July 28, 2008

In the charming interior of Norwood NYC, which may be familiar to those who attended the “Pretty Ugly” after-party, Artis chairman Rivka Saker gathered an intimate group of journalists and art lovers to make a major announcement.

Artis is a private nonprofit organization, founded in 2004 and based in Tel Aviv and New York, that supports and promotes Israeli artists like Sigalit Landau at MoMA, Mika Rottenberg and Omer Fast at the Whitney, Ohad Meromi at Harris Lieberman and Yael Bartana at PS1, among others, through creating opportunities to develop an international dialogue and exposure for the their work.

The big announcement concerns ArtTLV, a recurring exhibition and cultural initiative celebrating the 100th anniversary of the city, organized by Rivka Saker (Sotheby’s and Artis), Yehudit Shapira-Haviv (Artis), Tel Aviv-based gallerists Irit Sommer (Sommer Gallery) and Shifra Shalit-Intrator (Dvir Gallery), and guest-curated by Goldsmith’s Andrew Renton. Set against a mood situated between a cultural TV program and a look-a-like Gertrude Stein drawing-room, Renton, whose seductive vocabulary and facial expressions demand more than the average amount of attention, started talking about his curatorial project.

Scheduled from September 24 to October 24, 2008, “Open Plan Living” is a group exhibition conceived mainly for the Helena Rubenstein Pavilion, formerly home of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and now a satellite of the institution, and the YaacobGarden, which will host a series of outdoor video projections. These two sites have been defined by Renton as idiomatic of the undeniable Modern identity of Tel Aviv.

In a sort of path crossing the city, the exhibition will lead visitors along Rothschild Blvd. (an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site) with projects spread out in different non-art venues, some of them in ruins, with the aim of increasing awareness of these sites while avoiding any kind of fetishism of decay. Among the examples mentioned by Renton was a project that will provide water to the visitors, along with his choice to use a former techno music club very popular in the ’80s called Fetish (not a coincidence!), its sandy façade contrasting with its all-black interior. With a clearly Rhizome-like attitude, Renton described the project as “visible simultaneously” with “no walls” where “everything is blurring.”

Aside from the Pavilion and the garden, the core (even if this word seems inappropriate in such a discourse) of this non-hierarchical exhibition is the cluster of four eclectic 1920s buildings on Nachalat Benyamin in central Tel Aviv. Placed at the very end of the walk through Rothschild Blvd. (considering the concepts listed so far, one might compare it to the “schizophrenic out for a walk” model, as opposed to the “neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch”), Nachalat Benyamin will host “Artists Curate Artists,” the most meta-linguistic of the sections consisting of site-specific installations and projects curated by artists from a range of disciplines. We will likely encounter a “painting show curated by painters” here.

This six-venue curatorial project, envisioned by Renton as a curatorial project against the idea of making a curatorial project, is open to different migrations in terms of form and content. To enforce this statement, a series of projects will accompany “Open Art Living” such as Rothschild 69, a new Bauhaus Kunsthalle featuring exhibitions, performances, seminars, a video lounge, and a bookstore on Rothschild Blvd., late-night gallery openings throughout Tel Aviv’s thriving art district, a concert with Raymond Pettibon and Chicks on Speed, and nightly beach performances.

At the end of this hypnotic presentation came a question from the audience that we were all waiting for: “who are the invited artists?” Confirming his desire to pique the curiosity of his small audience, surely whetted by his rhetoric, Renton decided to decline this request as part of his personal war against the “fetishization of names” (“artists will be announced in a month, don’t worry!”) with the TV-commercial flavored promise of a money-back guarantee if we don’t find great names included in the roster.

With all of the new recurring exhibitions, biennials, triennials, and so on, I left the building feeling like a duke from the Middle Ages with a charge to announce the birth of a new feud, or a cultural Templar Knight invited to the Holy Land. Underlying this state of mind is the fact that this ever-increasing number of exhibitions creates alliances: after the Grand Tour (Venice, Art | Basel, Documenta, and Skulpture Projekte) and the Asian axis between the biennials in Gwangju and Singapore, ArtTLV has heralded a partnership with the Istanbul and Athens Biennials, which will take place in September 2009 as an expanded tri-city art event.


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