Gallery with a mission

A mixed-media exhibit called ‘.WORLD’ now in Tel Aviv showcasing the works of 14 international and Israeli artists aims to educate the public about the importance of art.

‘Sadat’ by Barbara Nahmad, 2008 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Sadat’ by Barbara Nahmad, 2008 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was hard to be “weird” on Hollywood Boulevard around 40 years ago. Amid the sleaze, the drugs, the street musicians, singers and performance artists, and the endless gaudy parade of hookers, pimps, panhandlers and drug-driven crazies that ornamented the area back in the 1970s, you really had to work at being weird.
As difficult as that was, however, two elderly Jewish guys rose to the challenge and succeeded.
In the middle of all the action, they owned a small shop that sold place mats – washable, plastic place mats to put on the dining table before you set down the plate containing your corned beef sandwich, potato salad, half-sour pickles, and glass of Diet Coke.
These were not just any place mats, however. They were “international” place mats, each one decorated with words, phrases and sentences in a foreign language.
The old gentlemen claimed to have place mats in “dozens and dozens” of foreign languages, and signs around the shop promised customers the opportunity to “learn a foreign language while you eat.”
Visions of this quirky place and those wonderful old guys sprang back from the depths of memory recently on a visit to “.WORLD,” a new mixed-media art exhibition at the Ermanno Tedeschi Gallery in Tel Aviv.
Showcasing the works of artists from Israel, Italy, Hungary, South Korea and the United States, the exhibition aims to bring people together through art.
Says Jenny Hannuna, co-owner of the gallery and one of the organizers of the exhibition, “We are bringing 14 artists from all over the world to have a dialogue on what it is to be internationally minded, and also on the collapse of cultural and linguistic borders.”
Hence the name “.WORLD.” The dot before the word signifies an Internet address, suggesting, it would seem, that the address of each artist is the whole world, and not merely the country in which he or she lives.
Co-owner Ermanno Tedeschi is even more to the point. He says, “The title of the exhibition is ‘.WORLD,’ and the meaning is to bring all people together. We think that art can do this... that art is the best ambassador for peace in the world. For example, in this exhibit you will see the works of Barbara Nahmad, an Italian painter. She did a painting of [David] Ben- Gurion, and another of [Anwar] Sadat.”
With all due respect, however, to the organizers of this exhibition and their good intentions, most of us know that paintings of Ben-Gurion and Sadat are no more apt to bring people together and unite them in peace than an “international place mat” is likely to teach you Italian or French. We can appreciate art without expecting it to work miracles.
Fortunately, there is a lot in this exhibition to appreciate. Nahmad’s paintings, with obvious references to the work of Andy Warhol, are visually striking and immediately hit the viewer with full force. At the same time, they invite closer inspection and seem to offer insights into the personalities of each of these iconic figures that we may not have noticed before. Maurizio Savini presents us with the image of a little girl – sculpted from chewing gum, no less – that holds a rolled-up map of the world and gazes thoughtfully at the viewer. The title of this work is “Do We Have to Atone for Everything?” – a question apparently being posed by the little girl.
David Kassman’s triptych Melted City fascinatingly depicts a midtown Manhattan that appears to be decomposing in the night; and Riccardo Gusmaroli’s World presents the Earth’s continents in the midst of whirlpools of movement – movement of water, wind and paper boats full of people and ideas.
There is the very simple, like Valerio Berruti’s simply sketched I Wish I Was Special, and the highly complex, like Tobia Rava’s Code RaMHal, which presents us with an intricate optical illusion of an inner courtyard – replete with pale sunlight and shadows – constructed entirely of kabbalistic numerology and combinations of Hebrew letters.
ABSTRACT ART is well represented in works by Robert Sagerman and Minjung Kim, and there are compelling works of sculpture by Alex Pinna, especially one called Alias, portraying a faceless, nameless citizen of the world relaxing comfortably in what appears to be some sort of gilded cage. The viewer is left to wonder whether he is living in the cage under duress, or willingly.
Other works in the exhibition pose equally interesting questions. The viewer will have to ponder them on his own, however, as the exhibition catalog seems to have been written more to showcase the curator’s erudition than to discuss the actual art work.
“.WORLD” is the inaugural exhibition of the Ermanno Tedeschi Gallery, which opened on June 6, along with the exhibition. The new gallery, perched at the edge of Neveh Tzedek in Tel Aviv, is the first overseas venture of a group of galleries, all in Italy.
“I founded my first gallery in Turin in 2004, and then Milan and then Rome,” Tedeschi recalls. And then, with my partners Jenny Hannuna and Joseph Matalon, we decided to open a gallery abroad. We decided to open it in Israel.
“Israel is very important to us. I worked here for many years with Israeli artists, and also with the Tel Aviv Museum. There is a very big artistic energy in Tel Aviv and in Israel.”
Hannuna is every bit as enthusiastic: “Tel Aviv has a very strong cultural and artistic vibrancy, a new awakening.
And I think that if we bring Italian art to dialogue with Israeli art, it will be a very good marriage. Also, I like this place, Neveh Tzedek.
“For me, it was very important for our gallery to be here. Neveh Tzedek is full of art history, and this history goes right up to contemporary art. I think the life here is just so exciting, and we want to be a part of it.”
If you throw a brick up in the air anywhere in Neveh Tzedek or the adjacent neighborhoods of Jaffa, you can be reasonably certain that it will come down on an art gallery, or art museum, or artist’s studio – or, at the very least, an artist. The area is, quite simply, a gallery ghetto.
Why, then, do we need another gallery there, owned and operated by people from Rome and Turin? Tedeschi says, “We are not Israelis opening a gallery. We are coming from abroad to open a gallery and bring something new.
“The Israeli public wants to see something new, something different.
I want also to showcase some Israeli artists that the Israeli public does not know.”
Tedeschi also believes that in addition to exposing Israelis to new art, he and his gallery are in a position to bring Israeli artists out into the world.
His real raison d’etre, he says, is to educate people about art, both in Israel and abroad.
“I want to tell you something,” he says as he sips his espresso. “Since I began my work in galleries, I have chosen artists that I like, not simply artists who are trendy.
“I choose the artists whose works I like, and then I work with them to put on exhibitions in galleries and in museums.
“We want to help young artists become important artists. We also want to help young people become good art collectors, and to create a new generation of better informed collectors. We want to educate people.
“We do not open a new gallery just to sell paintings, but also to teach people that art is important for their lives, for the culture, and to bring people to art. That is my mission.”
.WORLD is showing until August 30 at the Ermanno Tedeschi Gallery, Rehov Lilienblum 3, Tel Aviv. Monday- Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; closed Saturday and Sunday. For more information call (03) 517-0344 or visit