The Good, the Bad, and the Not-so-ugly of Israeli Designers

A new exhibit in Holon is putting the spotlight on Israeli designers who've been in their field for a decade.

A new exhibit at the Design Museum Holon is taking a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly - or in this case - not so ugly - works of 42 Israeli designers. "Designers Plus 10," (subtitled: 42 ways to be a designer ), which opens Sunday, features one older and one more recent work by 42 Israeli artists who completed their studies about a decade ago. The exhibit also focuses on the lives of the artists, and on what it means to them to be designers. The show, which will be held annually, is taking place within the framework of Holon's Design Week.

In December 2010, museum chief curator Galit Gaon responded to criticism that the museum, which opened in March of that year, was ignoring the local scene. Gaon said that the design field is an international one, and must be recognized as such. "Israeli designers who live in the country should perhaps stop using the term 'Israeli design' and call themselves Israeli designers instead," Gaon said. "They work in an international context and exhibit in international shows. Their field of operation is not only Israel ... This isn't a geography museum."

Itamar Dauba's 'Sugar Daddy,' one of the art works featured.

Thus, while the new show, which features work in industrial, graphic, fashion, textile and jewelry design, is limited to Israeli designers, Gaon notes that nationality is not the only criterion. "We took into account that we would choose various sectors each year, perhaps 10 or 20 or 30 years [after graduation], with the goal of examining designers who are active in different fields here - not necessarily in any particular area. We are also focusing on the designers themselves, not on the objects on display. The debate about 'Israeli design' has been going on for a long time and I feel we still can't define what it is. We have to study and learn the field the right way; we have to have perspective. What we can do is talk about Israeli designers. Who are they, what difficulties they face, what they consider success, what their point of view is - about themselves and the market, and so forth."

Nonetheless, what can we learn from the exhibit about Israeli design?

"It's too soon to learn about the characteristics of creativity in Israel from just one exhibit. It will take me five or six such exhibits, year after year, to produce a philosophy about the way in which Israeli designers deal with material or ideas. It is simply too early to come to conclusions about how Israeli designers work. One thing I can say is that on the one hand, something about the work method or the process is highly verbal, investigatory and hesitant. On the other hand, the processes are quite short and hurried. I believe that some of this stems from the fact that we don't have a tradition of work with materials here; we have a larger tradition of texts."

Why exactly did you choose a period of ten years?

"For a few reasons. First, we assume that if you've been actively working in design for a decade, not only studying or creating exhibits, but getting up every morning and going to work, it may be assumed that this is your profession and you'll continue to work in it. Those who have worked for more than 10 years have made the profession their own."

"The second reason is that two important things happened 10 years ago: one was the launch of Google Images. While it may seem that the possibility of searching for pictures has always existed, until 10 years ago design students had to go to libraries to leaf through books, and had to depend on lessons in design history. Today it is simple and easy, perhaps too easy, to write 'chair' in the search line and the whole world is at your fingertips. [Google] has made the world of design available immediately."

"Another thing that happened 10 years ago was that Ikea opened its first branch in Israel. The result was that a consumer culture for small designer objects developed, and opened the door for designers to work in this genre of what used to be called 'gift items.' Today they are attractive to everyone. They are fun to buy and to have at home. A niche was created that did not exist beforehand, and it influenced the local scene."

Ten is a nice round number as well.

"Exactly. And we must remember the series of exceptional art exhibits of the Ten Plus group [which consisted of Israeli artists in the 60s who came together to feature their works]. Some of the most important exhibits in the history of Israeli art came from this group. Young Israeli artists who wanted to gain entry to the establishment went to Ten Plus."

How does one begin working on such an exhibit?

"We approached all the Israeli design schools (except for architecture and interior design ), asked for lists of their graduates and began to see what each had done. It was really a kind of detective work. We enlisted two assistant curators, Leora Rosen and Nitzan Davi, who did a lot of footwork and made telephone calls that included questions like 'Do you remember who sat beside you in class; where is he today?' and so on. I am sure we missed people and this is perhaps the place to say to designers: make it possible for us to find you."

How many people were on the lists, in total?

We gathered [the names of] about 1,000 graduates, out of whom about a third still work in design, design management and teaching. I am sure there are more designers out there that we did not find. We discussed what it means to get up every day and work in their field. Most of the people who did stay in design work in visual communications and illustration; they don't give up. They work and innovate all the time."

What do you mean only a third work in the field? That's not many.

"First of all it means that [design] is difficult. On the one hand, there is the daily struggle, and on the other, there is a lot of love. We filmed all the participants talking about their work and they all said they have no choice; they have to [design] and can't do anything else. It can't be taken for granted and it isn't simple. You have to study your clients, argue with them and try to direct them toward the right place. All the designers shared the feeling that success is no simple matter. We asked about their failures, which of their projects was least successful. The nicest thing was to discover that everyone we spoke to gets up in the morning not because they have no choice, but because they really love what they do. This is who they are."