Up to the moment

The here and now is on display at the Rosenbach Contemporary.

Elad Kopler, Untitled. (photo credit: PR)
Elad Kopler, Untitled.
(photo credit: PR)
Once upon a time there were places dotted around Jerusalem where you could get a taste of what some of the here-and-now artistically inclined creative minds were up to. But gradually the contemporary art outlets began to fade from view in the capital until there were none left.
The city’s first au-courant gallery for two decades, Rosenbach Contemporary opened three months ago on King David Street. If the current “Modernism 2016” group exhibition is anything to go by, the gallery will offer art lovers, and anyone interested in the plastic arts, with more than a glimpse of the energies and exploratory pursuits afoot around the country. There is some exciting stuff on display.
So what happened 20 years ago? What brought about such a prolonged dearth of showcase facilities for artists who preferred to feed off life as they lived it rather than dipping into collective heritage? “It is hard for me to know exactly what happened 20 years ago, but I guess in Jerusalem in general you have the very commercial art world. It’s called commodity art, with auction houses and commercial galleries, whether for tourists or whatever,” notes American-born gallery founder and owner Uri Rosenbach, adding that there has been quite a lot going on al fresco in the interim. “You have contemporary art in public spaces in Jerusalem, which is a very good scene.”
There is a pretty decent scene inside the gallery right now, as “Modernism 2016,” curated by British-born Nogah Davidson, exudes a sense of vibrant endeavor. The exhibition incorporates an eclectic array of mostly abstract works, such as the somewhat psychedelic Mother and Daughter pastel and ink painting by Galia Pasternak; Yanai Segal’s deceptively naïve-looking wood, polystyrene and acrylic stucco relief work Israeli Sunset, Summer; and Elad Kopler’s alluring Untitled oil painting. You get the feeling that the artists have gone out on a limb and are looking to carve their own niche, regardless of the weighty history embedded everywhere you turn in these parts.
Contrary to the Tel Aviv-centric line of thinking that the majority of artistic works that come out of Jerusalem invariably feature elements of Judaica, and sticking to the tried and tested heritage route, Rosenbach believes that the capital has plenty to offer in the way of envelope- pushing.
“There is an interest in contemporary art in Jerusalem, certainly in terms of culture. You see that in public spaces, but there has not been a commercial or private contemporary art gallery in Jerusalem for a number of years,” he says.
Money, as always, comes into the reality reckoning.
“If you think about it, what’s easier to sell – a Rubin for $70,000 or a contemporary artist for $3,000? There’s a lot more money in a Rubin or a Kadishman,” he says.
That mind-set pertains to both the seller and the buyer.
“Obviously, if you don’t have the $70,000, you’re not even going to think about buying a Rubin, but it is a lot easier to sell expensive art to people with means. It is difficult selling contemporary works to them because they want to buy names,” Rosenbach explains.
Gallery owners and/or curators looking to make some headway in the more cutting-edge sector of the arena have their work cut out for them.
Galia Pasternak, ‘Mother and Daughter.’ (photo credit: PR)
“With contemporary art, it’s a much longer process,” says Rosenbach. “You have to take the artists from the beginning and build them up. It’s a whole process that not all galleries are interested in undergoing, and not all artists are willing to wait.”
Still, curator Davidson believes that the momentum is building in more adventurous directions and says that the crop that currently adorns the gallery’s airy and welllit interior is just the tip of the iceberg.
“This exhibition presents nine artists whose work reflects a renewed interest in Modernist aesthetics,” she notes. “Their return to this stylistic tradition is realized in their intra-disciplinary, form-based studies, such as deconstruction, abstraction, color, tempo and composition; consequently, it is manifested mainly in painting.
The exhibition may be seen as part of a global shift declaring the rise of new, fresh painting that has revived the medium after years considered dead.”
It is, says the Jerusalem space curator and creative director, a burgeoning global trend.
“The past year alone has seen a number of extensive exhibitions surrounding contemporary painting."
Curator Nogah Davidson (photo credit: Courtesy)
Opened in December 2014, ‘The Forever Now’ was the first exhibition dedicated to contemporary painting to show at MOMA since 1984. Curator Laura Hoptman proposed that contemporary artists’ tendency to mix different styles of painting in a single work attests to their refusal to represent present times and attests to the generation’s atemporality,” she says.
Rosenbach clearly feels strongly about helping artists get their work out there, and says there is more fulfillment in facilitating the promulgation of current endeavor than in making a pretty penny by playing it safe.
“If you’re selling [the work of a well-known artist such as] a Chagall or a Rubin, whether the artist is alive or not, he or she does not own the painting [any longer] and does not get anything out of the sale. They get absolutely no satisfaction out of it. You are basically just selling a product.
Whereas when you sign up a contemporary artist and you have sold that person’s painting, it’s much beyond the money. It’s the satisfaction. It’s the satisfaction that the artist gets, and it’s the satisfaction we get. When someone comes in and appreciates the artist’s paintings, that is something wonderful,” he enthuses.
The gallery is centrally located at the corner of King David Street. Davidson says that gives the Rosenbach enterprise a competitive edge over the market players at the other end of Route 1.
“Most galleries in Tel Aviv are very obscure. You really have to know what you’re looking for to find them. For most of them, you have to go into a building and up four flights of stairs. And most of them are not even in the center of the city anymore. They are in south Tel Aviv, in industrial areas, and I don’t you think you are going to have tourists and other people just dropping in. This gallery is right in the center, and it is very visible,” Davidson says.
It certainly is, as is the eye-catching collection of works on display at the moment.
It is heartening to know that there is at least one spot in Jerusalem that is intent on spreading the contemporary artistic word. Hopefully in the not too distant future, there will be more where that came from.
“Modernism 2016” is on display until January 29. For more information about the Rosenbach Gallery: 050-751-6091 and www.rosenbach.co.il.