In Conversation with Yifat Gurion

By:
Reut Barnea
September 3, 2019

"Fresh Paint art fair began when we identified a lack of commercial platforms for galleries and artists, on the one hand, and a curious audience on the other," says Yifat Gurion, initiator and co-founder of Fresh Paint, the art fair held in Tel Aviv annually. "Our goal has always been to function as a catalyst in the art market, to promote the flow of resources inward, to lure the public into this world, to get to know art, and more importantly—to develop feelings and sentiments for it. To make the audience realize that art is something that can be mundane; not only something that you dress up for and go out to see once a year, but a matter of routine. Something they would want to take back home and make a part of their lives."

Gurion conceived and founded Fresh Paint in 2008 with Sharon Tillinger. It started out as a small fair, and over the years has grown into the most influential art event in Israel, with tens of thousands of visitors every year, most of them people who do not frequent galleries and museums on a regular basis. Moreover, it became a significant springboard for nascent artists who exhibit their work in the fair's unique Artists Greenhouse. Beyond the opportunity to sell their work, they also gain exposure, and through their participation they often make contacts, which, in turn, boost their artistic careers. Being a commercial fair, Fresh Paint was initially criticized, but as time went by the local art scene realized that "commercial" is not necessarily a bad thing. "The desire was to share our love for this field with as many people as possible," says Gurion, "and to translate it into prosperity for both the artists and all other art practitioners, such as gallery owners or graduates of the Art History departments, who get a first chance to work in the field as representatives at the Greenhouse. To give them a financial push, but also to provide other, non-financial resources."

 Such as?

"Everybody likes to use the word 'exposure,' but exposure in itself is not enough. You must add to it guidance, esteem, encouragement, gaining public attention and educating an audience, which are translated in many different ways to promoting artistic careers. At the outset we noticed that the local galleries were not strong enough to cater to the number of artists they should, in terms of fostering, backing, and assisting over years, and that there is not enough audience that purchases art in Israel."

 What changed since you started?

 "The greatest change in the past ten years, which occurred worldwide and not only in Israel, is the multiplicity of platforms. The range of new formats which the art market introduces. The model of commercial galleries, which was the only model for many years, is no longer exclusive. When a gallery operates well, it is an excellent model for an artist because it provides him with a home. The problem is that today's galleries struggle, and in order to do their job properly they must explore new platforms and new ways to reach audiences. Relying only on the gallery's physical space is no longer sufficient, and new abilities are necessary to stretch arms farther afield and more extensively to enlarge the clientele. The supply of art works, in terms of price range, must also expand to bring in new audiences."

 Has the character of art consumers changed over the years?

 "I see more young audiences who are interested in art and wish to understand its content and value, and some of them also have the means to purchase. Our Greenhouse was created precisely for this purpose—to serve as a meeting point and an entry for up-and-coming artists as well as for new buyers. The fact that these are works by emerging artists, works which are akin to promises, not yet established, thus still affordable, is one way of preserving artistic quality while enabling the new art buyer to become a part of this world without having to make a big commitment. From the very start, those who purchased works at the Greenhouse were not the familiar collectors, for the most part. I appreciate the passion of a true collector, but personally I was never too keen on the need to purchase art just to own it, without presenting it. I want people to live with art, rather than put it instorage. I like new audiences. They always come with a fresh perspective. This year I gave a guided tour of the fair to young people unfamiliar with the art world, and their thirst, curiosity, and fresh questions were sheer delight. I am certain that this is what spawns love, appreciation, and passion for art."

Have the themes that concern young artists also changed over the years? 

"I think that what characterizes young artists today is that everything goes. If in the past you could draw a distinction between those who look outward as opposed to those who look inward, or between categories such as still life and abstract, or between media such as painting and sculpture, this whole system has collapsed today. It is a direct outcome of the multiplicity of platforms, the elimination of hierarchies, the consumption of multiple visual messages, often without the ability to filter."

 Is it a good or a bad thing, in your mind?

 "It has advantages and disadvantages. I think we will experience a lot of bad until we manage to filter the good. It is a natural, organic process—the need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Ultimately, however, there are always diamonds in the rough. In the case of both young and veteran artists, you can often see the contexts, the route they have taken, and their sources of inspiration. The good ones know how to take all of these to new realms. It is quite exciting."

 To what extent do you think of the commercial potential of the works in the Greenhouse?

 "It's not what guides us. We consider the quality of the works and the message primarily, and only then do we try to evaluate how suitable they are to the platform, from the starting point I described—the aforesaid meeting point which is intended to enable artists to make a living and you, as the audience, to take home a work of art. It is a twofold role, but it never comes at the expense of quality. We won't admit something just for commercial potential. It is always quality first, the artistic authenticity, the innovation, and only then the suitability to the platform. In the commercial context, we always feel the need to try to prevent disappointments. If there is a disappointment, it is ours, too. We are very emotionally invested in the fair and its success; it has characterized our activity from the start. It has real soul."

 Have you ever been tempted to exhibit an artist whom you thought had no commercial potential?

 "It happens often. When we encounter extraordinary quality, we give credit to the audience too, that it will come to appreciate it. When the works are good and of high quality, with a strong message, we hope the audience will find interest in them, a commercial interest too. It often happens that our fears are proved wrong, and works which we conceived as highly non-commercial were purchased. Ultimately, even if something does not succeed commercially sometimes, it often attracts a different kind of appreciation, and the artist makes contacts that promote him or her. This justifies the effort."

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