Welcome to the Herzliya Biennial

The driving force behind the biennial decision is Mayor Yael German.

By GIL STERN STERN GOLDFINE
September 20, 2007 11:15
Zoya art 88 224

Zoya art 88 224. (photo credit: )

 
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At last count several hundred biennials, triennials and art fairs dot the globe from Venice and Miami to Shanghai and Sao Paulo. And when we all thought enough was enough, the municipality of Herzliya, population approximately 95,000, decided to put itself on the art map and mount a biennial all its own. In the public interest questions must be asked and, hopefully, answered by those responsible for establishing this bi-annual art event. The most important are: Why is this biennial necessary, does it justify the NIS 2 million budget, has the municipality made a some form of official commitment for long-term continuation of the project and, most important, will it properly serve the entire community? The driving force behind the biennial decision is Mayor Yael German. Having campaigned on a platform to allocate serious funding for education, culture and the arts, German has, in addition to the resources made available for numerous cultural institutions, supported the visual arts through the activities of the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, under the curatorial leadership of its director Dalia Levin. Although Levin has admitted she was somewhat skeptical about German's plans for the establishment of a biennial, she pushed ahead once the mayor insisted and earmarked a hefty sum to get it off the ground. And so, the first Herzliya Biennial of Contemporary Art, thematically entitled The Rear, will be on view between September 23 and October 1 and present an exceptional cross section of works by 75 Israeli artists at 16 venues, all in the proximity of Herzliya's city center, the newly gentrified Sokolow Circle crossed by Chen and Ben-Gurion boulevards. The major exhibition thrust, including the municipal building, warehouses, storage halls, bomb shelters, apartments and shops, is a short 10-minute walk to the museum, also harnessed as a major biennial site. For visitors arriving from outside Herzliya, a shuttle bus running every quarter of an hour from the railway station and outlying districts will provide transportation to the biennial's major points of interest. Levin has surrendered the curatorial duties to Joshua Simon, a young (28) academic with minimal institutional experience but with lots of ideas and twice as much energy, while she has maintained the title of artistic director and will serve as a watchdog over the entire arts segment. Yehuda Ben-Ezra, adviser to the mayor and director of the culture, youth and sport department at the municipality, is the official director of the happening. At a recent meeting with Levin and Simon, the question of community involvement and what the organizers were doing to attain maximum exposure and develop an interest among all segments living in the city and neighboring suburbs was raised. Considering the biennial will run for only seven days (international biennials and expositions run for a few months), four of which are the Succot holiday, and on a limited daily schedule from 5 or 7 to 11 p.m. (a total of 38 hours), how will it impact local residents and the more than 14,200 students. At NIS 52,630 an hour of exposure one hopes the money will be well spent and, at the end of the day, leave some residual effect on the public at large. Posting an informative catalog to an audience of 80,000 Herzliyans will kick off the biennial's advertising campaign, to be followed by ads in local newspapers, street posters and neighborhood promotions. A key feature according to Simon is the posting of properly trained guides at most venues whose sole objective will be to answer questions and explain, if need be, the works on view. Or is the biennial being used as a quick fix for the organizers and curatorial staff who are presenting particular kinds of art forms and media, while making a concerted effort to bring foreign guests, critics, museum people and local aficionados of the arts from outside the Herzliya/Dan region to view the displays? This was definitely not the objective according to both Levin and Simon. Simon indicated that, although he is heavily involved in new media art (digital art, photography, video, installation and conceptual pieces), the biennial will include a good number of more traditional works, especially painting. Both Simon and Levin also made sure to point out that several established artists, including favorites like Yair Garbuz and Jacob Mishori, and from the middle generation Ido Bar El and Roee Rosen, have been invited to show. But the majority of participants have been drawn from the ranks of the young and the very young (including recent art school graduates) who will supply works of an intriguing and confrontational nature, if not always polished artistically and professionally presented. The concepts of classicism, beauty and aesthetics are not necessarily included in Simon's everyday vocabulary. Interesting, shocking and novel are more appropriate. In any event the artists have been requested to address the biennial's theme, The Rear. Either they have created works unique to the subject or have pulled items from their portfolios to satisfy the curator. For the sake of creating a positive biennial atmosphere, The Rear focus has been stretched to its limit and beyond: the home front versus the front line, civilian society in opposition to the army, private and state confrontations, labor and capital and contemporary art and the avant-garde. The issue of joining ranks with other cities in the coastal region and in close proximity to Herzliya, notably Tel Aviv, was raised. To increase the visibility and exposure to a much larger captive audience and distribute expenses, the idea seemed obvious. But Levin indicated that Tel Aviv is planning its own biennial for 2009 and the initiative was dropped. Other cities in the periphery were not keen on the suggestion or could not muster the funds to participate. What is the fascination with a biennial or massive periodic exhibitions and fairs? Other than to expose more artists than can be shown in a single closed venue, there seem to be few other reasons unless the show is pluralistic, encourages artistic standards, is open to international artists, promotes a fascination with the avant-garde and, like in Venice, maintains country pavilions. If Herzliya's biennial proves to be a success for the participants as well as the community at large, and is documented as such, the 2009 exhibition, competing with Tel Aviv, will have to be expanded to include artists from abroad. At least that will provide a real target, an opening to the global art village and a good reason for moving forward. For information regarding days and viewing times call: (09) 951-1304 or visit www.herzliya-biennial.com.

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