Celebrating Tel Aviv’s urban icons

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Celebrating Tel Aviv’s urban icons

 Mia Serra  finds works of art that inspire on the streets of Israel’s most vibrant city

Dizengoff Fountain
Dizengoff Fountain

Whether it’s the place you fooled around with friends during Israel tour, or the place you found yourself after getting lost in the nearby shopping mall of the same name, chances are Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Fountain will hold memories for you. The structure, which echoes the architecture of the nearby Dizengoff Tower with its cylindrical cog shape, has been an icon of Tel Aviv’s city centre for nearly four decades. So, you can imagine my surprise when strolling casually towards the raised platform that straddles Dizengoff Street I noticed it was, well, gone.

The lady on the checkout at Superpharm, Israel’s answer to Boots, on the west side of the square, reassured me the fountain was still intact. It had just been moved, temporarily. The municipality (or Irya, as locals call it) had finally decided to fix the mistake that Mayor Shlomo Lahat admitted to making in 1978 – the raising of the square (or Kikar in Hebrew, meaning square or roundabout) to a concrete pedestrian platform, giving the busy roads below priority.

In a $15million effort to beautify the area, something this particularly concrete-clad corner of the city is in need of, the rebuild should take Kikar Dizengoff back to its original imaginings. The square itself was inaugurated in 1938 as the “Étoile of Tel Aviv”, a mini version of Place de l’Étoile, home to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with a roundabout at the meeting of six roads. The area thrived for many years as a popular meeting place providing a shaded park, benches and a fountain, before the concrete platform transformed it into a hub of undesirables.

Dizengoff Fountain

The fountain we know today was added in 1986 as an afterthought, perhaps as an attempt to add colour and appeal to an unpopular structure. Designed by Yaacov Agam, who also designed the colourful façade of the Dan Hotel, the fountain has a playful ’80s feel and has been popular with tourists. Although it fell into disrepair for many years, a 2012 renovation saw it returned to its former glory: playing music, spraying water skywards and shooting out flames.

It is worth noting there are plenty of other urban icons that have sprung up in the white city over the years, including three iconic sculptures to visit on strolls or cycle rides.

Top of the list are three giant discs leaning to one side as if defying gravity outside the renovated HaBima theatre complex.

This work, by the late Menashe Kadishman, has a yellow counterpart in High Park in Toronto and is one of my favourites: poised precariously, yet perfectly, like the country it stands in, in an impossible state of balance with dark red rusted discs like the simple faces Kadishman used in later work to symbolise fallen soldiers and the sacrifice of Isaac.

The giant marble vase at the northern end of Ibn Gvirol, a major road traversing Tel Aviv from the centre to the north, was the first sculpture to catch my eye on my arrival in Tel Aviv.

It is next to a café by the junction with Nordau Boulevard that heads towards the sea and I have always wanted to stick a sunflower on top to cheer it up a bit. But it is a vase without a flower, apparently intentional, in line with creator Gideon Gechtman’s focus on death and his mission to bring it out into the light of day. It cannot help however but be influenced by its cheerful sunbleached café surroundings. And perhaps that’s what Gideon would have wanted.

Further south down Ibn Gvirol, the road opens on to Rabin Square where, beyond the giant cuboid of the 1960s’ Iriya or town hall, stands the giant Holocaust and Revival structure by German-born Israeli artist Igael Tumarkin.

Tumarkin’s provocative views and anti-religious comments are undetectable in this seemingly menorah-inspired inverted pyramid. At the base of the structure is an area where people can explore, and become part of the revival this monument attests to, its burnished steel frame, rib-cage-like and rusty brown from the elements, looming above

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