include Rona Yefman and the sculptor Ariel Schlesinger. One could see Ms. Yefman’s grainy video “Pippi Longstocking, the Strongest Girl in the World, at Abu Dis,” which depicts a red-braided girl dressed as Pippi Longstocking beating on the wall that divides Israel and the Palestinian territories. The video is pitch-perfect in its razor-edged absurdity and was among the most talked-about works that week.
Mr. Schlesinger, an Israeli who lives in Berlin and shows with Dvir Gallery, makes absurdist sculptures like “Bubble Machine,” a messy if poetic scaffold of wood, wire, a drill and whirring metal parts. It’s a useless appliance whose sole purpose is to emit a bubble that drops, every few seconds, onto a searing grill. On impact the bubble bursts into flames, only to be repeated again in a vicious circle that evokes the combustible politics of the Middle East.
Similarly, the country’s nascent contemporary art institutions are both high-minded and risk-taking. The Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, once a dusty cultural center and war memorial on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, is now a serious art venue art with a socio-political bent. Its curator, Dalia Levin, champions Israeli artists like Sigalit Landau, who infamously videotaped herself bloodying her naked body with a Hula Hoop fashioned out of barbed wire.
During Art TLV, a new art fair, the London-based curator Andrew Renton brought a smattering of art cognoscenti to Israel for the first time. Many attended the opening night party for “Open Plan Living,” Mr. Renton’s sprawling group show at the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, part of the Tel Aviv Museum and widely considered the city’s most prestigious art venue.