Two well-known conceptual artists, one desert city and a water well don’t necessarily comprise the elements of a multidisciplinary art space, but they do in Beersheba.
Called HaBeer, for the ancient well located in the courtyard of the refurbished Turkish building, (be’er means well in Hebrew), the ambitious art space is the undertaking of two artists, Osvaldo Romberg and Haim Maor. Both men are known for their work that analyzes and interprets: Romberg tends to take a constant, close look at art and art history while Maor offers a more personal view on the issues that challenge Israeli society.
Romberg, an Argentinian by birth who has long shuttled between South America, Israel and the US, first came to Israel in the 1950s and taught at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design for 20 years. Maor, a graduate of the Midrasha in Ramat Hasharon, has been a professor of the arts at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev for the last ten years and was once Romberg’s student.
Their idea at HaBeer, sponsored by the university, the city of Beersheba and the Rashi Foundation, was to focus on video, experimental cinema and multimedia, creating events that combine theoretical content and interdisciplinary art. The opening exhibit will present a little-known selection of conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim’s works from the 1970s, watching his earthy, sometimes suggestive films and videos on the gallery’s flat screen monitors, as well as viewing pieces by four Israeli artists — including Maor — whose 1970s’ works were theoretically related to Oppenheim.
Each exhibit at HaBeer will run for approximately three months, and will include symposiums, activities and cultural events. The art museum space, a series of three, white, bright, high-ceilinged rooms housed in a refurbished Ottoman-era building with a generous outdoor courtyard, feels intimate and appealing.
“This is something that isn’t in Beersheba and that will get the young crowd here,” said Maor. “It will be personal and political.”
“And good art is automatically political,” said Romberg, finishing Maor’s sentence, as the old friends often do for one another.
With the gallery slated to open its doors next week, a recent afternoon with Romberg and Maor included hanging the video installations for next week’s opening and discussing the ideas behind HaBeer and the desert city’s place in the Israeli art scene.
‘There’s academic freedom here, and it’s really a luxury to have such freedom’
The two envision gatherings of all kinds, with evenings spent perusing art installations and gathering around the courtyard well, which will be used as a bar for “sitting and explaining and commenting on art,” said Romberg, a 74-year-old who enjoys his beer.
Romberg is senior curator at the Philadelphia-based Slought Foundation, a non-profit organization that collaborates with artists, communities, universities and governments to create dialogue about cultural, social and political change. He is also a professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
“I wanted to do here what I’ve done in Philadelphia,” he said.
Beersheba represents something else for both men, who find the desert city offers a place of academic and cultural freedom that isn’t always available in the more structured environs of Tel Aviv. Given Beersheba’s location outside the center of the country, the 61-year-old Maor has found it easier to gain legitimacy for his art in the periphery of the Negev, letting it then make its way to the mainstream center.
“We’re allowed to do in Beersheba what we can’t do in Tel Aviv; Tel Aviv is more of a mafia,” commented Maor “There’s academic freedom here, and it’s really a luxury to have such freedom.”
They’re both excited about creating the first art center of its kind in the Negev, and to take part in Beersheba’s gentrifying Old City, a long-awaited project.Their hope is to create an arts triumverate in the south, connecting to nearby Arad and Mitzpe Ramon.
“This place is going to be like Neve Tzedek times six,” declared Maor. “This is the future of Israel.”
HaBeer, 19 Trumpeldor Street, Old City, Beersheba
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