Arts & Culture

Jerusalem Art Scene Picks Up Where It Left Off

If you’re a modern art lover and you’re looking for some culture in Israel, it’s likely that your fellow art enthusiasts will direct you to the nearest bus to Tel Aviv, which is adorned by modern art museums, galleries, and … Read More

By / November 17, 2008

If you’re a modern art lover and you’re looking for some culture in Israel, it’s likely that your fellow art enthusiasts will direct you to the nearest bus to Tel Aviv, which is adorned by modern art museums, galleries, and art students with high hopes. Now, though, there is an ever-growing group of young artists pioneering the cultural movement that could redefine the art scene in the holy land, and they’re doing it in an unlikely place– they’re doing it in Jerusalem. At the same time that the chalutzim were coming to Israel and starting the kibbutz movement that would be the backbone of Jewish immigration for years to come, there were cultural chalutzim that were attempting to communicate Zionist ideals by means of art. The roots of Israeli art stem not from the modern art museums that attract millions to the city of Tel Aviv today, but from Jerusalem, a city whose culture isn’t generally considered to be its strong point. The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design was established in 1906 (then known as the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Crafts) and by the time that the kibbutznik pioneers were coming to Israel in droves, students at Bezalel were participating in the push to bring Jews to the ‘new’ homeland, specifically by means of creating Zionist poster art. This propagandist art, among other forms of art stemming from Bezalel and beyond, is often looked at from a Zionist perspective and from a political perspective– but its cultural significance, among other things, is simply that it was the very beginning of ‘Israeli art.’ Despite Jerusalem’s historic ties to the art world, many artists and art lovers have found the city to be lacking. A group of former Bezalel students set out to change this, and it seems that they’re making some progress. A few years ago, three Israeli art students had just finished their degrees at Bezalel and decided that they would stay in Jerusalem rather than flock to Tel Aviv like most Bezalel students do upon graduation. They, too, were frustrated by Jerusalem’s lack of an art scene and were worried about the fact that there were very few opportunities to exhibit their work and to have successful careers related to art and design. One of the founders, Yannai, describes the decision to stay in Jerusalem as an attempt to reinvigorate the modern art scene and sees it as an important decision made as an artist; he maintains that being an artist is about going against the grain and proving people wrong. Three years ago, Yannai and his partners started an organization called Barbur and they are based in the beautiful, archaic neighborhood of Nachlaot in Jerusalem. They have, in fact, proven many people wrong by reinvigorating the modern art scene in the holy city. Barbur is funded partially by various foundations and also by the municipality in Jerusalem, which is looking to invest in the establishment of cultural venues within the city. The Barbur building serves as an art gallery that is a popular venue for all sorts of Israeli artists, and they offer art classes for people of all skill levels. In addition, the group has partnered with various Israeli organizations to organize modern art festivals and exhibits that had never before taken place in Jerusalem, being that Tel Aviv seemed like a more appropriate place. Barbur is putting Jerusalem on the map as far as the global art scene goes, and its founders are often traveling abroad to spread the word and to form artistic collaborations in a more global sense, which Tel Aviv artists have been doing for years. Barbur itself has given Jerusalem artists a place to go and the city seems to be welcoming the change. New galleries have popped up at a relatively rapid rate over the past few years, and even local bars like Uganda– a small pub frequented by Bezalel students– now double as art galleries. Jerusalem has a long way to go before its art scene completely rivals that of Tel Aviv, but Israel was partially built by cultural pioneers from Bezalel and it seems like they’ve picked up where they left off.