Looking back at the last decade of art, many artists
and curators speak of the unprecedented international success of
Israeli artists. Less spoken of but equally important is the widening
of the artistic establishment here - both in terms of institutions and
galleries. And yet despite the flurry of activity, it doesn't seem that
any unique movement or contribution to art has as yet been identified.
"One can feel that there's much more intensity in
the art world," says Jerusalem-based painter Amnon Ben-Ami. "Lots of
galleries are opening in Tel Aviv and artists multiply by the hour.
There are also more and more exhibitions of foreign artists in Tel
Aviv. Jerusalem is still marginal, but even here there has been some
He adds that more Israeli artists are also now showing around
the world. "During my visit to the US last summer I came across the
works of three Israeli video artists: Keren Tsiter in New York, Yael
Bartana at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boston and Guy Ben-Ner at
Indeed, it seems that the buzz around Israeli art abroad circles more around video art than any other medium.
a number of reasons, this has been a decade of establishment," says
Timna Seligman, who curates the Ticho House of the Israel Museum. "If
during the 1990s we were talking about the breakthrough of Israeli
artists on the international scene, this became more matter-of-fact
during the 2000s. Artists such as Yael Bartana, Michal Rovner, Guy
Ben-Ner and Sigalit Landau all exhibited at major international
museums. It became accepted that Israeli artists would be part of large
group shows at international biennials and art fairs such as the Venice
Biennale, Documenta and Art Basel."
But this was a decade of establishment in another way as well,
with art institutions opening and expanding their infrastructure in an
unprecedented way. In 2000, the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design
opened its graduate program in Tel Aviv, headed by sculptor Nahum
Tevet. In 2001, the Israel Center for Digital Art began its activities
under the directorship of Galit Eilat. In 2003, the Ashdod Museum of
Art was opened under the directorship of renowned curator Yona Fischer.
2004, Rivka Saker founded ARTIS, a nonprofit advocacy group for
contemporary Israeli art abroad. In 2005, the Center for Contemporary
Art, founded in 1998 and directed by Sergio Edelstein, moved from a
small room in the Tel Aviv Cinematheque to its own building next to the
Kalisher School of Art. In 2006, Bezalel announced an architecture
competition for a new undergraduate campus in Jerusalem's city center.
In 2007, the Bat Yam Museum of Contemporary Art began its
activities under curators Milana Gitzin Adiram and Leah Abir; and in
the same year, Israel Museum director James Snyder announced a complete
overhaul of the main campus. In 2009, the Shenkar Multidisciplinary Art
Department, headed by Larry Abramson, moved into the renovated Elite
Building in Ramat Gan. And just a few months ago, Doron Rabina, an
artist and curator who came on the scene in the 1990s, took over as
head of Hamidrasha School of Art at Beit Berl College from Yair Garbuz,
who had taught there for 36 years and for 12 years had been its
ALONGSIDE THIS growth there was also some unavoidable
reflection. These were, in Seligman's words, "milestones that made the
Israeli art establishment take stock of itself, take a look at its
history and try to tell and retell the narrative." One of those was the
centenary of the founding of Bezalel (1906-2006). Another was the 60th
anniversary of the state, which brought with it a countrywide
exhibition with six museums each showing a decade of Israeli art. Not
every exhibit was equally successful, but they were attended by viewers
from all over the country.
"By having the exhibition of each decade exhibited at a
different museum and curated by a different curator," continues
Seligman, "we ended up with a wide view of the history of art - with
focuses changing from decade to decade in a way that would not have
happened if it had all been one mega show."
Snyder, director of the Israel Museum since 1996, says that
when the idea for the state's anniversary project was advanced, "we
immediately asked to be assigned this most recent decade." The
exhibition that developed was Real Time: Art in Israel, 1998-2008. "Our
collective feeling in the museum was that, in the last 10-year period,
Israeli art had taken a quantum leap in terms of expansion of its
horizons, success in the mastery of emerging creative mediums with new
potential for artistic expression, and liberation of a frame of mind
about local identity and global connection. This simply had not been
possible on a wide-ranging scale before the cultural and technological
globalization that the last decade has experienced."
