The 90-year-old paintings under layers of plaster and paint on the walls of a Tel Aviv building have amazed conservationists. But they are concerned about the murals’ future: the building’s owners are only required to preserve the paintings on the stairwell.
“We were very happy with the richness of the find, but we regret what we lost due to the owners’ lack of awareness and interest,” says Tamar Tochler of the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites.
The murals, discovered during renovations of a 1921 building on 5 Nahalat Binyamin St., include landscapes and depictions of plants, flowers, fruits and trees.
“This is the first time wall paintings have been found in Tel Aviv that include landscapes,” says Shai Farkash, the owner of a studio that conserves such works.
Last week Farkash’s team was working overtime to uncover the murals, assisted by foreign students from the International Conservation Center in Old Acre. A conservation artist, Ben Buchenbacher, whom the building’s owners have commissioned to work on the paintings, calls it “a rescue mission.”
According to Noga Di Segni of the preservation society, landscape paintings have been found in other Israeli cities. “There probably were others like it elsewhere in the city that didn’t survive,” she says.
The building, designed by the architect Yehoshua Zvi Tabachnik (Tavori), is known for the Balcony Pub that has occupied the second floor for years. “When we were having a good time at Balcony, we never imagined what was hiding behind these walls,” one conservation worker says.
Tabachnik came to Palestine from Odessa in 1919 with the wave of immigration known as the Third Aliyah. He arrived on the SS Ruslan, the ship that brought the poetess Rachel and the journalist Moshe Glickson, who became Haaretz’s editor. Tabachnik left the country six years later and continued his architectural career in Brooklyn.
Tabachnik also planned the building across the street, known as the Palm House because of the magnificent palm tree covering the windows of two stories. His buildings were part of an original Land of Israel style that mixed Eastern and Western motifs.
Other buildings in this style, which can be seen on Nahalat Binyamin and nearby Allenby Street, feature seven-branched candelabra, Stars of David, palm-tree glass windows and wrought-iron railings depicting the raised corners of the biblical altar.
According to Shula Vidrich, a historian of Tel Aviv, the house was built for one Yehuda Skopasky, and five years later it was sold to an eye doctor. It changed hands in 1933 when brothers Chaim and Israel Brecht bought it, using the first floor for their velvet import business.
“We have to remember that there were wealthy bourgeois people who built fine houses with a great deal of charm,” Tochler says, referring to the pioneers here.
According to conservation artist Buchenbacher, “There’s something very satisfying about being able to reveal these paintings, which belong to a mood we can’t really understand: a combination of European tradition with living in the Middle East.”
Now the new owners are renovating the building. To do so, conservation architect Nitza Metzger-Szmuk uses original sketches of the house, which are preserved in the municipal archives.
“We wouldn’t know what the original facade looked like without them,” she says. “The descendants of the building’s previous owners also have photographs.”
Metzger-Szmuk has run into a familiar problem – her desire to preserve all the spectacular murals and the new owners’ needs and demands. According to the conservation plan, she can’t force the owners to preserve the paintings, only those in the stairwell — a public space.
Metzger-Szmuk is trying to get the city to offer incentives to the new owners so they preserve all the murals. “We need cultural persuasion here,” she says.
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Twenty-four renowned Israeli artists are the stars of an exhibition opened recently in Rome under the title, “Israel Now: Reinventing the Future.”
Curator Micol Di Veroli, who has been following trends in the Israeli art scene in recent years, sought to bring together artists of different and diverse styles, conveying a clear Israeli message: Freedom and liberty in the different fields of art.
The exhibition, presented at the MACRO Testaccio Museum in Rome, focuses less on paintings and more on video art. Artist Michal Rovner sends the viewer through an alleged eyepiece of a microscope to focus on human movement simulating scientific inquisitiveness in bright red.
Tamar Harpaz, who was present at the festive opening, generated a lot of interest with her ability to create a manipulation among those viewing her work through a fixed and moving image.
Nahum Tevet presents “Islands,” a more colorful work compared to his previous creations.
Shay Frisch, who lives in Rome, transfers energy through electrical adaptors connected to each other. Frisch, by the way, is the first Israeli artist with his own exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome.
The list of artists is joined by Adi Nes, who is admired by the Italian audience, with a series of pictures of soldiers, as well as Gal Weinstein, Yael Bartana, Shai Kremer and many others.
The exhibition is being sponsored by many organizations and has received a medal of honor from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
Israeli Ambassador to Italy Naor Gilon noted at the exhibition’s inauguration ceremony that “contemporary Israeli art is thriving in the West as innovative and interesting art.
“Museums and galleries in Israel are allowing our artists to reach out to museums across the world, and they are seeing fruit to their labor thanks to tourists’ great interest in Israel’s cultural centers.
“The current exhibition is a great taste of a wide variety of artists representing the different layers of the Israeli society,” the ambassador added.
The exhibition, which has won praise in the local press as well, runs until March 17.
This video illustrates 10 of them: thank you to Ozgur (Turkey), Hemanth (India), Christopher (France), Cristian (Cameroon), Josh (United States), Andjelic (Serbia), Marinescu (Romania), Noam (Israel), Swapnil (India), Goeffrey (Canada).
IF WE can ask the right questions, we can change the world.