In Profile

Andrea Meislin

BY Sarah Schmerler, March 1, 2012

Photo by Marc Asnin

What do Tal Shochat, who takes the time to dust off a fruit tree’s leaves before shooting its portrait against black velvet, and Barry Frydlender, who crams multiple perspectives and a dizzying array of socio-economic “cues” into his long-format color prints, have in common? Not much, except for the fact that they’re both Israeli photographers. Together, however, they provide a fairly good sense of what their U.S. dealer, Andrea Meislin, sees as her raison d’etre: to clear a quiet path for American audiences to approach contemporary art made in Israel. Her stable is 90 percent Israeli artists—most of them women—and her mission is to give Americans an appreciation for just how complex and multifaceted these artists’ approaches are. “People say, ‘You’re brave [to show work by Israeli artists],’ but I don’t feel I’m brave. This work is relevant, intelligent—and technically impressive. It tells stories that are real and important. Of course,” the salt-and-pepper-haired dealer smiles, “you have to realize that the personal is political; but that’s what makes this interesting.”

Meislin, 52, spent much of her career in the academic and curatorial worlds of contemporary photography before opening a gallery in Chelsea in 2004. Born and raised northeast of Philadelphia, she was exposed to art early on. The family home was filled with a sizable collection of American paintings and Chinese export porcelain that her parents had collected. By her senior year at Skidmore, she had already bought her first photograph—a photogravure from Camera Work of The Steerage by Alfred Stieglitz. After graduating in 1981 with a B.A. in art history, Meislin got a job at Berry Hill Galleries in New York. She stayed for five years, spending her lunch hours at the nearby Witkin Gallery and Daniel Wolf Gallery. In 1986 Meislin (already married and raising her first child) decided to enroll in the Ph.D. program at CUNY in 19th-century American art. Her husband’s medical career took Meislin, their three daughters—and her thesis—to Phoenix, Arizona, but in 2000, when the family decided to fulfill a longtime dream to move to Israel, Meislin re-embraced photography. She reached out to Nissan Perez, who was head of the photography department at the Israel Museum, and he gave her a curatorial job. Says Meislin, “When I walked into his office for the interview I said ‘Who are these photographers?’ and he said ‘This is the canon of Israeli photography.’ The seed was definitely planted that summer for me.” When personal concerns brought the family back to the U.S. in 2002, Meislin was given a golden opportunity by Artis, a nonprofit that supports contemporary Israeli art, to organize a show of Israeli photography in New York. “I didn’t want any soldier imagery, I didn’t want any guns,” she says, “and I didn’t want any religious people praying at the Western Wall.” The successful show was held at 526 West 26th Street for a scant six weeks; Meislin is still there, only now, as a dealer. “If you show it in the right context, people will recognize the power that an image has to alter their perceptions of a place,” says Meislin. “I opened with a show of Frydlender. When Peter Galassi [former curator of photography at MoMA] came and saw it, he said, ‘I don’t know what it is—but I know I like it; and I want you to tell me what it’s about.’”