Where does art stand in Israel today? (archives)
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The state of Israeli art today

How do art market, rising artists and schools fit into puzzle of public life in Jewish state? Art appraiser and gallery owner Sima Simon explains

It seems that over the past few months, every public issue has been part of a loud national conversation in Israel. In addition to the constant debate about politics and security, there were the "tzedek hevrati" (social justice) protests over the summer, and now a furious conversation about the role of the religious in Israel is dominating headlines.


But what about art? Where does art stand, and what role does it have to play in Israeli public life today? What about the art market, the rising artists, and the schools – how do they fit into the puzzle of public life in the Jewish state?


I sat with leading Israeli art appraiser and gallerist Sima Simon, co-owner of the Shorashim Gallery, which sits directly across from HaBimah National Theater in Tel Aviv, to find out.


So let's jump right in. What is one of the major trends in Israeli art today?


"There was once a certain type of painters who belonged to the Ofakim Hadashim ("New Horizons") movement that painted in a more abstract style. They were very much in fashion until about five years ago and the prices for their work were very high. Then about five years ago the prices just dropped. Today painting in Israel has moved away from the abstract and has become more figurative."


What changed?


"It's something that changes according to taste, and to things that create change in any other place – sometimes materials change and sometimes that it's an influence of what's happening in the world."


How is Israel influenced by art from the outside world?


"Everything that happens in the States or Europe comes to Israel within one or two years. It's sometimes delayed by several years, but it comes. We are very open to other markets and to other kinds of artists. The artists here are interested, they often go to Europe where they do a different kind of art, which they bring home with them."


But how is art developing natively in Israel?


"Art in Israel is developed by the art schools. There's really no other way to develop original art."


And how has that development changed over time?


"Today artists are not recruited artists. The recruited artists who worked here after the War of Independence (in 1948) had an agenda. They used to paint the situation of Israel, reflect the things that had started to develop in Israel. And most of them painted the same thing -- the scenery, the landscape, the population, the daily life. They really wanted to reflect what was happening in Israel.


"That changed. The change was brought by the artists who went abroad and saw something else, and by the artists who have become more and more individualistic. Today they want to reflect their own ideas, their own attitudes towards things that are happening here, and not necessarily in coordination with what the government wants, but rather to reflect their own difficulties, their own conflicts. They do not speak for the land."


Is it possible to identify Israeli art visually as something unique?


"If you look at what happened in the last few months with the 'tzedek hevrati' movement, it occurred in the same year, in the way as it occurred in Europe and all the countries that have the same kinds of difficulties with the economy. If an artist from one country reflects the situation in a painting, would you be able to tell the difference from an artist reflecting the same situation, but from a different country? I don't think so.


"Years ago, you could see the difference in Israeli art even in the colors. The colors were brighter because of the sun in Israel, and that could be seen in the work. But not anymore. Because artists do not go out nowadays to paint, they paint in their studios. So even the sun is not there. They paint the colors of their own home. And it doesn't have any correlation with what's happening outside."


So art in Israel has been globalized?




Do you think there's some kind of failure in this – in artists not speaking up for the people, for the poor, or for the troubled in this country?


"Sometimes individual artists are part of the poor, sometimes they are part of the oppressed, they come from these populations. So one voice of the artist might reflect the voice of the group, but not on a national level. It's individual, not national."


Does street art now play a significant role in the Israel art market or is it still marginal?


"It's still marginal."


What about prices, in context of the global art market and its notorious price bubble?


"The prices in Israel are reasonable, I would say. The demands of young artists sometimes look unreasonable, because some of them come out of the Bezalel School or other schools with good reputations and shoot a little too high with the prices. But in a short while they become more reasonable because they see it doesn't work.


"You won't be able to find a Warhol or a Damien Hirst (priced work) in Israel, because of the market, because no Israeli would pay that much.


"The most popular photographic artist from Israel is Adi Nes, a very well known artist. He's the leader of the photographic artists. His picture, The Last Supper, was sold for $264,000, it was the most expensive photograph ever sold by an Israeli artist. But it was sold in a resale. He didn't sell it for that much.


So there is international demand for Israeli art?


"Yes, of course. Art in Israel sells for tens of thousands, but no living Israeli artist sells work for hundreds of thousands."


What is the market dynamic?


"You have to gain some kind of international recognition to become well known in Israel. You really have to have some kind of connection with well known galleries either in the States or in Europe, because the market in Israeli is very small."


Is there a lower level of interest, less engagement in Israel, or is it just a matter of size, that Israel is a much smaller market?


"I don't think there's a lower level of interest in Israel at all. People who have a certain kind of socioeconomic level in Israel like art and have an interest in art. I see more and more young people going into galleries and taking more of an interest in art.


"The problem is that it doesn't start here in school, in school we don't get any art. We don't see, as in Europe, young children in the museums sitting there and looking at art. If we had it, we could expand the art market."


How can this be changed in the meantime?


"What we are doing at Shorashim educating people and allowing them to be more open to art. The people who come here are professionals, people who don't have any daily contact with art. They come here and become enthusiasts, and more willing and able to buy art because they gain some kind of context since they understand art and the differences between artists."


What role does art play in Israel today?


"I think art is a voice. I think it's an expression of what I would say right now, but can't say in words. It's a stage, like the stage of literature, we have the stage of art. I do believe that sometimes art's biggest role is in opening the eyes of the population. Without being too aggressive, or even too expressive, art can show things that people wouldn't be able to see without it. Art brings us a little bit up above every day life."


Which is something we definitely need in Israel.


Sima Simon is co-owner of Shorashim Gallery


Ashley Rindsberg is the author of Tel Aviv Stories  



פרסום ראשון: 01.09.12, 07:36
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