Gordon Gallery comes to town with multilayered art experience

What, pray tell, could get one of the coastal metropolis’s favorite arts scene movers and shakers to make the momentous decision to open a branch in Jerusalem?

 The Gordon Gallery's new Jerusalem outlet happily settled into industrial Givat Shaul (photo credit: Gidon Levin)
The Gordon Gallery's new Jerusalem outlet happily settled into industrial Givat Shaul
(photo credit: Gidon Levin)

As a former resident of Tel Aviv who, albeit via several geographical stopgaps, relocated to Jerusalem and then moved on again, I have a keen sense of the cultural divide between the country’s two largest urban centers.

It often seems to be a “never the twain shall meet” scenario, to borrow from Rudyard Kipling’s popular 1889 ditty “The Ballad of East and West,” on all sorts of levels.

So what, pray tell, could get one of the coastal metropolis’s favorite arts scene movers and shakers to make the momentous decision to open a branch in Jerusalem? And we’re not talking just Jerusalem. The new Gordon Gallery branch is snuggly ensconced in one of the grungiest, most begrimed parts of town, deep within the industrial structure innards of the Sapir Center in Givat Shaul.

Looking out from next to Ofer Lellouche’s monolithic, sensually tactile The Hug bronze sculpture, in the center of the gallery’s front display area, one gets an immediate palpable sense of the unlikely interface between quotidian proletarian city life and the attractively designed haute couture, if not rarified, interior of the renowned contemporary art concern. It makes for interesting aesthetics, if nothing else. But, somehow, it all seems to fit.

GALLERY OWNER Amon Yariv believes he’s onto a winner.

 The interior is well-lit and welcoming (credit: Gidon Levin) The interior is well-lit and welcoming (credit: Gidon Levin)

“A lot of people who come to Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, come here thinking about other things,” he observes. “They might be thinking of the Israel Museum or Bezalel or even Musrara.” He says Gordon offers them a different kind of multilayered art experience. “They come here and they can find a contemporary gallery, exhibitions, and maybe find what they get at the Israel Museum but on a smaller scale, in the context of a gallery.”

Yariv and the gallery certainly have the accrued street cred to set their stall out there. The original premises were opened by Yariv’s father, Shaya, together with Atal Broida, on fashionable Gordon Street in Tel Aviv, in 1966.

At the time, Broida talked about a wish to draw people to the gallery, get an idea of where their personal art wind is blowing, and induce them to acquire some artwork that brings them pleasure rather than a creation of an established artist, or of the current flavor of the month in artistic circles.

That credo has been maintained by Yariv since taking over the business from his father in 2004, and one that has paid dividends over the years. Today, Gordon Gallery owns one of the largest private collections of Israeli art around, with works out on loan at such prestigious repositories as the Israel Museum, Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art.

Is there an ulterior motive behind what appears to be an audacious strategic move? Is Yariv trying to bring Tel Aviv eastward down Highway 1? Or is the idea, perhaps, to infuse a little of Jerusalem’s zeitgeist into artistic fare from over there?

“Neither nor,” comes the no-nonsense reply. “I’m not bringing Tel Aviv here, and I’m not trying to impact on Jerusalemite artists.” Fair enough. “I am opening a place in Jerusalem, and offering something that people may be used to encountering in Tel Aviv.”

Yariv does own up to harboring a desire for some personal added value. “Every time I do something of significance, I learn something new. When we opened up in southern Tel Aviv, I learned a lot from that operation, and now here in Jerusalem.”

While the locale is certainly different from the gallery’s current main Hapelech Street space not far from Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa, which opened in 2016 exactly half a century on from the gallery’s birth, or the outlet around the corner on Hazerem Street, which hosts works by the younger crowd, the line of thinking has not strayed from the philosophy crafted by Yariv Sr. five-and-a-half decades ago.

“I hope visitors here gain an image of the best that contemporary Israeli art has to show,” says the founder’s son. “I think people who are looking for that will come here.”

The new display facility offers a take on current artists and their work in the capital, in a very different environment from the established stalwarts of the local scene, such as the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Artists House and the Museum for Islamic Art, and even the Musrara art school. It certainly adds to the commercial gallery spread in Jerusalem, which is pretty sparse.

If Yariv had any misgivings over the local adventure, that does not come across, neither in him nor the gallery on the third floor of Building 3 at the Sapir Center.

“When I first started thinking about opening up in Jerusalem, I thought I’d let it run for two or three years and see how things are going. But, as you can see, I’ve settled in here and invested quite a lot in this place.”

