Fine art for the masses

Now in its fifth year, Fresh Paint providesa venue for galleries to promote their featured artists.

Love Birds 521 (photo credit: Vered Aharonovitch)
Love Birds 521
(photo credit: Vered Aharonovitch)
Spring has sprung, and once again the local art world is preparing for its annual rite of spring. Artists, art critics, gallery owners, museum curators, art lovers and art collectors all over the country are excitedly gearing up for yet another Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair in Tel Aviv. Now in its fifth year, Fresh Paint has become the largest and most important art event in Israel, attracting more than 30,000 visitors every year, and turning untold numbers of firsttime art viewers into committed enthusiasts. Fresh Paint uniquely provides both a venue for many of the leading art galleries in Israel to promote their featured artists and showcase their works, and a major platform for talented new artists to display their work and launch their careers. This year’s fair, Fresh Paint 5, will light up the night from May 15 to 19 at a large, newly constructed high school in north Tel Aviv.
Fresh Paint was launched in 2008 by Sharon Tillinger-Shafir and Yifat Gurion – two non-artists yet obsessively serious art lovers – who wanted to tweak the Israeli art scene and bring art closer to the general public, especially to people who had shown little or no interest in art before. Driven by the desire to proverbially take art “out of the halls and into the streets,” Shafir and Gurion created Fresh Paint not only make art more accessible to the general public, but also to do it in ways that are fun. A wide and colorful array of activities thus goes on for five festive nights, all under one roof, to bring people and art closer together.
Shafir and Gurion’s second goal has involved creating ways for artists to actually live off their art. Fresh Paint is not an art exhibition. It is a professional art fair, at which works of art are for sale. And most of the participating artists do sell paintings and sculpture at the fair. Some launch professional art careers – careers that will enable them to live and work full-time on their art, without having to resort to the grim necessity of holding down “day jobs.”
SO WHAT goes on at the fair? First, there are the galleries. This year, at Fresh Paint 5, no fewer than 25 leading contemporary art galleries will participate. The galleries range widely in types and styles of contemporary art, and each gallery decides what content to present in its space. Each gallery also decides which of their artists to present, and they present some of the leading artists of the country in honor of the fair. Some might showcase as many as five artists, or more, while others, like Tel Aviv’s Gordon Gallery, choose to feature just one.
Gordon Gallery owner Amon Yariv, 37, says “the market for art in Israel is very small, I think. But it has been growing rapidly over the past few years, even during the... economic crisis. Fresh Paint gives us a chance to meet many of our existing clients and to create new clients, new collectors – even people who can’t make the decision to buy a work on the spot. They call us later to close the purchase. And of course it’s also very good exposure for our artists.”
But the heart and soul of the Fresh Paint art fair is the Artists’ Greenhouse, a launch pad for promising new artists. Here, relatively unknown painters and sculptors not yet represented by galleries can display and sell their work. The opportunity to exhibit their work alongside established contemporary art galleries enables these new artists to introduce themselves to curators, gallery owners, collectors and to the public at large. It also enables them to sell their work and to begin to make a living from their time and talent.
Being new and unknown, however, are by no means the only qualifications for artists to get into the Greenhouse. They must go through a grueling process of selection. Artists must first submit a portfolio of their works online, through the Fresh Paint web site, which are then turned over anonymously to an international panel of judges composed of high-profile people from the world of art. The panel changes every year. This year’s panel is composed of museum curators and gallery directors from Israel, London and Berlin. Artists who pass through the panel of judges are invited for a personal interview with Fresh Paint’s art curators, where they can mount a more comprehensive presentation of their work. Artists talented or lucky enough to leap this final hurdle make it into the Artists’ Greenhouse.
Once in the Greenhouse, artists can’t help but feel the refreshing breeze caused by so many doors being opened to them at once. Not only do they benefit from the exposure, but awards and money are now within reach. Each year, for example, the Igal Ahouvi Art Collection bestows its Most Promising Artist Award to one of the Greenhouse artists. The award carries a cash prize of NIS 40,000, as well as a solo exhibition at the next Fresh Paint fair. The winner is announced on the opening night of the fair.
PRONOUNCED WINNER at last year’s Fresh Paint, Natalia Zourabova will be displaying around 10 large paintings at her solo exhibition this year. Born in Moscow 36 years ago, Zourabova says that she has been an artist since the age of 20. She immigrated to Israel eight years ago and lives in Tel Aviv. At first sight, her paintings remind one of the illustrative art of high-end comic books and graphic novels.
