December 25, 2005, Updated September 13, 2012

Eden Gallery owner Mickey Klimovsky: The artists we choose to work with are the ones that pass our test.There aren’t many young couples that could handle owning and managing three art galleries spanning 9,000 miles, supply art to almost 40 other galleries worldwide, while raising two rambunctious boys. But for Israeli gallery owners Mickey and Catia Klimovsky, it’s all in a day’s work.

The Klimovsky’s Eden Art Galleries in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have not only won a reputation as two of the country’s top venues for contemporary art, the Israeli galleries’ success prompted them to open a sister gallery in Manhattan – New York’s first gallery devoted exclusively to Israeli artists.

Not just any artist will do. The Klimovskys have chosen to represent exclusively and showcase a handful of unique Israeli artists – ranging from Yoel Benarrouche’s abstract paintings and designs, to David Gerstein’s whimsical, three-dimensional sculptures, to Dorit Levenstein’s very contemporary bronze sculptures.

Today, Mickey Klimovsky is sitting in front of a computer on the second floor of his stylish flagship Jerusalem gallery, just down the street from the famed King David Hotel. The ruggedly handsome 35-year-old Jerusalem native offers a tour of the colorful, inventive art gracing the airy two-floor showroom, before sitting back and explaining the fortuitous path that led him to the world of art.

“I’ve been a Jerusalemite all my life, and growing up had little to do with art. I was managing a securities company when I met Catia, who had recently immigrated to Israel from Paris. Her family had been somewhat involved in the world of art, and one day, around 12 years ago, her father called from France and told her that he had seen an interesting Israeli painter in France – someone named Bennarouche. He suggested that maybe Catia and I should do something to promote his work in Israel,” Klimosvky told ISRAEL21c.

The couple got in touch with the artist, who proved eager for their help, and then decided to throw caution to the wind, and used whatever savings they had put away to rent a small space in a Jerusalem hotel and set up an exhibition of Bennarouche’s work.

Bennarouche, born in 1961, grew up in the port city of Ashdod, before moving to Nice, France in 1974 where he remained for two decades. After returning to Israel in 1993, he let the rediscovered beauty of his homeland lead his artistic direction.

“Now, Bennarouche was relatively unknown then, and everyone told us we were crazy to do it. But it was like a miracle – people started coming, they bought some pieces, and Bennarouche began to make a name for himself. Looking back, I would never do it again, but in this case, our inexperience proved to be an advantage,” Klimovsky said with a smile.

From that modest beginning, they continued their hotel exhibition for almost a year until they decided to open a gallery and display other artists as well. After adding artists like Gerstein and Levenstein to their roster, they eventually moved into their current venue, and additionally opened a Tel Aviv branch. They also represent artists Randy Cooper, Volker Kuhn and Moshe Rosenthalis.

“The artists we choose to work with are the ones that pass our test. And the test is ‘will I put this in my living room?’ If an artist or a piece is happy enough and contemporary enough, we’ll go for it,” said Klimovsky.

“Our philosophy was to only focus on three or four artists, and not to spread ourselves thin, unlike galleries who feel that every customer who walks in will have to find something for them. We’re not like that, we don’t appeal to everyone.”

But they did appeal to enough of the collectors and tourists who trekked down Jerusalem’s gallery-heavy King David Street that they realized that there’s a market in the US for contemporary Israeli art that’s not clichéd, garish or old-fashioned.

“Two years ago, we began holding shows outside of Israel, and they went so well, that last year we decided to open a gallery in New York. There was no gallery which focused exclusively on Israeli artists, even though there are some galleries belonging to Israelis; but they’re very commercial and trying offer everything that the public wants,” said Klimovsky.

“We opened in July at a very nice location on Madison Avenue and 50th Street, and had our grand opening in November, and it’s been very successful. We’re on the ground level with huge windows to the street, and there’s a nice aesthetic about the gallery.”

The New York gallery features the same stable of Israeli artists at the same prices as the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv galleries, a point Klimovsky finds important to emphasize.

“A lot of people who are not traveling to Israel are still interested in Israeli art. And it’s important for us that they can find it in New York at the same prices they would pay in Israel.”

Meir Ronnen, venerable art critic for The Jerusalem Post, saw the logic in opening a New York gallery featuring contemporary Israeli art, noting the success that auction houses have had selling there.

“Even Sotheby’s Tel Aviv have moved their sales to New York – there are a lot of Jewish customers there,” he said.

Klimovsky said that the clientele in New York was approximately 50/50 mixed between Jewish and non-Jewish, and that most people are buying it for its uniqueness, not necessarily its Israeliness.

“People are buying this art because it’s happy, contemporary, and different,” he said.

As if on cue, a cheery American tourist enters the Jerusalem gallery with her grade-school aged daughter, and from his computer screen, Klimovsky monitors their movements downstairs. When they make their way upstairs, the mother is captivated by a colorful Gerstein sculpture of a bicyclist in motion.

“I really want that for my friend, he would love it, how much is it?” she asks.

“You’ve been here before, you look familiar to me,” Klimovsky says with a subtle touch of salesmanship.

She deliberates after being told the price, but takes a card from him, and exits leaving the impression that she’ll be back to consummate the sale.

Turning his attention back to his visitor, Klimovsky explains that while Israelis have lagged far behind Europeans and Americans in the concept of purchasing original art for their homes, the trend is improving.

“We do a lot of wholesale work for galleries around the world. You can see in France that people consider it a high priority to buy original art for their home. That’s followed by the US and England and Canada. And somewhere near the bottom are Israelis. But it’s improving. After 10 years in the business, I see people now more willing to invest in art for their homes – they understand the influence art can have on their lives and that there’s a huge difference between hanging a poster on their wall, or a real painting or sculpture,” he said.

With such rapid success and expansion in a relatively short time span, Klimovsky is adamant that the plan now is to stay on an even keel and strengthen their existing operations.

“There are two reasons: one is there’s not so much good original art to sell, and we don’t want to sell just anything to a mass audience. The second is that we’re just two people, and we have a family – and there’s only so much we can do between the three galleries and the 40 galleries we provide wholesale art to. Either myself or Catia is in New York every month.”

But he’s not complaining, he says. And neither are the art appreciators and collectors in New York who have discovered the Eden Gallery.

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