Although Jerusalem is not typically associated with a large art scene, there are numerous galleries around the city, and you have probably passed many of them without even realizing they were there.Jenna Romano founded Contemporary Art in Jerusalem (CAIJ) to try to bring these hidden art gems to the fore and make the capital’s art scene more accessible, especially to those who do not live in that world.Originally from New York, Romano received a BA in Museum Studies at Arizona State University. After working in art galleries in both New York and Paris, she moved to Israel and began studying the art scene and writing and editing art write-ups.“As an art enthusiast, it has always been a priority for me, no matter where I live, to get intimate and acclimated with the art culture that surrounds me,” she says.“I was surprised at how progressive the Jerusalem art scene is and how in tune it is with the international art movements. However, I also realized how little people knew about it and how hard it was to discover.”CAIJ was initially founded as an online guide to the Jerusalem art scene to give a platform for people who want to get involved and access information easily.Romano wanted to expose the English-speaking community in Jerusalem, in Israel and internationally to the art scene in the capital. In addition to the website, CAIJ sends out a weekly newsletter including information about new exhibits, gallery talks and recommendations of places to visit. “Jerusalem has a very small community of artists but they are very talented. This is mostly as a result of Bezalel Academy for Art and Design, which is the top fine arts school in the country. The students study at Bezalel for four years, and when they graduate, they normally move to Tel Aviv, as there is not enough exposure in Jerusalem, but we are trying to change that in order keep the students here,” says Romano.Although the center of Jerusalem is full of galleries with Judaica art, many in the art industry consider these to be “souvenir” shops that do not offer any benefit to contemporary artists in Jerusalem. The contemporary art scene can be found in the galleries that are consistently changing their exhibitions. In Jerusalem many of these art galleries are either city funded, notfor- profits or co-ops.For those looking for a more detailed peek into the Jerusalem art scene, CAIJ offers guided gallery tours in English that enable you to learn about current exhibitions, discuss the interpretations of the art and meet and speak with participating artists, curators and other art professionals. CAIJ currently offers three types of private tours – gallery tours, museum tours and studio tours – all of which can be adapted to a group’s particular needs (more details can be found on the website www.caij.co). Most of the tours take place around Nahlaot, Musrara and the city center, but CAIJ also does tours of artists’ studios in Talpiot and guided tours in the Israel Museum.“Some people who come on the tours have an art background and want to see the character of the Jerusalem art scene. Others have no art background and it is a good introduction to the world of interpreting art and connecting to art,” says Romano.“For locals it is a good way to understand more deeply the city of Jerusalem, and for tourists it is a look behind the scenes of the art world and a new side to Jerusalem for those who have either been here many times or are looking for a unique experience.”There is also a monthly public tour for 10 to 15 people that is advertised in the weekly newsletters and on social media. Each consists of visiting four or five art galleries in different neighborhoods of Jerusalem and at each gallery Romano discusses the exhibition, the artists included in the exhibition and interpretation the artwork. There is usually the chance to meet with a professional in the field in each gallery (curator, owner or artist), and visit some street art along the way.To understand more about the contemporary art scene in Jerusalem, I took part in a recent tour.We started at The Jerusalem Artists House on Shmuel Hanagid Street, which originally housed Bezalel when it was founded in 1906. As well as passing through the permanent exhibition, we focused on the special exhibition that was part of the Biennale for Drawing in Israel. It featured one breathtaking piece which includes the digitally produced wallpaper made up of drawings by the artist and had many of us mesmerized. Our second stop was at the Barbur Gallery. Hidden in the back streets of Nahlaot, this non-profit art gallery was founded more than 10 years ago by students from Bezalel. Aiming to be a gallery “for the community and by the community,” it provides artists a space to express their creativity without any limitations.
The third stop was Agrippas 12, accessed through an alley and up a back staircase from the main road. This cooperative gallery was one of the first established in Israel because Jerusalem-based artists had no space to work from or exhibit in. There are now 15 member artists and they curate a variety of exhibitions and personal shows. We were hosted by one of the members who is originally from Russia and who had co-curated the current exhibition in the gallery.The final stop of the tour was at Rosenbach Contemporary on Hess Street (off King David Street), the only private gallery in Jerusalem devoted to exhibiting and promoting contemporary Israeli Art. The gallery was opened by Uri Rosenbach around 18 months ago and features a series of group and solo exhibitions. My favorite piece on show at the time we visited was Perfect Imperfections, a 2015 oil-on-canvas work by Mindy Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who was one of the first children born in Bergen-Belsen. Wiesel’s solo exhibition “Meditations in Love” is on show at Rosenbach Contemporary until May 2.
We ended our tour at HaMiffal, an art and cultural center in an abandoned 19th-century building off Agron Street. The small café-bar there serves vegetarian dishes and incredible fresh herb tea, and was the perfect location to de-compress with the group and discuss some of the striking art pieces we had seen.For now, Romano is running the business alone, but as it gets busier she is hoping to expand and bring in other art professionals as tour guides.More info: https://caij.co/