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Prior to joining the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv as curator, Chen Tamir was director of Flux Factory in New York. Her current position, as she describes it, offers more freedom to present cutting-edge work. She told Whitewall about embracing the opportunity to have an impact on a small art scene with a lot of potential to create public discourse.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe Tel Aviv’s contemporary art community? And where does the CCA fit into that?
CHEN TAMIR: The CCA is a non-collecting institution dedicated solely to experimental contemporary art. It’s located in the heart of town and our audience is very young and dedicated. It’s a cultural hub where people can expect to be challenged and exposed to fresh and relevant work. It’s also one of the only organizations that commission new work, usually for solo shows. In a country where little resources are available for the creation of new work, the opportunities we give artists are significant. Often their first major solo shows, the exhibitions contextualize the artist’s work for the general public, and we help that happen through printed catalogues and discursive events. It’s important to realize that Israel has little public funding, and most of it goes directly to institutions rather than individual artists. There’s also a very feeble market here. However, Israel also has the most museums per capita and people here are highly educated. Couple all of this with the fact that Israel is essentially an island, with a unique currency, unique language, and very little exchange with neighboring countries. So there’s a real thirst for cultural exchange and cultural production, and I think the CCA fills an important role in that.
WW: This spring the exhibition “Love Story” by Candice Breitz will go on view from March 30 to June 3. The seven-channel installation will feature testimony from six people who have fled oppressive situations in their home countries. Their stories are told both in the first person and by actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore, raising the question of how a story is heard in the media when told by the nameless, versus the famous. Can you tell us about putting this show together and the relevance of showing it at the CCA and to the community of Tel Aviv?
CT: The show is being organized by Sergio Edelsztein, CCA’s founding director and chief curator. It will also be representing South Africa at the Venice Biennale this year. It’s a project that brings the refugee experience closer to home. Israel faces many challenges with refugees, mostly from Africa, and we hope that this show can expand the dialogue around this urgent issue.
WW: A show later in the summer, “Lives Between,” seems to also deal with a similar theme of displacement, showing work from artists working and living between two places. This feels like a theme we’re seeing on an international scale at institutions around the world.
CT: A collaboration between the CCA and the Kadist foundation, and co-curated by Sergio Edelsztein and Joseph del Pesco, “Lives Between” takes its title from the common phrase found on countless artists’ bios indicating that the artist has more than one home. In a way, artists are models for us to emulate in terms of peripatetic existences. They embrace what others might consider a fragmented life, or a split identity.
WW: Locally in Tel Aviv, are you seeing any movements toward equal representation of female artists in galleries, institutions, collectives, et cetera?
CT: Israeli women have a reputation for being tough and independent, and there are many phenomenal female artists working in the field. However, there is still work to be done in terms of gallery representation and museum shows, and especially in terms of the market. I’m happy that the CCA stands apart and has a great history of showing women artists. This year, five of the seven solo exhibitions at the CCA will be by women, including Noa Yafe, Michal BarOr, Tali Keren, Agnieszka Kurant, and Candice Breitz.
This article appears in Whitewall’s spring 2017 Women in the Arts issue.