Words: danielle gorodenzik
Photos: Goni Riskin
Telavivian’s Art Editor Danielle Gorodezik had the chance to chat with Joshua Simon, Director and Chief Curator at Museums of Bat Yam (MoBY) and co-founding editor of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa based Maayan Publishing.
Simon’s most recent curatorial projects include Factory Fetish (Westspace, Melbourne), Roee Rosen: Group Exhibition (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, co-curated with Gilad Melzer) and The Kids Want Communism (a year-long project at MoBY).
In this interview, Simon gives us a versatile perspective on the Tel Aviv art scene, a brief history of MoBY, and a peek into what projects he’s working on next
Danielle Gorodenzik: From curating the first Herzliya Biennial of Contemporary Art to being the Director and Chief Curator at MoBY, you have a considerable measure of knowledge and experience working with Israeli artists. What are the challenges and the structure of the Israeli art scene?
Joshua Simon: The main challenge is that there is so much talent here. We need to find ways to increase exposure for artists so that they can be given adequate support in order to develop works of art and exhibitions.
The art scene here used to be Israel’s best kept secret. It is boundless, and now many Israeli artists live around the world and are participating in large international shows. Something that was once totally unknown to outsiders, or even to people in Israel, is now gaining recognition thanks to various art initiatives. Artists that I have worked with are now doing so well all over the place, it’s incredible.
DG: What characterizes the Museum of Bat Yam? What makes it unique?
JS: The Museum of Bat Yam (MoBY) is in a residential neighborhood and it is only the fourth art museum established in Israel after the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Ein Harod Museum of Art, and Haifa Museum of Art. MoBY opened in 1961, before the Israel Museum in Jerusalem which opened in 1965, and was established because the first mayor of Bat Yam, David Ben-Ari, was an avid art lover. He connected many Israeli artists that were based in Paris at the time. He thought that a city needed a museum and an art institute.
The museum space is very particular, it is a circular building with round walls, so you have to work within the constraints of the space. The architecture determines how you curate the art, there are cross perspectives – you can see from one side of the museum to another, and there is a circular route to follow.
Interestingly enough, 1961 was also the year that the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was opened after 20 years of construction. And since the Bat Yam Museum is round, it got the nickname the “Israeli Guggenheim”, although there is no way to even compare the two.
The architect of MoBY is Yitzhak Pearlstein, also the architect of the iconic Tel Aviv building, Shalom Tower. He was influenced by Oscar Niemeyer, a Brazilian architect who used to visit Israel in the 1950s for various commissions and despite never having been able
to actualize most of those projects, he had a large impact on young Israeli architects whom he met, like Pearlstein.
DG: “The Kids Want Communism” is a year-long exhibition project at Museums of Bat Yam that is a collaboration with many artists and international institutions. Do you see any other year-long projects ahead?
JS: “The Kids Want Communism” is a large project in collaboration with a few small institutions and I see this as a clever way of working. Looking at the global branding of museums, they operate like a franchise with locations around the world. These collaborations MoBY has are like having international branches, but on a different scale – these smaller institutions have a local presence and deal with local issues. By working together, we can share our perspectives.
I see our project as a mirror to these global museums and how they operate. As smaller operations, we need to work together, and at times share the cost, to make these projects happen.
DG: Being a platform for producing and exhibiting emerging cultural dialogues, what should we look forward to seeing at the Museums of Bat Yam?
JS: I don’t see a year-long project in the near future at MoBY. “The Kids Want Communism” will be traveling to Kunstraum Kreuzberg in Berlin, Germany. After a 5-year tenure I am leaving MoBY at the end of 2017, so we will see what happens next, it’s an exciting time for change.