These Galleries are Turning South Tel Aviv from Urban Wasteland to Art Hotspot

Ishai Shapira Kalter, HOBBY, installation view, Raw Art Gallery. Photo: Tal Nisim.

The air in Tel Aviv at this time of year pulsates. Culture in Israel's capital of the contemporary crackles with tensions: old, new, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, Jewish, Arab, traditional and modern. It's a city that has sprung up quickly--you feel the swiftness of its growth on every corner--and that moves with a youthful rhythm, indefatigable and neophiliac. Tel Avivians are fiercely loyal to their city, and as a consequence, many of its creatives stay here, in spite of punishing living costs.

Though significant, Tel Aviv isn't big, either geographically or in terms of population, especially when compared to other global cultural centers and economies. Yet it has developed distinctive districts, in part due to poor urban planning, from which new vitality has sprung up "like mushrooms after the rain," as a local Hebrew saying goes. The most fecund area in recent years is South Tel Aviv--the area below Yehuda Halevi and Harakevet streets, but before the already established and fashionable Jaffa. If you arrive in South Tel Aviv by its disastrous central bus station--the world's largest bus terminal, and a sprawling, ugly, concrete mess in the heart of the South -- you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd made a mistake. Yet beyond the labyrinth there's a lot to be discovered in this neighborhood.

Neglected for decades, South Tel Aviv became an industrial urban wasteland, riddled with makeshift slums, symbolic of Israel's problematic relationship with urban spaces and people. It was only a matter of time before the familiar economic story of rising rents in other parts of the city began to push new energy into the area. As a mixed community of migrant workers and refugees, students and artists from all over Israel, Africa and Southern Asia, South Tel Aviv has been gentrifying. Yet unlike gentrification in other places, the area retains its rough edge; the streets aren't clean and there's definitely no Starbucks here. In Florentin, soaked in the spray paint of local graffiti artists, a distinctive local, independent restaurant scene has become one of the area's major draws, something that locals are particularly proud of. Galleries have steadily been moving to the area too, and a variety of commercial, non-profit and artist-run spaces now reside across an area that is mostly coverable by foot--though perhaps not in the intense humidity of July. 

When Tel Aviv is written about from the outside, it is usually taken as a whole, ignoring the specificities that make up this complex and compelling city. To take a closer look at the local art and programs in this burgeoning district, and to trace the way they fit into the richer tapestries of Tel Aviv, Israel, and beyond, we've selected South Tel Aviv's top galleries and asked them about their spaces and concerns.


Ravel Museum, Installation view. Photo: Dafna Gazit.

Inside a former tehina factory on Herzl Street, the Ravel Museum has two exhibition spaces for contemporary Israeli art: at the entry level, an industrial space with soaring ceilings, and a more conventional white cube upstairs. Their permanent collection includes rare works by Itzhak Danziger, as well as Arie Aroch and Joseph Zaritsky, on display between revolving temporary exhibitions of established and emerging artists working in more traditional modes such as painting and sculpture, as well as more experimental practices, such as video and performance. "The eclectic taste showcases many mediums absent from the modern museum," says Dr Fuhrer, Ravel founder and director, on the aims of the museum in the context of Tel Aviv.


Lali Fruheling, Siren, 2016, installation view, Raw Art Gallery. Photo: Lena Gomon.

A renowned fixture on the South Tel Aviv gallery scene, Raw Art is dedicated to galvanizing the social and cultural potential of the art gallery. The first gallery to open up in the now vibrant arts community at Kiryat HaMelacha, Raw Art, founded in 2005, represents 20 local and international young artists--for example Lali Fruheling, recent recipient of the Ministry of Culture's Young Artist Award. An exhibition of new sculptural works--including a smashed, beaten-up car--is currently on show at the gallery, organised by the gallery's full time curator Leah Abir.


Dilemma, Group show, 2016, Exhibition view, Dvir Gallery.

"There's a casual vibe about the south that we enjoy very much," says Noa Elizabeth Goren of Dvir Gallery. The gallery previously had branches in Central and North Tel Aviv, as well as an international outlet in Brussels, but in 2013, they combined all three spaces into a five-story space--the first of its kind in the city. "Our aim in general is to be in touch with the public coming from all backgrounds of society," she continues, expressing the need for hyperlocal art spaces like theirs. When the gallery was founded in 1982, they represented exclusively Israeli artists, but the programme has since expanded to incorporate international names such as Douglas Gordon, Jonathan Monk, Miroslaw Balka and Lawrence Weiner, providing a reciprocal exchange for local audiences and artists both in Israel and abroad. An example is their upcoming exhibition of new works by Shilpa Gupta, her first solo exhibition at Dvir's new space in South Tel Aviv.


Motoi YamamotoFloating Garden, 2014, installation view, Inga Gallery.

Inga opened up in 2006, and is now a prominent feature within the city and within the broader national scene. It's a slick, commercial, white space--a contrast to the gritty streets that surround it--but it is known for instigating dynamic dialogues between artists, curators, and audiences. Each show is conceived of as a three-way exchange, inviting early, mid-career and established artists and guest curators to contribute their vision to the program and to provide contextualisation of artworks for their local audiences. The current exhibition explores the analogy between painting and male masturbation, memory and Freud.


Miriam Naeh, In the Shade of the Palm, Installation view, Indie Gallery. Photo: Tal Nisim.

Indie Gallery was founded by a group of visual artists six years ago, to provide a platform for photography and video. The discourse on photography in Israel is still nascent, and Indie, which is run as a non-profit, is pushing that conversation forward. Their current exhibition, by artist Miriam Naeh, is one example of the ways in which photography intersects the local and the global by constructing an artificial habitat. "The artificial hybridization of the environment creates a habitat that is so disjointed and fragmented it is no longer comfortable to call it 'natural,'" Indie writes of the exhibition. It seems an apt way to contemplate the role of South Tel Aviv's cultural spaces in characterizing the neighborhood and contributing to the identity of the city, for both Israelis and outsiders.


Yaara Oren, Green Fruits. Courtesy Artemisia Gallery.

Tucked away on an unassuming and previously dilapidated street in Florentin, Artemisia is Tel Aviv's only commercial gallery committed to supporting women artists only--without presenting a rubric of feminine art. Each month the independent gallery works around a theme, with an installation in "The Room" space upstairs, inviting artists to present works, lectures and artist's talks rather than installing fixed exhibitions.


Moran Shoub Lesezeichen 12, Camomille Bookmarks, From the series Bookmarks San Miniato, Italy, June 2010, from the exhibition 'Maybe Monday, Maybe Tuesday' May 2015, Artspace Tel Aviv.

Artspace is a non-profit art center, dedicated to supporting the local art scene in Kiryat HaMelacha, by encouraging direct interactions between the artists who live and work there and the people who visit the space. "We aspire to live in a society that honors the importance of creative activity and encourages the people invested in it. We work to bring new audiences closer to the world of contemporary art in Israel and to facilitate an open cultural exchange that allows art to be an expression of the human spirit and a catalyst and for new modes of thought," Artspace's Roy Duer says of their mission. The space prides itself on being open and friendly, and a meeting place for creative thinkers. As well as a gallery space with temporary exhibitions, Artspace's visitor center provides maps to the maze of industrial buildings in the area and their inhabitants, organizes art tours of the area, and provides other resources such as artist portfolios.

--Charlotte Jansen