In his introductory essay to Real Time, curator Amitai
Mendelsohn wrote of the "the 2002 Helena exhibition, [in which] Avner
Ben-Gal, Ohad Meromi and Gil Marco Shani explored the boundaries
between civilization and savagery, the urban and the natural, the
flagrantly sexual and the safely concealed." The show was considered
groundbreaking at the time.
On a more general note, he adds that, "[a]lthough most leading
young artists do not deal directly with the reality around them, they
do react to it, either with prophecies of approaching doom, by means of
a return to wild primeval worlds or by conscious flight into
alternative realms that offer a form of spiritual redress, however
YET SOME artists remained decidedly committed to a local stance
independent from the establishment. With increased buying activity came
a reaction against the immediate commercialization of young artists.
According to Ruth Zadka, executive director of the Jerusalem Artists
House, this began with the creation of the Sala-Manca Group in 2000 by
Lea Mauas and Diego Rotman. "[They] said, 'We don't need to wait for
galleries to exhibit us,' and showed young artists that all they need
is an idea and drive." Throughout the decade, alternative spaces,
short-term exhibits and performances appeared throughout the country.
Young artists came together of their own initiative to open and run
galleries as collectives - most notably Barbur in Jerusalem and Darom
in Tel Aviv. After the economic crash of 2008, some of the established
galleries started following the ways of smaller independent
initiatives. In April 2009, the Rosenfeld Gallery had not only hired
young curator Sari Golan, whose experience came from alternative
exhibits, but had moved to South Tel Aviv's industrial complex of
Kiryat Hamelacha, home to many artists' studios.
institution that put itself on the map in the past decade as one of the
country's centers for contemporary art was the Haifa Museum of Art. For
Tami Katz Frieman, who has curated at the museum since 2006, the
language of art itself has changed over the last decade. She believes
it has to do with a larger and more grandiose scale - a showiness
related to the artwork's production. She explains that in her exhibits
at the museum, she has tried to highlight three central elements she
believes relate to recent art: increased emotionality, the use of
deception through optical effects/illusions and a strong element of
obsessiveness in terms of craft and material. Her most recent show, she
says, explores changes in the perception of the body through the
grotesque - a notion she also believes relates to the last decade.
Snyder points to a similar overall development in the last
decade. "The world changed dramatically in this period," he says, "and
many new mediums for artistic expression began to emerge from
technology - photography, digital composition and recomposition, DVD
and installation - all mediums where Israeli practitioners seemed to
exhibit a natural facility, so that their creative production started
to set a course as leaders rather than followers worldwide."
ALONGSIDE THIS flurry of international attention, Seligman also
finds herself "thinking about the artists who passed away during this
decade - the indelible mark that they made on Israeli art and the sense
of loss at their passing." She mentions Moshe Kupferman, Raffi Lavie,
Lea Nikel, Yehiel Shemi and Gideon Gechtman - artists who matured in a
less globalized world and didn't see the kind of international
integration that some Israeli artists see today.
And yet, "they were each, in their own way, responsible for the
shaping of Israeli art as we understand it today. So much focus is
placed on the 'next big thing' when, in fact, we need to reflect and
recognize the role played by these great artists in creating an
environment ripe for the innovation, creation and artistic exploration
necessary for the success of the upcoming generations of Israeli
Zadka reminds us that the "decade started with the second
intifada in 2000 and ended with the economic crisis in 2008."
Large-scale global terror flourished alongside global economic
irresponsibility. "It's a decade of embarrassment - both global and
local," says Zadka.
art world, like others, becomes more global and fluid," observes
Ben-Ami. "A much more difficult and interesting question is whether
something of interest has happened in Israeli art in last 10 years. Is
something exciting or new happening here?" Zadka is willing to take a
chance at an answer: "Art is meant to reveal something beyond what is
happening. And unfortunately, I didn't see anything like this in
Perhaps this has to do with the growth of the art scene in
every direction - and hence without any single, focused development. Or
perhaps the decade passed too quickly, before a signature artistic
style could say its piece. Or maybe the question of what happened in
the last decade is less relevant than another question: How will the
unfolding of the last decade be taken up and used by the artists of the