Mati Ale, an insurance assessor turned street art photographer, say people call him a dreamer.
“But I’m not a dreamer. I’m realistic. I do it,” says Ale of his latest project, an art exhibition on the seventh floor of Tel Aviv’s central bus station, which opened to the public on Saturday for one year.
The exhibition covers 1,000 square meters (10,765 square feet) of wall and features artists from Israel
and all over the world. It aims to promote street art while improving the look of the central bus station, which residents say has become a local eyesore.
“I passed here as a teenager when this place just opened,” says Oz Madar, curator of the exhibition. “It was filled with wonders,” he says, remembering the number of CD and magazine stores that once operated within the bus station.
Graffiti artist Haha (L) and interactive artist Debi Oulu work side by side (Photo: Aine Pennello)
Illustrator and recent Shenkar graduate Marian Boo works late into the night (Photo: Aine Pennello)
Referred to as “the white elephant,” the building was originally constructed in 1967, after the Six-Day War. But financial difficulties caused construction to stall for decades until the building was opened on August 18, 1993 by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat.
At 230,000 square meters (2,475,700 square feet), the central bus station enjoyed the title of the world’s largest bus station for 17 years until the Millennium Park Bus Depot opened in Delhi, India in 2010.
Zivink, a care worker and freelance illustrator, sketches a rough outline of his artwork (Photo: Aine Pennello)
Graffiti artist Haha adds some color to the seventh floor’s bare walls (Photo: Aine Pennello)
But the fortune of the station changed just before, in 1998, when bus platforms on the first and second floor were transferred to the upper floors. Deprived of foot traffic, shops on the lower floors quickly went out of business, causing the first and second floors to become shrouded in darkness.
“This place has become like a slum,” says Madar. “The elevators are blocked, you cannot go down and most of this place is empty.”
In January 2012, the owners of the building filed for bankruptcy.
The newly built seventh floor, opened in 2002, is also empty of retail units but has become home to several bus platforms that serve 3,000 to 4,000 passengers a day. In total, the bus station serves 70,000 people a day, including shoppers and commuters. But even station manager, Miki Ziv, said the floor needed a facelift.
“Before the artists, it looked like a hospital with all these white walls,” said Ziv.
But in these empty white walls, Ale saw opportunity.
“I thought, ‘This is like an open museum.’ And in my mind I was thinking, ‘This is my painting here, this is my other painting over here’,” says Ale.
Exhibition covers wide range of material including paint, spray paint, electrical materials and yarn (pictured) (Photo: Aine Pennello)
The project is Ale’s first exhibition and is part of the station’s wider project to bring art and culture events to the space. The station currently houses two theatres, an acting school, comedy club and gallery.
“To add some color to these hallways, it feels good already,” says Florentine graffiti artist Haha as she spray paints a seventh-floor wall with pastel colors. “This cleans up the air a little bit, it cleans up the vibe,” she notes.
The exhibition officially opened on Saturday afternoon with DJ music, break dancers and installations. Food and drink were also served.
Although the exhibition will be open for one year only, Ziv says another exhibition could be held next year if this year’s project proves successful.
“This is a pilot program,” he said.
The bus station will celebrate its 20th year of business this August.