And it shows. There is, indeed, something inviting about the gallery, notwithstanding the standard white walls and bare concrete – albeit smooth as a baby’s bottom – floor. As you push the door open you leave the detritus of the industrial zone behind and enter a completely different world. Then again, this is no cloistered cocoon. The “real world” is there in full unabashed view, as you inspect the exhibits. The apparent discord only serves to embellish the gallery experience, and underline the requisite life-art reciprocal nutrition pipeline.

Truth be told, 46-year-old Yariv is no stranger to this part of the world.

“I studied at Bezalel [Academy of Arts and Design] for four years,” he notes. “It was a very good time of my life.”

He majored in photography and has quite a reputation in the field, with a solo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum, at the tender age of 32, under his professional belt. In this part of the world you don’t often come across a gallery owner who is also a bona fide artist.

Interestingly, Yariv opted for septuagenarian multidisciplinary Lellouche and late expressive painter Aviva Uri, who died in 1989, as the curtain-raiser. I wondered whether he wanted to start out by playing safe, with artists people would probably recognize.

“I knew what I didn’t want,” he laughs. “I knew I didn’t want a whole of pile of ‘souvenirs’ of each of my artists, so I could be nice to all of them, and display works of a uniform size.”

He says he wasn’t looking to pander to local interests either. “I didn’t want a Jerusalem artist. There are wonderful artists in Jerusalem. My stable includes former Jerusalemites.”

The opening over at Givat Shaul provided Yariv with a pretext for turning the clock back and also marking the Gordon timeline. “I recently acquired these works by Aviva Uri, so it was a good opportunity to exhibit someone with whom the gallery started out, back in the 1960s. And these paintings came to the studio recently. She was an important artist in general and also significant to the life of the gallery.”

Lellouche brings us right up to the here and now.

“This is something that is fresh out of the studio. He has a classic approach, and it is current and valid. All these things led us to believe this is a reasonable choice [for the opening],” he adds with a touch of understatement.

Further on down road, visitors to the Sapir Center can expect to be introduced to some of the live wires of the current scene rather than the more iconic stuff. “I won’t go for [20th-century classical-style Israeli painter Reuven] Rubin and [symbolist painter Mordecai] Ardon. I think there is enough of that in Jerusalem.”

If anyone is capable of striking a fine balance between cutting-edge art and making ends meet, it is Yariv.

“I grew up in the world of auction houses,” he notes, as we settle down at an immaculate glass-topped table to the rear of the unit. “It is a sphere I know well.”

He feels that that insider grassroots handle can help to move the new outlet along accordingly. “You see things as they really are, without the [intervention of the] gallery owner, without the artist, the museum or the art critic, without all the advocates.”

That down-to-earth modus operandi should stand him and the Jerusalem gallery in good stead.

“I was always happy that my life engaged in living artists, who are creating today,” he says, although adding that it is not always about keeping one’s finger firmly on the pulse of the emerging talent. It is about ensuring one’s options are open, and constantly checking the lay of the land across artistic domains. “It doesn’t have to be the youngest, coolest artist around. The way we set up, and with the various exhibition spaces we have, allow us to combine all these elements within a defined approach. We may not always be the first to headhunt someone fresh out of art school, but we do our homework.”

IT WILL be interesting to see how things go for the Gordon Gallery as it takes its first steps into the arts sphere in the capital, and to observe the impact of what could be a game changer for the whole local community.

“It is very exciting that the gallery has come to Jerusalem,” says Lee Hee Shulov, co-director and curator of the Artists’ Studio in Talpiot, and co-founder of the city’s main annual art gallery event, Manofim. “I think it is a very significant development here.”

Shulov feels that Yariv’s decision to make his mark in the Jerusalem art sector is not just the result of some drive to expand the Gordon Gallery’s marketing hinterland.

“Amon is from here,” she says, referencing his student days. “His heart is here.”

It is not a decision Yariv took lightly, even with his personal local ties. “It is not easy to establish this sort of operation, and to put on eight to 10 exhibitions a year,” says Yariv. “It requires a lot of effort. You really have to want to do it. I would be happy for others [commercial galleries] to come over here.”

Time will tell whether Yariv’s plunge into the Jerusalem breach paves the way for more Tel Aviv-based arts ventures to cross the Highway 1 divide.

The Aviva Uri and Ofer Lellouche exhibitions close on February 2.

For more information: www.gordongallery.co.il