The Quiet Power of One

No need to celebrate a new gallery - it's in the content that fills it

Dana Gilerman
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Dana Gilerman

Visitors to the New Dvir Gallery, opening tomorrow at Nitzana 11, in Jaffa, will not be greeted by the sort of fanfare one is accustomed to on such occasions. The decision not to celebrate this milestone event should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Dvir Intrator, the owner of both the new gallery and the old Dvir Gallery in North Tel Aviv.

Intrator does not grant interviews or issue public statements - he says he believes in deeds, not talk. Even this statement, in his particular context, is not meant to flatter himself or draw attention to his humility, but is merely a fact.

"Content is what's important to Dvir, not the party that surrounds it," says Shifra Shalit-Intrator, his ex-wife and current business partner. "Instead of an opening, he chose to print Avraham Ben-Yitzhak's poem "Clear Winter" on the invitation to the new exhibition. It is about the beauty in the world. Dvir has always done things his way, quietly, and that's how he made his mark." Nevertheless, isn't such an event significant? "There's no need to celebrate a place. The statement is in the content that fills the place. We argued about this at the beginning, but I was soon persuaded."

The iron door of the new gallery was closed this Sunday. Intrator sat behind a craggy natural-wood table that was made by the artist Yitzhak Golombek. He was a little upset by the Arutz 7 broadcast that he could hear from the shop managed by the Arab woman next door. "I asked her how she could stand to listen all day to people saying things against her, and she said that it actually sounded pretty interesting," he said. It seems it will take a little more time until he gets used to the new space.

This is the third gallery he has opened in the past 20 years. He opened his first gallery in 1982, on the corner of Gordon and Ben-Yehuda in Tel Aviv, after having worked a few years for Shaya Yariv at the Gordon Gallery. Surprisingly, he can barely remember a single one of the 50 exhibitions he staged there. He is also taken aback by the fact that he did not document any of them, or build an archive of catalogs and other documents. After all, a large part of the work of any gallery is cultural commemoration.

Throughout the 1980's, Dvir was one of the most important and interesting galleries in Israel. In 1989, Intrator closed shop and went to Europe, "to make up for some things that were lacking, especially in the area of classical art." In 1994, he opened the gallery on Nahum Street. The new art space in Jaffa occupies a space that had until two years ago been the laudable Mary Faouzi Gallery, managed by Eitan Hillel.

The choice of the location was guided by Intrator's sense of romance - "this space had a great deal of significance in the annals of the local contemporary art scene, and it was important to me that it continue to live." And there was a more practical reason, as well. As a gallery owner who exhibits about 15 local artists, and who is interested in continuing to exhibit international artists, Intrator felt the need for additional space. With two galleries, he will be able him to double the number of exhibitions each season, and cut short the amount of time - up to three years - that artists sometimes have to wait for a solo exhibition. He also intends to host independent curators at the new gallery.

"Exhibitions are the most exhilarating, adventurous and creative part of the field. That's what gets me going," he says. He chose to open the new gallery with a modest group exhibition, one that compensates in its charm for what it lacks in ambition. Standing in the middle of the space are two glass display cases containing two works by Yitzhak Golombek.

Hanging from the high white walls are a painting by Michael Gross, a painting by the deceased Ori Reisman, two paintings by Yudith Levin and three paintings by Orna Bromberg, who used to show her work in his gallery back in the 80's. Intrator believes in Bromberg, and the decision to include her in the opening exhibition, with such a respectable assemblage of artists, is surprising. But it is a little hard to question the intuition of Intrator, who has made his gallery one of the leading art venues in Israel, and his gambles on young artists are usually successful.

The gallery's roster of artists includes Michael Gross, Yossi Breger, Adi Nes, Miriam Cabessa, Miri Segal, Noa Zait, Pavel Walberg, Tamar Getter, Yudith Levin, Yitzhak Livne, Itzhak Golombek, Nelly Agassi, Adam Rabinowitz, Sharon Bareket, Ohad Meromi, and Karen Russo. His favored artists also include well-known foreign artists whose works he shows in Israel, including Douglas Gordon, Lawrence Weiner, Beat Streuli, Boris Mikhailov. Jonathan Monk will be mounting a show soon. One artist who used to show his work at the gallery, Gil Shani, has cut his ties with Intrator, and began exhibiting his work at the Sommer Gallery last year.

