September 18, 2019

New Iranian Jewish art gallery shines light on Jewish artists

During the last ten years a growing number of young, educated and successful Iranian American Jews have ventured into the arts and entertainment industry as their primary profession. The sense of sharing their creative energy and aspirations has been attractive to young Iranian Americans Jews living in L.A. who are now wanting to break with their community’s traditions of going into the classic professions of medicine, law or business. I have had the special pleasure of witnessing the new generation’s attraction to the art world and even interviewed Iranian Jewish art curator, Shulamit Nazarian in 2010 following her exhibition of the art works of several contemporary Iranian Jewish artists in L.A..

More recently, I was delighted to attend the grand opening of the “Illoulian Contemporary” art gallery in West Hollywood headed by another up and coming Iranian Jewish art curator, Candice Illoulian. Last week I caught up with Illoulian who was featuring the unique art work of William Benhamou, a 24-year-old well-known French Jewish artist. The exhibition was abuzz because of Benhamou’s very interesting “pop art meets street art” style of work as well as the large crowd of young Iranian Jews drawn to the gallery. For his part, Benhamou was excited to have his work which combines photography, video, writing and painting on display in Los Angeles as well as the support of young Iranian American Jewish art lovers.

The following is a portion of my interview with Illoulian regarding her new art gallery, her attraction to a career in art and her involvement of with Benhamou….

Can you share a little with us about your background as an art curator and interest in the field?

Art has always been a passion of mine. I was an Art History major and Business Administration minor at USC, anticipating a career in the art world.  Upon graduation, I held positions working at Christie’s Auction House in New York City, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and a few art galleries both in Los Angeles and New York.  I am a member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Modern Art, and the American Friends of the Israeli Museum.  I also serve as the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood.

What motivated you to open your own art gallery?

Opening an art gallery has been a life long goal of mine and around the High Holidays last year, my dream came true and I opened my gallery. I am always on the search for new talent and not looking for any particular style. However, it is important for me to be deeply moved by the artist’s work. I seek artists who demonstrate depth and range in their artistic expression, who are unafraid to be controversial and avant-garde, and who have the power to shake your core. My aim is to find captivating and thought provoking artists who can rattle both art lovers and non-art lovers alike; these are such artists whom I am looking to exhibit.

How did you get involved with William Benhamou and why did you choose him for your grand opening exhibition?

In the beginning stages of my gallery, I spoke to a mutual friend, Sarah Hart, and she raved about William and insisted that we meet. She introduced us on Facebook, where we consequently arranged to meet via Skype, since I was in Los Angeles and he was in Paris. William Benhamou’s genius lies in the fact that he can create art that plays on pop-culture and are very light upon first glance, but bear a much deeper meaning pertaining to contemporary social and politically charged issues. Every time I see any of his given work, I find a new meaning, new symbolism, and some perverse play on society that makes me laugh out loud even when I am by myself. I chose William as my opening show because his work is extremely vibrant, energetic and tantalizing, which is how I wanted to introduce myself to the art world.

Are you looking to exhibit more work in your gallery from Iranian Jewish artists?

Of course I would love to have the opportunity to display Iranian-Jewish artists! As I said before, if I connect with the artist and believe in his or her work, I would love to display their art. I already work with an Iranian Jewish sculptor, Angela Larian, whose sculptures are absolutely exquisite, heartfelt and multifaceted, all the while celebrating human nature in its most organic form. I am looking forward to presenting her new body of work in the near future.

What do you think our community as Iranian Jews in L.A. has to contribute to the art scene in the city and in the U.S.?

We as a community harbor great talent which we have to support in order for them to shine in both the national and international art arena. I would love to use my gallery to help pave the road for these aspiring artists seeking recognition in the art scene.


The following are paintings created by William Benhamou….

(left to right; Dr. Morgan Hakimi and Candice Illoulian, photo by Karmel Melamed).