Fair play, fair trade

Now in its fourth year, Tel Aviv’s Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair has become the largest and most important art event in Israel.

Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair 521 (photo credit: Ariel Besor)
Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair 521
(photo credit: Ariel Besor)
Ah, spring! The days get longer, and the sweet smell of orange blossom pervades the air at night. The sun begins to shine more brightly as millions of little groundsel flowers come bursting through the ground, turning every roadside, untended garden and vacant lot a blazing bright yellow.
Purim costumes and noisemakers are stored away for yet another year, as sweaters are exchanged for T-shirts and leggings give way to shorts. And all over Israel, artists, art critics, gallery owners, museum curators and art lovers – as well as the husbands, wives, children, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors and even casual acquaintances of art lovers – gear up for another Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair in Tel Aviv.
Now in its fourth year, Fresh Paint has become the largest and most important art event in Israel, logging in upward of 36,000 visitors every year. It is also perhaps unique among art fairs everywhere, providing not only a venue for many of the leading art galleries in Israel to promote their featured artists and showcase their works, but also a platform for talented new artists to display their work and launch their careers.
The fair began in 2008 as the brainchild of two women who, surprisingly enough, are not artists themselves. Sharon Tillinger Shafir and Yifat Gurion are, however, both obsessively serious art lovers who wanted to galvanize the Israeli art scene while bringing art closer to the general public, especially to people who had felt little or no need for art in their lives before.
From the start, Shafir and Gurion have tried to fulfill two major goals in their organizing of Fresh Paint. One is to make art more accessible to the general public, and to do it in ways that are fun. A wide and colorful array of activities goes on for five days, all under one roof, to attract people and bring them closer to fine arts.
The second goal is to create a platform for artists to live on their art.
Fresh Paint is neither an exhibition nor a festival. 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.
So what goes on? First, there are the galleries. This year, at “Fresh Paint 4,” no fewer than 29 leading contemporary art galleries will participate.
The purchase of a NIS 35 ticket to the fair admits you to a seemingly endless world of art.
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 its artists to present, and they showcase some of the leading artists of the country in honor of the fair. Some galleries choose to feature just one artist, while others might present as many as five, or even more.
But the real “calling card” and raison d’etre of the Fresh Paint art fair is the Artists’ Greenhouse, a launch pad for promising new artists – relatively unknown and not yet represented by galleries – to display their work. The exhibition of their works alongside established contemporary art galleries enables these new artists to introduce themselves to curators, gallery owners, collectors and the public at large. It also enables them to sell their work and begin to make a living from their time and talent.
Being new and unknown, however, are by no means the only qualifications for an artist to be able to display his or her work in the Greenhouse. Forty-eight artists were selected to show their work this year – out of more than 1,000 who applied – after a grueling process of selection.
THE ARTISTS must first submit a portfolio of their works online, through the Fresh Paint website. The works 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 owners from Israel, New York and London.
During the first stage of the selection process, each panel member reviews the anonymous portfolios submitted by the artists. 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 who leap this final hurdle make it into the Greenhouse.
And on their way to the Greenhouse, the lucky artists receive some significant professional help and advice from Fresh Paint staff. Once they are selected to exhibit, the artists get studio visits from the chief curator and her assistant. These two expert professionals help the artists select which works to present, and how to price them.
And then there are the artist representatives hired every year to work at Fresh Paint, who are intensively briefed on how to interact with the crowds coming to the fair. Each representative is assigned a few artists. They go to their studios, meet the artists and learn about their work. Getting to know the artists they are representing enables each representative to become, in effect, the gallery for his or her artists for the duration of the fair.
Fresh Paint 4 will continue an innovation begun last year at Fresh Paint 3, exhibiting video works by up-and-coming artists in a platform probably unique to this art fair, the Video Greenhouse.
Nine video artists and animators were selected to participate this year by a panel of judges, including curators of Fresh Paint and the CEO of Gravity, the Video Greenhouse’s sponsor. All of the video works exhibited this year will be offered for sale in a package which includes a display, as well as a signed master copy, an exhibition copy and a signed certificate.
Also part of the fair this year is the Fresh Paint Salon, a program of lectures, discussions and video screenings, as well as personal encounters with artists and other figures from the world of art.
Creative workshops for children will be offered on Saturday, in cooperation with the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Rubin Museum. In addition, several established artists are expected to set up studios in space given to them by the fair and work while people watch, while other artists will display works of painting, sculpture and video specifically commissioned by Fresh Paint for this year’s fair.
A number of what the fair organizers like to call “Special Projects” will be on hand as well, including the ever-popular Secret Postcard. A fixture at Fresh Paint since its inception, 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 the same price of NIS 180.
