How This Tel Aviv Gallery Became One of Israel’s Most Prominent Art Spaces

Established over 50 years ago, Gordon, now based in the city's south, has managed to constantly reinvent itself

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Amon Yariv. 'He’s the Gagosian of the Israeli gallery world'
Amon Yariv. 'He’s the Gagosian of the Israeli gallery world'Credit: Meged Gozani
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

“Without Gordon, there’s no artistic life.” That’s what the owner of another gallery, Shmuel Givon, told the Ma’ariv daily in 1985, but the statement is more relevant than ever today. The Gordon Gallery continues to be a leader on the Tel Aviv gallery scene, and it also continues to renew itself.

Just last weekend, the gallery opened a new sculpture garden in south Tel Aviv, in addition to its new “Gordon Gallery Now” project, which provides display space for art at more affordable prices. They complement the gallery’s main exhibition space on Hazerem Street in south Tel Aviv, which was designed by the Israeli-British architect and designer Ron Arad.

Inside Gordon. 'I don’t know what others are doing. We’re doing the best we can.'Credit: Meged Gozani

The Gordon Gallery was established in 1966 by Yeshayahu Yariv, who was known as Shaya. It operated out of the center of Tel Aviv for 40 years with great success. In the 1970s, it was the first gallery in Israel to hold public auctions, a tradition that continued until the early 2000s. Yariv’s son, the artist and photographer Amon Yariv, who is now 45, ultimately also joined the gallery’s management and now owns it. His brother, Aviam, a lawyer, died in 2011 in a sailing accident on the Zambezi River in Africa.

Amon Yariv, whose mother is the noted translator and editor Helit Yeshurun, studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. He is represented by the Rosenfeld Gallery.

He had a solo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and is work is in the collections of the museum as well as at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Haifa Museum of Art. In January, his work will be exhibited at the Open Museum in Tefen in the north.

Yariv said he is pleased with the decision to move the Gordon Gallery to south Tel Aviv.

“The area here is really developing. We have three large spaces that meet high standards. I also benefit from being near the Alon Segev Gallery. There are a considerable number of people who come on tours on weekends, who visit the Kiryat Hamelacha art community and then come here. We have about 200 visitors every weekend,” he said.

Kiryat Hamelacha is an area of industrial buildings off Har-Tzion Blvd. that is home to a number of art galleries and studios.

Amon Yariv. 'I don’t know of any similar gallery in Israel.'Credit: Meged Gozani

The Gordon Gallery’s sculpture garden on Hamanoa Street is a definite innovation in the dwindling world of galleries. It has sculptures by Philip Rantzer, Yaacov Dorchin, Ofer Lellouche, Jan Rauchwerger, Dani Karavan, Michael Gross and Ohad Meromi.

“It’s like an open-air gallery,” Yariv remarked. “I don’t know of any similar gallery in Israel. The history of Israeli sculpture includes very few sculptors, and it’s important to have a place to see them. Sales are part of it. We want to show a broad picture of Israeli art, and sculpture is part of it.”

Sharp senses

The presence of Karavan’s sculptures in the garden are evidence of Yariv’s sharp senses, which have helped the gallery owner reinvent himself. Karavan has never sculpted in dimensions that could be sold. Karavan himself explained that in recent years, he has no longer been able to travel, to oversee work and to “argue with contractors,” as he put it. Instead he has a studio in Tel Aviv where he paints. “My sculptures are created for me in a workshop, based on a model,” he explained.

Karavan worked with Shaya Yariv in the past, and is now again working in collaboration with the Gordon Gallery. Other artists who work with the gallery and asked not to be named said working with the Gordon Gallery has provided them with significant income. Other galleries, they said, have sporadically sold their work, but Gordon provides them with a regular income.

Artists also told Haaretz that being exhibited by Gordon has been a sign of the high quality of their work.

Artist Yair Garbuz, who initially worked with the Gordon Gallery and resumed his relationship with it in 2003, acknowledged that Gordon manages to sell more of his work than other galleries, but he added: “The matter of selling is desirable and helpful, but it’s never the first or second [priority]. It’s more important to the galleries to sell than it is to me.”

An art exhibition at the Gordon Gallery, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani
Yariv. 'I was fortunate that the artists whom I chose were people whom I had grown up on.'Credit: Meged Gozani

What’s the secret of the Gordon Gallery’s success?

“It’s a combination of leading artists from various periods and also the ability to innovate with some kind of correct mix of long-standing and young artists. The young artists create the discussion and the veterans bring continuity. One of the ways to measure when a gallery becomes respectable is when it is expected to play a cultural role apart from sales,” Garbuz said.

During a period when many galleries are closing or barely surviving, Gordon is one of the few that is profitable.

“I’m aware of the claim,” Yariv said. “I don’t know what others are doing. We’re doing the best we can. I think that what helped me a great deal is that I have worked with artists whom I have believed in, and I have been willing to invest in buying their work. My collectors believe in the gallery because they see that it stands behind the artists that it represents. I also think I’ve known how to make changes at the gallery in time, and the move and the purchase of the spaces in south Tel Aviv is part of that. And it’s probably also a bit of luck.”

What changes, for example?

Inside the new building of the Gordon Gallery. Operated out of the center of Tel Aviv for 40 years with great success.Credit: Meged Gozani

“When I took over in the gallery, we stopped holding public auctions. Before then, most of the attention was focused on that. We went back to representing artists, holding exhibitions. I was fortunate that the artists whom I chose were people whom I had grown up on, such as Michal Neeman, Garbuz and Dorchin. It turned out that it was that generation that assumed leading standing in the art world and was in demand. And at the same time, I added more artists from the younger generation.”

Some claim that the inclusion of street artists harms the veteran artists.

Artist Yair Garbuz.Credit: rami shllush

“If someone is a good artist, then he’s a good artist. And where he started out – whether it’s a gallery, a studio or on the street – is of marginal importance. It’s not that every street artist goes on to exhibit in galleries. We work with Know Hope and his work is excellent,” Yariv said in reference to the street artist whose real name is Addam Yekutieli. “It makes no difference at all whether or not he started out on the street. Klone, who works with Hezi Cohen, is also excellent.”

Can you mention the names of artists who were particularly successful as a result of working with you?

“They were excellent before of course, and they’re wonderful artists even without me,” Yariv quipped. “But I can mention Asaf Ben Zvi and Sharon Poliakine. Their connection with the gallery was significant and rewarding on a personal level. It’s worthwhile having a gallery for that.”

Curators and others in the art world mention that Yariv has a pleasant approach with clients and is not condescending.

“He’s very friendly. He has a very good capacity to form relationships with people who buy art,” said one veteran curator. “There’s something very decent and honest about him. He’s ‘old money.’ Not nouveau riche. Some of the people who buy art don’t understand art. They buy because it’s a status symbol, and they need someone to rely on. And he has managed to create that.”

Gordon Gallery's new sculpture garden in south Tel Aviv.Credit: Meged Gozani

“He’s the Gagosian of the Israeli gallery world,” said Debby Luzia, referring to U.S.-based global art dealer Larry Gagosian. Luzia, the owner of the Stern Gallery, is a cultural researcher who specializes in the art world.

“Amon grew up in that world,” Luzia noted. “I’ve also always wondered how he has been successful in places where others weren’t. I told him that he is swallowing everyone up. But of course he’s not responsible for the fact that others are closing. The customers love working with him. They rely on him. He’s also talented in his thinking, in his vision, and he has taken the gallery to an entirely different place. I really think it’s a combination of keeping the right artists and not overreaching.” And she added: “His prices are fair.”

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