In Tel Aviv, Preserving History Through Art and Design

Tue, 28 April 2015
Black birds Maya GelfmanBlack Birds, Maya Gelfman

Tel Aviv is not like the rest of Israel, or so many of the locals will tell you. Head outside to neighbouring towns and cities and judging by the way they describe Tel Aviv you might think they were talking about another country. The Tel Avivians are predominantly and proudly secular; this doesn’t make them any less spiritual, like their counterparts in Jerusalem, or less passionate about their city.

What the Israelis do share, however, is community; one that’s expressive, ever-evolving and rich in diversity. With this diversity and despite the inexorable political commentary/rhetoric that engulfs a region in conflict, creativity here has been granted a license to flourish.

Through art and design, the Israelis express themselves, prone to an ingrained emphasis on preserving history.

Maya Gelfman, a 37-year-old artist who has been exhibited at art fairs around the world and is famous for her street art, epitomises the Tel Aviv perspective with her work: “Israel (especially Tel Aviv) is an amazing ground for creativity due to its complexity and because it always leaves you hungry; meaning you can never be fully satisfied and content here. It drives me to search for new alternative ways and perspectives through which to express myself.”

I met Maya at her home/studio in the heart of central Tel Aviv and shortly after my visit I spotted her subtle and uplifting work across town. Today, we often identify with the political messages portrayed by some of the more prominent street artists, plenty of whom have left a legacy on these streets – but Maya’s work isn’t really about the politics: “The personal is political,” she explains.

Across town, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art provides a ‘white cube’ equivalent of the city streets, showcasing (among other things) local art from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. With departments that cover a multitude of alternative art forms, this celebrated institution provides an extensive program of permanent and changing exhibitions that would astonish any seasoned art lover, if one were not so overwhelmed by the remarkable space where it’s all housed.

The recently added Herta and Paul Amir Building, inaugurated in 2011, has become an international landmark at the centre of Tel Aviv. Designed by Professor Preston Scott Cohen, this 19,200m2 architectural space manages to be simultaneously linear and multi-layered. It’s an experience simply to walk up and down and explore.

Design, as well as art, features extensively across the city, especially through its architecture. The 4,000 or so Bauhaus buildings, collectively called ‘White City’ and recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, sit north of Old Jaffa – itself a stark historical district but no less impressive for its preservation and its remarkable integration into a living city. To create further history, the Design Museum Holon, just south of Tel Aviv, has become the hub for innovation in this field in Israel.

Here, the museum wishes to ‘explore the impact of design and the relationship of design to urban spaces and everyday life’ – an ambition likely to succeed in their extraordinary home. A visit here is a true event thanks to architect Ron Arad’s magnificent sculptural design, almost a living and breathing industrial body that alters in perception and scale from every viewpoint.

As Old Jaffa and Modern Tel Aviv entwine, the expressive qualities of the locals and their hereditary instinct to create are clearly visible. The rapid development of the city has benefited enormously as a result of this freedom, and through art and design, the Tel Avivians are shedding an imaginative light on all aspects of living. Food, hospitality, technology and *whisper it* fashion, are all enjoying yet another renaissance – all under the watchful and ever present gaze of the ancient port on the horizon.

Words by Alexander Moussaieff

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