Blank postcards are distributed to artists – 650 this year – who create a work of art on one side and sign their names on the other. Some of the artists are famous, others are as yet obscure. The postcards are then displayed at the fair, with their signed sides hidden.
Are you getting an original Ron Arad, or something by a senior art student at Bezalel? You don’t know until you buy. This project has raised almost NIS 500,000 since Fresh Paint began, all donated to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to support art programs for disadvantaged children.
Another Fresh Paint initiative is Getting Out of the Box, a socially-oriented design project that furnishes young artists and designers with a platform to create and display art.
A COMPETITION is held for the design of tin boxes on a changing annual theme. The “blank” tin boxes are sold at the fair. The winning designs – by the best young designers, illustrators and artists – are selected by a jury, produced in a limited edition, and sold to the public. Proceeds from this project are devoted to creating educational programs in the field of design for youth at risk.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the loudest buzz that Fresh Paint generates every year comes from the high-profile awards given to new, promising independent artists. One of these is Sotheby’s “Under the Hammer” Award.
Each year, Sotheby’s Auction House awards a special prize for one work by one of these artists exhibiting at Fresh Paint. The winning artwork is chosen by a panel of Sotheby’s experts and then offered for sale at the annual auction of Israeli art at Sotheby’s in New York the following December.
All expenses are paid by Sotheby’s, and all proceeds from the sale go to the artist.
The other big prize is the annual Most Promising Artist Award.
Each year, the Igal Ahouvi Art Collection presents a prize of NIS 20,000 to the most promising artist at Fresh Paint. Once again, the winner is selected from the independent artists participating in the fair and is chosen for his or her overall artistic achievements thus far, as well as for showing the most promise and potential for the future.
In addition to the money, the winner gets a solo show at the fair the following year.
Fresh Paint 3’s Most Promising Artist award went to Nivi Alroy, who will present a solo exhibition, “Food Chain,” this year at Fresh Paint 4.
Born in 1978, Alroy lives and works in Tel Aviv.
A B.A. graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and an M.A. graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, Alroy has been exhibiting at Fresh Paint since the fair began.
“I’ve done all of them,” she says. “When I first met Yifat and Sharon, it was like this big idea about this amazing thing they were going to create. They described it, but it was all very abstract. There was nothing like it before in Israel. And I [had] just finished my grad school, and I came with my briefcase full of all my work.
“I showed them pictures of the sculptures that I wanted to exhibit. They were very large. They couldn’t understand how I was going to carry them from my Brooklyn, New York studio to the fair, but I said that I would find a way.
“So I went back to my studio and dissected them, two large wooden sculptures. I brought the pieces over on the airplane and reassembled them in Israel for Fresh Paint 1.”
For Fresh Paint 2, Alroy exhibited with one of the participating galleries. At Fresh Paint 3, in addition to solo work in the Artists’ Greenhouse, she did a special project with photographer and video artist Michal Heiman, in which Heiman’s videos were “inserted” into some of Alroy’s sculptures.
Does Alroy expect the award to change her life? “It already has,” she says. “The exposure has been unbelievable. When I came back to Israel from New York, I wanted to hide in my studio, work, and just gradually come out. This is how I had worked in New York. But an incredible amount of people saw my work at Fresh Paint, people from the art world, from the galleries, and all of a sudden some of these people came knocking on my studio door wanting me to come to their galleries and do exhibition shows.
“The fair runs for just a very short period of time, four or five days, but so many people get to see your work that you manage to create a name very quickly.”
Alroy’s life has changed in others ways as well.
“I just gave birth to a baby!” she says, with laughter. “Nobody knew I was pregnant when I got the award. Everything came together. I came back to Israel, got pregnant, and got the award. It’s very interesting trying to put up a show with a baby in your lap. Challenging, but wonderful!” A final word should be said about the venues for Fresh Paint, which change every year and provide an added value for the fair by virtue of their sheer quirkiness.
Every year, the fair’s organizers search for a new location that is 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 Rehov Kibbutz Galuyot. Fresh Paint 2 was at Hatahana, the renovated Old Train Station in Neveh Tzedek, and last year’s fair took place in Warehouse 1 at Jaffa Port.
This year, Fresh Paint 4 will light up the night at the Botanical Garden Site, by Reality Fund. This venue, perhaps the quirkiest thus far, is a 32-dunam expanse in south Tel Aviv, near the Botanical Garden, the Zoological Garden and the Nature School.
Several picturesque old buildings of different shapes and sizes will be converted to exhibition spaces and activity areas for the duration of the fair. Entrance to Fresh Paint will be from Rehov Ben-Zvi 51, next to the Abu Navot Sculpture Garden.
The fair will run April 5-9. Opening hours are April 5, 6 and 7 from 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, April 8, 11 a.m.- 7 p,m; and Saturday, April 9, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.. For more information, visit www.freshpaint.co.il