In South Tel Aviv, the studio of Israeli painter Tsibi Geva stretches far beyond expectation. Several floors up, in an industrial block now occupied by galleries and fellow artists, it includes sprawling rooms, neatly arranged nooks and thousands of supplies. Geva—who represented Israel during the 2015 Venice Biennale—warmly greets us along with members of the global arts-oriented membership club The Cultivist, who we joined for their exploration of the Mediterranean city. From birds formed from scribbles to oversized canvases with textures that imitate terrazzo, Geva’s diverse works are best seen in contrast with one another, and The Cultivist offers the luxury of such an experience.
In advance of the trip, a quick Google search directed us to art itineraries in Tel Aviv, and architectural tours of the plentiful Bauhaus buildings, but as we traversed the city with The Cultivist, it became evident that in an emerging scene, greater access is advisable to truly understand all that’s afoot. Tel Aviv’s artistic communities encompass all manner of makers: from the roughly 400 art students graduating in Israel each year to the professionals representing the country on an international level. With The Cultivist, we touched the pulse of this ever-expanding body.
Our adventure begins at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. An after-hours, curator-led walkthrough exposes each of us to one of the finest representations of high-level contemporary and modern art curation in the nation. Three buildings comprise the institution—and its collection continues to grow. With a cocktail in hand, and the gallery halls clear, a more personal—and meditative—tour occurs.
At The Center for Contemporary Art (CCA), three floors of gallery space present experimental and time-based contemporary art that aims to provoke. From sculptural commissions to art films and an immersive installation of local craft objects, the non-profit’s commissions reflect national and international ideological collisions.
Within Artport, artist residencies are of equal value to the exhibitions. In fact, Artport offers the only contemporary art residency in Israel and, in addition to studio space, it provides artists with a stipend. With The Cultivist, we meet several of the talented artists: Dor Zlekha Levy, Yael Frank, Merav Kamel and Halil Balabin and Gil Yefman. Each introduction helps us visitors develop a sense of Tel Aviv’s artistic setting—seemingly from the inside out.
Only a dozen or so galleries define the Tel Aviv landscape. Of course, there’s an outpost for the international institution Magasin III, but destinations including the bunker-like Dvir Gallery and exploratory Rosenfeld Gallery help to shape Israel from within. To meet Elad Rosen, founder of the latter, helps paint the fullest picture of what gallerists in Israel seek out, which—as he makes clear—is work that speaks with greater confidence than all others. We don’t stop there; continuing on to Raw Art Gallery, Maya Gallery and Inga Gallery.
Near to these galleries is the aforementioned painter Tsibi Geva’s studio. And after our time with him, we visit Sharon Ya’ari and Moran Kliger. There is a lush ecosystem of art studios in South Tel Aviv and no art adventure in the city would be complete without attempting to visit as many as possible. Perhaps the most breathtaking of them all is that of sculptor Martha Rieger. Both indoor and out, Rieger’s work tantalizes guests with their shape, material and colors. Rieger walks us through her work, and that of painter Tal Golani—and speaks to the international nature of the burgeoning scene.
For all of these visits, our access feels entirely unbridled. Our walks are led by curators, directors or local experts (including the artist Shirel Horovitz and art platform Oh So Arty founder Sarah Peguine). And yet, two moments stand out more than the rest. While we share many meals together at Tel Aviv hotspots, two unique occasions, arranged by The Cultivist, are hosted inside private homes. First, an illustrious art collector and his wife open their doors for breakfast at their house. We see many of the works that moved them most. For shabbat dinner, interior decorator Shlomit Slavin and her husband, artist and filmmaker Ran Slavin, cook for us. During both meals, we find ourselves dining on a patio under the sun or the stars, listening to stories from members of the local art community. Yes, it’s insightful, but it’s also an absolute delight.
The Cultivist accepts applications for membership worldwide.
Images by David Graver