Art world stalling? Not according to this int'l spot in Israel

Suzanne Landau, prominent Israeli curator, teams up with businessman-turned-art adviser Steeve Nassima to launch an artistic platform: "We are unbeatable"

Steve Nassima and Suzanne Landau. (photo credit: MEIR COHEN)
Steve Nassima and Suzanne Landau.
(photo credit: MEIR COHEN)
A mere few days before the government ceded to protests and allowed the partial reopening of the country’s largest museums, Belgian-born entrepreneur Steeve Nassima and veteran Israeli curator Suzanne Landau had already celebrated the inauguration of their own new art space. While most galleries and other cultural institutions in Israel remain closed for the foreseeable future because of coronavirus-related restrictions, theirs has quietly opened its lavish gates in a newly renovated building smack dab in the center of Tel Aviv’s Ahad Ha’am Street.
Is their timing a bit strange, and perhaps even giving away a brash lack of solidarity with the rest of the Israeli art scene? Perhaps, but the duo don’t really seem to be fazed by the upheaval that has sent the art market spiraling since the pandemic first broke out this year. They are also not particularly miffed by those turning their noses up at their decision to launch an art foundation dedicated to the presentation of artworks by first-rate and emerging international artists while galleries showcasing Israeli creators are grappling with threats of closure.
Nassima, an avid art collector, art adviser and businessman who made his fortune in the diamond industry, confidently asserts that together with Landau, “We are unbeatable.” His unwavering faith in his new professional partner is understandable. Landau is one of the most prominent figures in the Israeli art industry. From 2012 to 2018 she served as the chief curator and director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Prior to that, she was the head curator of Jerusalem’s Israel Museum.
I meet the two at Nassima’s private residence, which is conveniently located steps away from their novel venture and is scattered with impressive oeuvres that he has collected over the years. Seated across from each other, they complete each other’s sentences with the ease of long-time collaborators. Landau chooses her words carefully, weighing each answer with the political consciousness appropriate for a longtime member of the art sphere who stood at the helm of large establishments, while Nassima is boisterous, quickly responding to my questions with determination.
“This place is not a gallery in the conventional sense of the word. We prefer to call it an art space. It’s important to say that we are not a gallery, because a gallery represents artists, which we are not going to do,” she notes but then pauses and quickly glances up at Nassima, who smiles widely. Landau wavers, then decides to leave her reply open-ended. “Maybe we will,” she adds.
A painting by Israeli artist Nirit Takele at the Nassima Landau art space (Courtesy: Monocle)A painting by Israeli artist Nirit Takele at the Nassima Landau art space (Courtesy: Monocle)

Sales matter
The idea to establish the spot “happened very spontaneously,” Landau recollects. She and Nassima wanted to partner in order to hold a pop-up exhibition, but then “Steeve saw this amazing place in this wonderful location, and we realized that this space could be used for something more,” she explains.
Nassima doubles down on his initial confident statement, stressing that “it didn’t even cross my mind that we’re in the middle of a pandemic” when they signed the contract and began extensive renovations, giving the old building at a bustling metropolitan intersection a serious face lift.
Everything is boring, nothing is happening right now, so why not take an amazing initiative and do something? Was I afraid of failure? Absolutely not,” he goes on. “The quality of the works we will bring here is unprecedented, the professionalism of the team is unprecedented. I am not ignoring the enormous economic crisis, but I think that it’s led to the opposite effect. We have all been confined, people are looking at their homes in a different way, and I think that they now want to have more nice artworks on their walls.’’
They intend to run the place as a foundation boosting the careers of successful artists, and propelling to stardom those who are at the very beginning of their professional path. Landau shares that they are toying with the idea of operating a residency program in the space, whereby artists could create site-specific works and use the grounds as their studio. Each year, visitors can expect up to four exhibitions.
In order to achieve their goals, Nassima, a businessman at heart, underscores that the Nassima Landau has to be “economically justified. We need to have sales to support our activities. It’s already happening, the first show is an enormous success. It’s almost 90% sold already.”
Nassima insists that he isn’t sharing this figure just to boast.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of. At the end of the day, we will only survive if we get Israeli collectors to understand that they need to support us. Not because they’re doing us a favor, but because they will realize that there is no reason for them to go to galleries in Hong Kong, New York or Los Angeles. They now have within their reach, for the first time, an opportunity to find quality they thought they’d never see here.”
Featuring eclectic works by a range of international artists, the Nassima Landau opens amid coronavirus crisis (Courtesy: Monocle)Featuring eclectic works by a range of international artists, the Nassima Landau opens amid coronavirus crisis (Courtesy: Monocle)
Nassima Landau’s first exhibition, High Voltage, is dedicated to figurative paintings. It features the works of artists Henni Alftan, Derek Aylward, Jonathan Edelhuber, Marley Freeman, Christopher Hartmann, Jammie Holmes, Danielle Orchard, Woody de Othello, Hilary Pecis, Gideon Rubin, Lise Stoufflet, Nirit Takele, Ann Toebbe and Guy Yanai. Landau highlights the fact that “this is the first time that all of these international artists are being exposed in Israel, but we will also show Israeli artists, it’s very important to us.”
Rubin, Takele and Yanai are all Israeli, and all three are considered to be very well known locally and abroad.
Landau explains that she chose to give a platform to works of figurative painters because she believes there is a dire lack of such creations in Israeli galleries.
“When you do a tour of galleries in Tel Aviv, you won’t see a lot of paintings. Mostly sculptures and installation works,” she laments, whereas “in Chelsea, 70% if not 80% of the galleries are showing figurative paintings right now.”
Landau also wishes to highlight the fact that “this is the first time that all of these international artists are being exposed in Israel, but we will also show Israeli artists, it’s very important to us.”
And what are their plans for the future?
“To go with the flow,” Nassima replies with a laugh. At such uncertain times, his response is not illogical.
Nassima Landau will be open to visitors by appointment starting next week at 55 Ahad Ha’am Street, Tel Aviv. To book a visit, email info@nassimalandau.com.
Nassima and Landau want to operate as a foundation that would be spot and propel to stardom emerging artists (Credit: Monocle)Nassima and Landau want to operate as a foundation that would be spot and propel to stardom emerging artists (Credit: Monocle)