Tel Aviv — In the past few years, Tel Aviv has been dubbed a top travel destination for everyone from beach lovers to gays and lesbians, but until relatively recently few overseas tourists traveled to the city specifically to take in its contemporary art scene.
That’s starting to change, thanks to efforts by the Tel Aviv municipality and Israel’s tourism ministry to acquaint the world with the city’s artists, studios and galleries. While the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s stunning new wing is reason enough to spend a day in the city, it should be just the starting point for those who appreciate a wide variety of art forms.
Launched in March, Tel Aviv Art Year 2012 is offering a dizzying assortment of exhibitions, performances and events in Israel’s cultural capital. It will showcase not only Israeli artists with an international following, but dozens of independent, emerging artists as well.
Just as New York’s artists and gallery owners gravitated to Soho and Chelsea in search of larger, more affordable space, many of Tel Aviv’s artists are moving to the city’s southernmost neighborhoods, on the border of Yafo (Jaffa). Though most of the buildings are quite grungy, the studios and galleries are warm and inviting.
During a tour of Kiryat Hamelacha, the southern neighborhood where some 100 artists now work, Tzachi Rosenfeld, owner of the venerable Rosenfeld Gallery, said he relocated from tony Dizengoff Street in the city center in order to expand, and “to be where the artists are.”
The Dizengoff gallery, which his family established decades ago, “was small and there wasn’t any parking,” Rosenfeld said in his current, spacious downtown space. He was surrounded by the very large oil paintings by Marik Lechner, some of which go for more than $20,000, that were recently on view there.
Yuval Caspi, one of the first artists to purchase a space in the downtown neighborhood, said the flow of so many artists into south Tel Aviv is starting to push up real estate prices.
“I was lucky I bought when I did,” said Caspi, who shares his 600-square-foot studio with artist Ido Shemi. Their cramped workshop is packed with bright papier-mache figures in comic or ironic poses, and innovative 3D posters — many of them depicting New York scenes — that are popular with foreign art collectors.
To defray costs, several artists, or aspiring artists, may share a studio.
“That leads to a lot of collaboration,” said a 20-something children’s book illustrator who works in a cozy studio alongside an equally young costume designer and an artist who sculpts in metal. Many of the materials they use in their work come from their neighbors – small factories that have been in the neighborhood for decades.
During the inaugural weekend of Tel Aviv Art, Caspi and Shemi opened their studio to visitors, who were also given access to dozens of art spaces — many of them ordinarily invisible to the public — taking place in the city. These art tours are run by the Association of Tourism Tel Aviv-Yafo.
While galleries and museums operate day in and day out, Tel Aviv Art Year offers clusters of events several times this year.
The Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair (May 14-19) is Israel’s largest, most influential art event. The focus is on the top art galleries, promising emerging galleries and the Greenhouse, which showcases the work of up-and-coming Israeli artists.
The wildly popular Houses from Within (May 18-19) offers rare glimpses inside 100 Tel Aviv homes with special architectural value. The include the homes of some of Israel’s most influential artists, and homes with unique art collections.
The annual White Night (June 28) is an all-night happening that includes 100 events, during which cultural institutions stay open till sunrise.
Loving Art, Making Art (Sept. 6-8) officially launches Tel Aviv’s new art exhibition season, with the collaboration of 60 museums, galleries and exhibition halls. At the same time, 240 local artists will simultaneously open their studios to the public. There will also be street exhibitions.
Gay Pride Week (June 1-8) includes a number of art-related activities as well as the ultra-colorful annual Gay Pride Parade down the main streets of Tel Aviv.
During warm weather, the Tel Aviv Pixel Hotel (opening Oct. 15) on the Burgrashav Beach is a lifeguard shack. Next winter, as part of a project to repurpose interesting but unused space, it will become a one-room hotel open to the public.
Unrelated to Tel Aviv Art Year 2012, visitors to the city can attend performances of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Opera, and the Israeli Chamber Orchestra, or hit the many performance spaces that feature everything from Israeli folk music to jazz (listings in the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, or Time Out Tel Aviv).
A visit to Tel Aviv isn’t complete without a tour of Tel Aviv’s historic district, which boasts the largest collection of International Style (Bauhaus) buildings in the world. Nine years ago, UNESCO proclaimed the area where these iconic buildings are located The White City. The 4,000-plus structures, with their modern, clean lines, date back to the 1930s and ’40s. They are being lovingly restored, one at a time.
Before hopping into a taxi, consider renting a bike (the municipality recently introduced the park-and-ride system so popular in Europe). The most cycling-friendly city in Israel, Tel Aviv has 60 miles of bike trails including the one that runs parallel to the beach. The city’s mild climate encourages cycling almost any time of the year.