Brussels sprouts

The Accessible Art Fair, a hot new trend from Belgium’s capital, debuts in Tel Aviv this week and gets a dash of White City cool.

Parisian Calligrapher's work 311 (photo credit: Michel D’Anastasio)
Parisian Calligrapher's work 311
(photo credit: Michel D’Anastasio)
If you have ever visited a modern art gallery and wondered what on earth a painting or sculpture was about – and then been further confused by the “artist’s statement” (those flowery, often incomprehensible descriptions that accompany an artist’s work) – then the Tel Aviv Accessible Art Fair might just be the show for you.
On display are works by 14 Israeli and European artists, and rather than reading dry descriptions of their art in a catalog, you can meet the artists in person and ask them to explain their work.
Who knows – you might even end up taking a piece of art home.
With prices starting at NIS 500, the idea is to make contemporary art affordable to a wider range of people.
The Accessible Art Fair concept is the brainchild of Stephanie Manasseh, a Canadian expat in Brussels, who came up with the idea three years ago as a way to bring ordinary members of the public into contact with artists. Now very popular, the fair is held in Brussels several times a year.
This week, Tel Aviv is hosting its own Accessible Art Fair – thanks to Stephanie Attias, an artist manager who made aliya from Paris five years ago.
“Every year I travel to art fairs all over the world,” says Attias. “Three years ago I visited the Brussels Accessible Art Fair, and just fell in love with the atmosphere. It felt very different from usual; less intellectual. It was warm, people were smiling and comfortable.”
According to Attias, what made the atmosphere at the Accessible Art Fair so different was the closeness between the art, the artists and the public.
“In Brussels, for the first time, I saw that people were close to the art on display,” she explains.
Attias was so impressed by the Brussels Accessible Art Fair she decided to recreate it in Tel Aviv.
“Tel Aviv is modern and dynamic. There are people living and visiting here from all over the world,” she says. “However, there is no single art fair that speaks to all of them. So I decided to open the Accessible Art Fair here and bring together artists from Europe and Israel.”
For its debut show, the fair has been kept deliberately small and intimate, with just 14 artists. Tel Aviv has always been an artistic hub, a meeting point and melting pot for Western and Eastern culture, and most of the artists taking part have strong connections with both Israel and Europe.
One such is visual artist Stéphane Zerbib, a selfdescribed “a citizen of the world” who combines a strong sense of Israeliness with more than a dash of the European.
Born in Paris, he and his family made aliya in 1976.
After serving in the IDF for three years and spending time on a kibbutz, Zerbib moved again – this time to Denmark, where he remained for 25 years, mostly working for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
“It was my chance to get involved with art outside of Israel, to expand,” he explains.
Two years ago, Zerbib felt a powerful urge to return to Israel and pursue his own artistic career.
“I felt Israel was where I was happy, and I wanted to return,” he says.
Zerbib set up his art studio and gallery, Shenart, on Rehov Frishman in the heart of Tel Aviv’s White City.
“Tel Aviv was not something I knew about,” he adds. “But I knew I had a possibility here.”
Working with various media and inspired by Pop Art, architecture, photography and the elements that surround him, Zerbib produces multi-layered, brightly colored artworks. Much of his inspiration comes from Tel Aviv itself.
“I decided to show Tel Aviv how I see it, not in a touristy way,” he says. “I want to create everything new and express how I feel about the city.”
Zerbib has several works on display at the Accessible Art Fair, including “City on the Move,” a piece from his colorful and abstract “Fusion” series combining 2D objects made from vinyl in 3D Perspex showcases.
With a swirling, colorful, happy and psychedelic Pop- Art-meets-Sergeant-Pepper feel, “City on the Move” is a whirling, spiraling ball of brightly colored vinyl shapes.
“This is how I feel about Tel Aviv,” says Zerbib. “It’s a huge ball of energy.”
The Accessible Art Fair is good news for Tel Aviv, adds Zerbib. “This event shows that art is alive here in Tel Aviv, that the city is blooming and people here are interested in art,” he says.
“There are many benefits. Many new artists don’t have a place to show their work to the public, and the fair offers them that chance. The public can get to meet artists and see what’s happening in the art scene.”
Exhibiting in Israel for the first time is Parisian calligrapher Michel D’Anastasio, whose beautiful Hebrew calligraphic works are inspired by a powerful story.
Several years ago, D’Anastasio discovered that his maternal ancestors were Sephardi Jews who fled Spain in 1492. On a trip to Israel to learn about his roots, D’Anastasio became entranced by the Hebrew language.
“This fair is very important for me because it’s the very first time I have exhibited in Israel,” he told Metro. “I fell in love [with Hebrew] during my first visit to Israel; and now, six years later, it’s opened a new world for me.”
Several Belgian artists, including regular participants in the Brussels Accessible Art Fairs, are also showing their works here in Tel Aviv.
AMONG THEM is multi-talented Sylvain Biegeleisen, a film director, producer, painter, photographer, musician, singer and now video-artist. The child of a Holocaust survivor, Biegeleisen was born in Belgium and now lives in Tel Aviv. His recent works include a moving documentary, Last Card, in which his 87- year-old mother talks openly for the first time about her harrowing experiences in the Shoah.
“I always think that art and creativity can allow people to reach a better place in their lives,” says Biegeleisen, who is the founder of the Lahav Association for the Promotion of Values in Society, a nonprofit running cinematic projects to help at-risk youth.
“What is interesting about the Accessible Art Fair is that there are so many different sorts of artists, both established and just starting out. I think that’s beautiful,” he adds.
“I also like that touch of intimacy about this fair. By meeting the artists, the public gets something more authentic than they could from just looking at the art.”
The Accessible Art Fair’s Belgian connections have attracted support from the Belgian Embassy in Israel.
“There is a lot of interest for Belgium in the Israeli art scene,” says Karel Tousseyn, deputy head of mission at the Belgian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Israel is home to around 6,000 Belgians, many of them dual nationals. Recent cultural links between Belgium and Israel include two sold-out gigs by Belgian rock band K’s Choice, and performances by two leading Belgian DJs at Tel Aviv’s Haoman Club.
Belgium and Israel are also famous for their worldclass dance companies.
In October, Belgian dance company Eastman, headed by Flemish-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, is scheduled to perform here for the first time as part of the Tel Aviv Dance festival.
“Stephanie [Attias] did very well to choose Tel Aviv as an addition to Brussels for the Accessible Art Fair,” adds Tousseyn. “Tel Aviv is the perfect scene to organize this kind of event.”
In celebration of these warm cultural ties, the Belgian ambassador will host a special Belgian Evening at the Tel Aviv Accessible Art Fair on Sunday.
Starting from 8 p.m., visitors will be able to imagine themselves transported to Brussels as they sip Duvel beer, eat waffles and enjoy Belgian music.
The guests will also become part of the art: Belgian- Israeli artist Biegeleisen will film people as they arrive at the gallery and screen the five-minute movie back to the audience an hour later, with a specially created sound track of voice and music.
Will Accessible Art fairs become a trend in Tel Aviv as they are in Brussels? Artist Stephane Zerbib is optimistic.
“There is an amazing bond between artists here, and so much energy,” he concludes. “I hope this is the first of 10,000 such fairs in the future.”
The Tel Aviv Accessible Art Fair runs until September 8 at the Gebo Art Space, America House, Sderot Shaul Hamelech 35, Tel Aviv. Entrance is free.

The Belgian Evening is on September 5, from 8 to 11 p.m..