AIDA Curatorial Trip 2015

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It is critical to state upfront how important this opportunity is for curators in the field of modern and contemporary decorative arts. The reality of shrinking travel budgets has caused fewer opportunities for exploratory travel and other influential experiences for learning and exchange. The need to bring colleagues together, outside of their formal environment, to look, think, respond and discuss among themselves, and to meet peers in foreign countries is essential to reinvigorating the field of decorative arts both nationally and internationally. I am sure these facts are not lost on AIDA and its trustees.

The five curators you brought together—colleagues representing different parts of the country—were the perfect size to stimulate conversation, encourage exploration and ensure an all-around superb experience. I am certain that Susan Braunstein, Annie Carlano, Stephano Catalani, and Jutta Page agree that we learned as much from each other as we did from our itinerary in Israel. Thank you for thoughtfully bringing together colleagues from within the decorative arts discipline.
 
In reflection upon the entire experience, my thoughts inevitably return to Aviva Ben-Sira. Aviva is the life force that makes AIDA successful. Her understanding and deep knowledge about the Israeli art scene is priceless; her willingness to share what it is to be an Israeli was generous. Aviva’s spirit, energy, interest and desire ensured we had a singular experience in her beloved country, within her treasured art world. Aviva is AIDA’s key secret ingredient that had us enthralled and begging for more. (I’m addicted, sign me up for life.) Her thoughtful itinerary blended so many facets of art in Israel, providing an insightful backdrop in which to understand how the arts come together—or not—in Israel. From the architectural tour, to conversations with leaders in newly formed organizations, to personal interactions with designers, artists, gallerists, curators and dance groups, each day enriched our understanding of the people and culture that make up Israel’s contemporary art scene. By the end of our trip, many disparate ideas and thoughts began to come together to form a rich understanding that I could not have arrived at through my own exploration. I left this Israeli experience with my head spinning in a multitude of directions. I would not want it any other way.  

As I unpacked my experience and travels over the subsequent weeks, I deduced what I gleaned into three words: contradictions, contrasts and conflict. These words, for me, define not only the art I encountered, but also the snippets of daily life, food, and even my own emotions as I let the experiences AIDA provided wash over and consume me with each passing day. Each leg of our itinerary, from the Batsheva Dance Company’s “New Work” performance—alienating and misunderstood until my enlightenment upon the completion of our journey—to an unconventional conversation with the Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics center, to Umm El Fahem art gallery leaders expressing their hopes and dreams to realize a formalized museum, to the mind-blowing site specific sound work in Lifta Village HaKol Galui revealed the complexity and layers that are shaped by the Israeli experience of daily life.

Shenkar College and Bezalel were significant to tour through, such stellar programs, producing talented artists with promise of contributing at the top of their field. Yet, it was quite evident that there seems to be no market, neither private nor public collections in Israel, to recognize and record the field historically and contemporarily. Each visit raised my level of interest and engaged my mind in thinking about the history of decorative arts in Israel, its connections to its European antecedents, and its development over several decades, bringing it to present day art forms and trends. If the work has not already been done, it could be a treasure trove for decorative art curators and scholars to explore this past and present, with an eye on the future.

AIDA, through this magnanimous gesture, pulls back the scrim, making Israel’s contemporary art scene accessible under the carefully planned and superb supervision of Aviva. This experience broadened me professionally in a way I expected and in many ways that I couldn’t imagine. Four months later, the trip’s residue still gilds me. I am in the midst of preparing a slide lecture to share this experience with colleagues at the Museum—curators, educators, and development staff—through an internal lecture series called Curatorial Brown Bag Lunch. The title of my talk is Conflict, Contradictions, and Contrasts: A Behind-the-scenes Survey of Contemporary Craft, Design, and Art in Israel. Many colleagues are eager to hear about my travels and insights gained from this envious experience!

This experience refreshed me and recharged my soul professionally. Your AIDA curatorial trip is a career game changer. I can only say terrific things, am honored to be an alumnus, and have self-designated myself as an AIDA Ambassador.

Thank you for honoring me with this outstanding opportunity.


Elisabeth R. Agro
The Nancy M. Mc Neil Associate Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Craft and Decorative Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art
November 6, 2015

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In July 2015, AIDA's Curator Program brought 5 art professionals to Israel for 10 days of discovery. AIDA's director, Aviva Ben-Sira, and a group of knowledgeable guides introduced them to the culture, history and politics of Israel. They visited artists in their studios, curators at their museums, collectors in their homes and enjoyed lively discussion over dinner with interesting local people.