A small country edged by the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and in the throes of an ancient conflict, Israel is more often associated with discussions surrounding politics than art. But with a rich cultural past and creative community spanning its some 8,000-square-mile footprint, Israel has also become a hub for contemporary art—especially that which investigates its history, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and the limitations (and potential) of politically engaged art.
Is it possible to understand a complex and layered contemporary art scene in just seven days? In a best-case scenario, one can scratch the surface—and maybe achieve a bit more. Over the course of a week this fall, courtesy of Artis’s week-long research trip in Israel, I explored the country’s myriad museums, galleries, alternative spaces, artists’ studios, and restaurants. Amid the political violence—often the main topic of discussion beyond art (one that admittedly, at times, made art-spectating feel trivial)—I came away with a familiarity with, and keen curiosity for, art in Israel. Below are my takeaways, centered around the art spaces, curators, and artists of its two largest and most vibrant cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
It’s worth noting here that though my last name is Israel, and I am Jewish, I had never been to Israel previously. Also, while Artis supports artists regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity, because of their focus on art in Israel, they do not formally work with artists living in the West Bank or Gaza—though they have in the past, and now regularly facilitate connections between foreigners and artists and art professionals located there.