The news about the new gallery and Intrator's intention to hold an auction of modern and contemporary Israeli art in May, has received many positive responses, but also some raised eyebrows. "There is a need for many more display spaces," he says. "Several dozen young and talented artists graduate the art schools every year, and they need room to show their art. The proliferation of art spaces will be better for everyone. We have highly original and interesting art here that is every bit as good as anything found in the most important exhibition spaces abroad. As soon as Israel art is given exposure, it is successful. But to my regret, we live in a very complex reality, and our art does not play a primary role in that reality."

Intrator is astonished at the sea change that has taken place in the dialogue with international art and the fact that exhibitions of Israeli artists abroad and of international artists in Israel have become such a matter of routine. "Ten years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be exhibiting an artist like Douglas Gordon in my gallery, or that the Sommer Gallery would be exhibiting Wolfgang Tillmans. These are the sort of things that would have sounded like fantasy not too long ago."

What made them possible, he says, was the entry of new collectors into the market, who are willing to invest in international works, as well as the creativity and energy of the gallery owners. Some say that a big part of the international dynamic that has been rustling through the gallery in the past two years is due to Shifra Shalit-Intrator, who began working in the gallery after successfully completing her tenure as Israel's cultural attache in Paris.

Another factor that has galvanized the veteran gallery owners - a factor that Intrator does not mention - is the incursion into the local market of young curators and gallery owners. The advent of galleries such the Sommer Contemporary Art Gallery, Alon Segev, Ltd. and the Tal Esther Gallery. The international connections of the new players, and primarily their inexhaustible energy, have put the pressure on the veterans. It was obvious to them if they didn't join the new race and make more of an effort, they would be left behind.

Intrator, it seems, is interested in maintaining good relations with his colleagues and takes pains to heap praise on them. His colleagues, at least this year, are not so interested in reciprocating.

This was particularly apparent last summer when the Ministry of Culture selected a group exhibition that was then being exhibited at the Dvir Gallery to represent Israel in the Biennale in Buenos Aires. The quick decision, made without the customary competitions and procedures, generated an angry response from the other gallery owners, which led to a sharply worded letter to the Ministry of Culture. "It created a precedent, in the positive sense," he now says. "The galleries should have welcomed the willingness of the Ministry of Culture to collaborate with private art spaces."

Miri Segal's award of the Tel Aviv Museum's Gottesdiener Prize last year was another cause for discontent. Not because she did not deserve the prize, but because she was the sixth artist out of the seven artists who have won the prize so far, who works with Intrator. There were those who said that he was exploiting his connections with the collector Natan Gottesdiener so as to influence the selection. Intrator, for his part, has no intention of "apologizing for the fact that he has good artists."

The frail economic situation has not caused him to reconsider his new entry in the sales market. The decision by Shaya Yariv to suspend sales at the Gordon Gallery prompted Intrator to realize the idea he'd been considering for some time now. "True, times are not so good all around, and the art world is part of it," he says. "But you never know what's going to happen. Contrary to the predictions, the auctions of contemporary art that are being held this month in New York are doing just fine."

People in the market say the passion for higher profits will be the ruin of the galleries. They say that this is what happened to the Gordon Gallery when it started auctions, They also know that Intrator is relying, at least at the beginning, on two aces up his sleeve - Michael Gross and Ori Reisman, the value of whose work has skyrocketed in recent years, and whose painting can scarcely be found in the market.

Intrator will place his emphasis on Israeli art of the second half of the 20th century, from New Horizons to the present. "The time has come to create a separate category for modern and contemporary art in Israel, as is the case in Europe and the United States, and not as an addendum at the back of the catalog." The auctions will also include photographs - something that was tried unsuccessfully on two occasions in auctions at the Tirosh Gallery.

Intrator believes this will be the first time the younger generation will be exposed to the art market. In this encounter between young artists and an audience that does not regularly visit the galleries, he sees an important tool for broadening the art audience.

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