The Genesis of AIDA
by Charles Bronfman
Fine ideas have many beginnings. Some evolve, some are accidental, some are thought of long and hard, and some are the result of circumstances. AIDA is in the latter category. Its story follows.
Dale and Doug Anderson have been friends of Andy (my wife) and me for the last decade. They have taught us much about a world we've come to love - the world of studio glass. Through them, we've met many collectors and many artists, and have enjoyed ourselves to the full. At dinner one evening, Andy was discussing our impending visit to Israel. It was to be in December 2001, a few months after the intifada had started. For us to journey to Israel under those circumstances was not an issue. We spend three months at our home in Jerusalem each summer! The winter trip is a short one, having to do with a fantastic program in which we're engaged - birthrightisrael - a project whose aim is to entice every Jewish young adult between 18 and 26 to visit Israel on an educational journey for ten days as a gift from one generation to another. A voice, literally from left field, said, "We're coming with you". It was Dale. She had never evinced any interest in visiting the Holy Land. "But why" we asked, astonished. "Because with what's happening, it won't be so crowded," she replied. Reservations were made, a guide was engaged and in December, we four flew to Jerusalem.
Andy and I mostly did our thing, while Dale and Doug toured. It wasn't the normal tour! Every time the guide would suggest some biblical site, the question of what ceramics, glass, fiber or jewelry could be found at that locale was asked! Dale and Doug fell in love with the quality and variety of craftsmanship that they discovered in this small country. The variety stems from the fact that there are citizens in Israel from over 100 countries throughout the world. Many artists are from such disparate environments as Ethiopia, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Buchara, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, North America, Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa, Australia, and, of course, Europe, both East and West. There are artists who are members of families which have lived in these environs for generations and who bring their perspective to their work.
The two D's found great merit in the diversity of these artists and what they brought to the whole. They envisioned an enterprise that would engage many collectors who they would introduce to this as yet unknown artistic world. A trip was planned but as the intifada intensified, new thinking about the introductions became necessary. Andy knew two remarkable Israeli women. Aviva Ben Sira runs one of the best craft shops in Israel, interestingly enough at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. Andy sought her advice. Then she contacted Rivka Saker, the Director of Sotheby's in Israel. They, plus the two D's and Andy, formed a committee to pursue the idea of how to bring this world class work to the attention of American collectors, dealers, and museum curators.
Enter SOFA. It has a well-earned reputation for supporting and expanding knowledge of international art. Mark Lyman and Anne Meszko have enthusiastically gone beyond the shores of North America in order to broaden our appreciation of the talented artists of other nations. Doug enticed them to meet Andy and me for a drink one evening last fall. We soon found that we were of like minds. Doug and Mark pursued the discussions. A complimentary booth was organized and AIDA was on its way!
Things were now becoming serious. The project was expanded to include a manager, a friend to all, Jo Mett. Jane Adlin, Associate Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and Davira Taragin, Curator of Exhibitions at the new and excellent Racine Art Museum were recruited as advisers. Well known Seattle architect, Norman Sandler and his interior designer wife, Elizabeth Beers Sandler agreed to take on all design challenges. All that remained now was to choose the artists!! Word of the venture spread throughout Israel. Artists were quick to send portfolios. While no formal request for proposals was needed, standards were established from which there would be no deviation.
Early on it was thought that ceramics and glass would be the mainstays of the exhibit. Rivka and Aviva culled through hundreds of submissions and sent 50 to Dale, Jane and Davira. Their conclusion was that there was great strength in ceramics and also world-class abilities in fiber and jewelry. Glass has been slower to take hold, yet several examples captured the attention of these superb judges. Portfolios were shipped across the Atlantic. Meetings were held and decisions taken.
Ten artists have been asked to participate in SOFA Chicago. The title of AIDA's exhibition is "Influence and Innovations". Obviously, the art of the nations from which the artists or their families stem, plus the influence of the history, ancient and modern, of the Middle East, combine to offer both a unique perspective and a new tradition of art and artifact. The time has arrived when Israeli craftsmanship in these disciplines can compete with the best in the world.
This article appeared in the SOFA CHICAGO 2003 Catalogue.