“I am trying to create a mixture between painting and storyboard,” Zourabova says. “It’s not animation, and it’s not comics, but a lot of elements from animation and comics are in my paintings. I’m telling stories, usually my personal stories, but they’re not about me. They are my personal stories about the world. It’s like a storyboard, but you can’t follow the story. You feel that there is some strong story within the painting.”
Zourabova says she sees a “strange connection” between her work and that of the “Peredvizhniki,” a 19thcentury movement of Russian realist artists who created narrative paintings to be understandable and relevant to the masses, and who brought their work to the people in traveling exhibitions.
As for winning the Most Promising Artist Award, last year’s most promising artist says, “It changed my life. It was like an explosion. I’m very grateful for Fresh Paint. I think it’s very important for our country. This kind of art fair provides enormous opportunities for young, unknown artists.”
And, while not exactly an award, an expert panel of Sotheby’s auction house each year chooses one noteworthy artwork by an independent artist exhibiting at the Artists’ Greenhouse. The work is offered for sale at Sotheby’s international art auction in New York the following December. All expenses are paid by Sotheby’s and all proceeds go to the lucky artist. Last December, independent artist Ido Abramson’s photograph Welcome to Lebanon#1 was sold for $5,300.
Another fortunate artist is Vered Aharonovitch, who states her age as “almost 32.” While she may not have won any awards last year, her eyegrabbing works of sculpture in the Artists’ Greenhouse caused enough of a stir to have Fresh Paint commission one of her artworks for this year’s fair, along with those of other successful Greenhouse “graduates.” The amount of exposure this honor affords a handful of artists each year is enormous.
Having wowed last year’s crowds with such sculptures as Spiky Girl, Porcupine Girl, and a disturbing sculpture of a young girl twisting herself into painful yoga contortions while serving a plate of cupcakes – called Anything to Please You – Aharonovitch is back this year with her commissioned installation Love Birds.
“It is a cage for birds, pretty big, about life-sized,” the artist explains. “And in the cage there will be a sculpture of a little girl and some real live lovebirds. The girl will be a source of food for the lovebirds to eat, and the lovebirds can rest on her and stand on her arms. It’s a statement about relationships, dependency, devotion, and surrendering yourself. So it’s about that, and it’s about the ambivalence in this relationship.”
Aharonovitch also expects the work to look different toward the end of the fair. “At the start, everything will look clear, clean and nice. But during the fair, the birds will eat from her, they will scratch her, and they will defecate on her and make her dirty,” she says.
FRESH PAINT 5 will continue a number of popular programs that were introduced in previous years, such as the Video Greenhouse, where up-and- coming independent video artists are given a platform to present their work, and the Fresh Paint Salon, a program of talks, lectures, panel discussions, video screenings and personal encounters with artists and other figures from the art world.
A number of special community projects will be going on as well, including the ever-popular Secret Postcard. A crowd pleaser since Fresh Paint 1, the Secret Postcard program offers you the chance to purchase a small original work of art by either a famous or unknown Israeli artist, for NIS 180. Blank postcards are distributed to artists – 1,500 this year – who create a work of art on one side and sign their names on the other. Some of the artists are world famous, others are totally obscure. The postcards are then displayed at the fair, with their signed sides hidden. Are you getting an original Ron Arad, or something by an earnest but unknown senior art student at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design? You don’t know until you buy. This project has raised more than NIS 640,000 since Fresh Paint began, all of it donated to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Art Education Center program for outstanding young artists, to support art programs for disadvantaged children.
Another community project – new this year – is True Superheroes, designed to present a significantly different take on people with disabilities. Visitors to the fair will be able to purchase card games featuring the images of hero figures based on the personalities and attributes of children with disabilities. The figures were drawn by Bezalel students after they met with the children of the Shalva Association, a nonprofit organization that supports mentally and physically disabled children.
And finally, we come to this year’s venue for the fair. As veteran fairgoers are well aware, Fresh Paint venues change every year, each venue somehow quirkier than that of the previous year – always off the beaten track, and not yet well-known. These often eccentric new locations are thus also “launched” by Fresh Paint, just like the fair’s new artists. And because the locations keep changing, the fair looks new and different every year. Fresh Paint 1 was held in a renovated building on Kibbutz Galuyot Street. Fresh Paint 2 was at Hatahana, the renovated old railway station in Neveh Tzedek, and Fresh Paint 3 took place in Warehouse 1 at Jaffa Port. Last year, Fresh Paint 4 found itself in an eight-acre expanse in south Tel Aviv, near the Botanical Garden.
This year, visitors to Fresh Paint 5 may be able to actually smell the fresh paint of what will be called The New High School when it opens next September. The school is located at 3 Shoshana Persits Street in North Tel Aviv.
The fair will run from May 15 to 19. Opening hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For further information, and directions to the fair, visit