The little gallerist that could

Tali Cederbaum's gallery Tal Esther is a testament to the power of self-confidence and commitment to emerging artists

gallery 88 (photo credit: )
gallery 88
(photo credit: )
Without doubt, Tali Cederbaum is one of the most unassuming yet highly respected players in the Israeli art world. This thirty one year old is smart, internationally savvy, has one of the best pair of eyes in the country, but there's not a phony cell in her body. Cederbaum knows what she likes, says what she feels and over the past six years, rose from relative anonymity to the lips of top curators, collectors, gallerists and not least, artists all over the world. Her story-and that of her gallery, Tal Esther, is an uplifting testament to the power of self-confidence, ambitious vision and commitment to young, emerging artists. While Cederbaum has been living in Jaffa and operated her exhibition space on Yehuda Halevy Street in Tel Aviv, she grew up in Haifa and attended the WIZO Art High School there. Even though she was enrolled in the fine arts curriculum, Cederbaum claims she always knew she didn't have what it takes to be a great artist. Not that she lacks visual talent, but even as a teenager Cederbaum realized her true calling: to run her own gallery. Still in high school, the not-yet a businesswoman was friends with artists and gladly began to collect her classmates' artwork-some of whom she still works with today. In pursuit of her dream, Cederbaum jetted off to the University of Manchester to study Modern Art History, after a truncated period of military service. At this point, she already had a sophisticated sense of hip culture outside of Israel. As a little girl she spent summers in her father's native Sweden, and as a teenager, she devoured magazines from abroad such as The Face from England. Even today, popular culture plays a huge role in the way that Cederbaum approaches, selects and presents art. Thus, it's not surprising to hear her call the pop artist, Andy Warhol "the most important artist for our generation." This comment also reveals the way Cederbaum often relates best to and focuses on what's relevant to people in their twenties and thirties. In fact, when Cederbaum returned to Israel and prepared to start her gallery in 2000, the only people who gave her guidance and support were quite young. She admits that she had no idea what she was doing at the time and thought that "people under thirty were the only people worth listening to." However, even though she lacked experience-or even an experienced mentor, Cederbaum had plenty of two things: artist friends and a passionate desire to start a new gallery according to her own unique taste and personality. As she says: "when you see something great you know it; this is my excitement" and an encapsulation of her straightforward philosophy for selecting art to expose in the gallery. At least at first, mature members of the Israeli art world were not particularly interested in helping Cederbaum, despite her intellectual rigor and cosmopolitan demeanor. At the time, the Tel Aviv art establishment was skeptical and completely un-collegial towards the then twenty-five year old and her brand new gallery. Nevertheless, "everyone" in the art world showed up for Cederbaum's exhibition openings from the very beginning. When asked why, she coolly replies: "I'm good at inviting people and I always have good wine." Indeed, Tali Cederbaum is a talented hostess and every Tal Esther event reflected her low-key social network of not-yet-emerging artists, local club "kids" and whatever Cederbaum happened to be into at the moment. Naturally, collectors and other art world big shots fell for Tal Esther's refreshingly laid-back yet smart ambiance. For many people, it was a treat to mingle with real artists in the gallery's lumber strewn backyard during openings. At Tal Esther, diverse types of visitors felt welcome and at-home. In fact, for many local artists and art lovers, the gallery became a regular hangout and a meeting place for the creative community in Tel Aviv. Inside the gallery, Tal Esther's art was also inviting. In a typically physical metaphor, Roy "Chicky" Arad, one of Cederbaum's artists and a gallery regular, explains that Tal Esther's exhibitions "tried to hug, not push away viewers". Unlike traditional Modern galleries that try to distance themselves from what's happening on the street, Cederbaum shamelessly allowed her interest in popular culture to affect her choices for the gallery. Tal Esther began to develop a reputation as the "Pop Art" gallery of Israel, despite the fact that the work she showed does not technically fall into that category and Cederbaum insists that she reveres Warhol as a conceptual-not as a Pop artist. Yet after three years in the business, Cederbaum's position within the Israeli art world began to shift. The turning point: Daniel Silver's 2003 exhibition in Tal Esther. Even though Silver has since taught at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and has won prizes here such as the Ministry of Education and Culture's Young Artists Award this year, the London born and based Silver was unknown in Israel at the time. Nevertheless, Cederbaum noticed on the night of Silver's exhibition how art world people began to talk and look at her differently, with a far greater degree of respect. By then, it seemed that Tali Cedebaum had truly "arrived" in the Israeli art scene-even in the over-thirty category. In fact, during Silver's exhibition, a famous Israeli artist of the prior generation, Moshe Gershuni, approached the younger artist. Silver and Gershuni began a conversation about their work, and decided to go to the studio to see what might emerge by working in tandem. The result of Silver and Gershuni's experiment with form was a series of sculptures that delighted Cederbaum as well as Gershuni's gallerist, Noemi Givon of Givon Gallery in Tel Aviv. Eventually, the collaboration between the artists grew into an exhibition in Tal Esther called Both of Them in July 2005. Logically, the two gallerists also began to forge a strong bond. Today, Tali Cederbaum considers Noemi Givon to be "a true colleague." While Cederbaum insists the two galleries have "very different things to offer"- Givon's niche is chic and established while Tal Esther's is hip and emerging, Cederbaum respects "the way Noemi works, her sincerity" and the feeling is mutual. Now, with forty-seven exhibitions in the Yehuda Halevy space to her credit, it's easy to see why Tal Esther is well regarded, but Cederbaum's work extends beyond the physical confines of the gallery. For example, Cederbaum has built relationships with artists such as the New York based Anat Shalev who continues to develop as an artist in part due to Cederbaum's support. Over the years, Cederbaum has installed Shalev's artwork in group and solo exhibitions in Yehuda Halevy, but the two women have also worked together outside of Israel. This past June, Tal Esther installed a solo exhibition of Shalev's collages using colorful, patterned papers and embroidery works, at the Liste Young Art fair in Basel, Switzerland. Art lovers from all over the world came to Tal Esther's booth to marvel at Shalev's masterful use of the media to create high energy yet harmonious pictures that seem to vibrate before one's eyes. Today, most galleries in Tel Aviv aim to raise awareness about Israeli art in the international sphere, but this has been a concern-and strength of Cederbaum for years. Thus, despite her dramatic success here in Israel-artist Boaz Kadman calls Tal Esther "a victory" for young creative people, Tali Cederbaum is now relocating to London to be with her boyfriend, the aforementioned artist, Daniel Silver. Even though the exhibition space on Yehuda Halevy Street is now closed, Cederbaum plans to maintain her storage facility here full of art and she will curate a few exhibitions in Tel Aviv this fall. Cederbaum-and the artwork she loves, will also be seen at NADA, the New Art Dealer's Alliance, in Miami this December. While she has not yet announced whether or not she will open a gallery space in London, the move can only be good for her and the artists she will continue to represent. Two things are certain: the Israeli art community will miss Tali Cederbaum but she'll be back- long before she's forgotten.