ArtPort opens the door for local artists

ArtPort’s big idea is that any great society needs great artwork to support critical and artistic ways of thinking.

WORKS BY ArtPort alumnus Leor Grady (photo credit: YOUVAL HAI)
WORKS BY ArtPort alumnus Leor Grady
(photo credit: YOUVAL HAI)
The life of an artist is often solitary. Used to working alone in their studios, producing in their homes or moving from gallery space to gallery space, some say they would appreciate becoming a part of a team.
This rings true for Yael Frank, a professional artist and teacher who is preparing for her residency with ArtPort, an Israeli organization that supports artists for a year’s time. The residency was founded by Jason Arison, CEO of the Ted Arison Family Foundation, which fully supports six Israeli artists per year, offering them a private studio, living accommodations, courses and personal training sessions, as well as a NIS 5,000 stipend to help them get by in Tel Aviv.
ArtPort’s big idea is that any great society needs great artwork to support critical and artistic ways of thinking. The program went on a two year hiatus after its original space – which was inside of a Bezek shipping container on Ben Zvi Road in south Tel Aviv – was closed down by the property owners. The new space is no container. A sprawling multi-level, multi-room facility, the building at 8 Ha’amal Street has nine studios, three offices, a large conference room, dining area, two kitchens, a den and a gallery space.
Frank is one of seven artists who will take advantage of the new space, which is flooded with sunlight dancing against the white walls. This year, the program has seven artists instead of six, because there’s one artist couple in the mix. 300 applied for positions. Frank, who accepted in a heartbeat, says she’s excited to get working on furthering her artistic path with the support of other professionals.
“Because I am self-represented and I don’t belong to a gallery, the developing I’m doing is only to my best understanding, and this year at ArtPort will be a rare opportunity to not be alone in these steps,” Frank explained. “The program means I get support – not just financially, but the support in the form of other people’s experience and professional skills. I am really looking forward to the experience of having other people as a part of this process that I am usually in by myself.”
Frank is already planning her project for the upcoming year, which will be an art installation of several cat trees, which are typically standing structures covered by carpeting that cats use to scratch their nails and stretch. The program gives Frank the unique opportunity to take a break from her teaching career to work on her arts.
WHILE FRANK is just getting started, a resident alumni named Leor Grady reminisced on his time during the program in 2013, when ArtPort was only in its second year. Grady was freshly back to Israel after having left his home country for 17 years. The year he began the program, he finally returned to Israel from New York and used ArtPort as a way to integrate himself back into Israeli culture.
“ArtPort just seemed like the perfect opportunity for me personally to be in Israel, make art, get in touch with the place I left and see how it could work for the future,” Grady explained. “It just seemed like the perfect opportunity personally, professionally and identity-wise. It was one of the reasons why I stayed in Israel.”
The artist was able to take his show from that time – called Some Girls – to the Kav 16 gallery, which still exists today. Oftentimes galleries have a short run.
The show compared two famous Israeli female singers: Ofra Haza and Dana International. Grady’s cathartic idea was that “men in a way killed Ofra Haza, and Dana International in a way had to kill the man within her in order to live.” Haza allegedly died from AIDS that her manager-turned-husband infected her with. Contrarily, International changed her sex from male to female and then spent the rest of her life struggling to showcase a feminine identity.
Some of the pieces from that show included: a mirrored cover wall draped with pleats – so that if you pull away the skirt, you’re looking at yourself; a threaded piece – a poem arranged with Haza’s album covers; and a muted video showing the similarities in how the two women sing and perform.
Grady also used his time with the program to come up with a second idea that landed him an opportunity to run a solo exhibition at the Hakibbutz gallery in Tel Aviv. The show, On Natural Worker is a concept Grady came up with while at ArtPort that landed him a solo gallery show from December 2016 until February 2017. The focus is to shed light on the Zionist narrative from the point of view of Kinneret Yemenites who lived in that area between 1918-1930. Grady says their story was overshadowed by the classic Zionist narrative, despite their contribution, sacrifice and devotion.
According to the program’s director, Vardit Gross, this is called the Ripple Effect. Often, ArtPort doesn’t show immediate results for artists, she explained, but ideas exchanged during the program can often shape the work artists make down the line.
THE RESIDENCY PROGRAM will continue with the same parameters as before. That includes six Israeli artists for the one year residence, and programs for international artists and curators who are invited for shorter periods. Some of the projects within the system include exhibitions, an annual art book fair, talks from international artists, professional workshops and reading groups. Gross says one rewarding part is seeing the artwork transform over borders and into new cultures. Her favorite project is creating small artist books that show a bit-sized sample of participant’s work. ArtPort has been able to sell those books on proper displays at fairs around the world – particularly in New York and Paris. All the money from the book sales go straight into artists’ pockets.
Parts of the program made up for the artists are centered on professionalism. Workshops are offered to help producers write artist statements and create proposals, as well a special course – the “how to write an email to Americans” workshop.
“Really, I think artists all over the world need it, and in Israel they need it more,” Gross said. “The level of professionalism is different here. I do ‘how to write an email to Americans’ workshops because I can see how often things are lost in translation. Israelis are much more direct.”
Gross has some perspective. She, too, took a break from Israel and lived in New York, before returning home, assuming the role of ArtPort’s director and eventually taking on the enormity of opening a new studio space.
“Artists often feel they’re sitting in the studio and they don’t know what’s going to happen next – they want the art to speak for itself,” she explained. “As you know, there are amazing artists in Israel. But that’s not enough and a lot of what we’re doing is making people understand that the answers they need are in the room. At the end of the day – your colleagues know most of the answers.”
The building and all its nooks and crannies will be revealed to artists and the public alike on Thursday evening at 8 p.m. with an exhibition spanning two floors – including the gallery and some of the studios – called Back to ArtPort, showcasing some works by the program’s Israeli alumni. Some of those names – in addition to Grady – include Ronit Porat, Ido Michaeli, Einat Amir, Yair Perez, Rafram Chaddad and Guy Pitchon.
Gross says visitors should expect drinks, art and a whole ton of people. The exhibition will cover the walls of two floors, including the gallery space and some of the studio spaces. There is however, one big difference between the old location and the new one – the new spot is more central than the last, and has an open-door policy. Gross wonders what type of inquiring neighbors might drop in to appreciate art.