Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Yaacov Agam Museum of Art

Mister Handmade in Israel thinks that it's strange that I like visiting museums on my own. I'm quite a sociable person really, but for several reasons I prefer to go to an art gallery or museum alone. I like to be able to spend as much time there as I wish, without being rushed or feeling that it is time to leave. I love taking photos - lots of them - without anyone thinking I am slightly crazy. And I like the peace and quiet. Shhh! Please don't talk to me whilst I am enjoying a special exhibition.
Having said all that, I had no problem at all going by myself to the new Yaacov Agam Museum of Art in Rishon LeZion on International Museum Day. A friend was going to join me but was running late, so I spent the time in this new museum all alone. I loved it!
Yaacov Agam is an Israeli sculptor and experimental artist best known for his contributions to optical and kinetic art. The son of a rabbi and a kabbalist, he was born Yaacov Gipstein on May 11, 1928 in Rishon LeZion, Palestine (now Israel), and was raised in a family steeped in Jewish spiritual values. Agam trained at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, before moving to Zürich, Switzerland in 1949. In 1951 he moved to Paris, France, where he still lives today. He has enjoyed great public success since his first one-person show in Paris in 1953, and has become one of the most influential artists of modern times. His paintings, which are displayed in famous buildings such as the Elysee Palace, the Pompidou Centre - where 'Salon Agam' is included in the museum's top list of collection masterpieces - and the White House, as well as in metropolitan areas such as New York, Miami, Chicago, Tokyo, Paris and St. Petersburg to name a few, define kinetic art with a signature use of bold colours and shapes. Agam is the highest-selling Israeli artist of all time. In a Sotheby's New York auction in December 2010 his painting 'Growth' was sold for $698,000.
Agam's art, or at least a large collection of it, has now found a permanent home in the place of his birth, at the newly opened Yaacov Agam Museum of Art. Located in Israel's third largest city, the museum - a joint initiative of the Rishon LeZion Municipality and the artist - showcases six decades of Agam's artistic research, and presents some of his most important artworks, coming from prestigious Israeli and worldwide collections and museums.
The entrance to the museum features the work 'Pillars of Clilla', named after the artist's late wife. The work includes 29 monumental columns, 20 at the entrance and 9 inside the building, which make the distinction between indoors and outdoors inconspicuous. The museum’s central space boasts his 'Panoramagam' work, a twenty-two metre long relief painting, originally displayed as part of Agam’s solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 1981.
Other exhibits range from transformable sculptures and paintings to relief paintings, interactive digital displays, objects, installations and sound works. His art engages and fascinates all ages and audiences, and spans a breathtaking range of artistic expressions. 
The building itself, designed by architect David Nofar, takes up 3,200 square metres and also includes a gorgeous outdoor sculpture garden.
In the Israeli public sphere, Agam is especially renowned for his 'Fire and Water' fountain at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, which brought colour to Kikar Dizengoff for years until it was taken down for renovations in 2016. He also designed the front of the Dan Hotel on the Tel Aviv Promenade, below, and the exterior design of Ne'eman Towers in north Tel Aviv. His works are regularly exhibited at the Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and can be seen at the President's Residence, by the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, The Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer Hospital, Rabin Medical Center and many other places.
Fifi and Hop
California Globetrotter

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Rosh Chodesh

Tamar, the talented photographer and blogger behind Random-osity, contacted me some time ago to discuss a papercut commission for her mum's upcoming milestone birthday. Her mum adores papercuts, Tamar told me. Her Hebrew birthday falls on Rosh Chodesh (the name for the first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar, marked by the birth of a new moon), something she is very proud of. Tamar was wondering if I could create something for her mum, that would connect to Rosh Chodesh and the lunar cycle. Of course I could!
Rosh Chodesh, which means the "head of the month", is especially dear to Jewish women. According to an ancient tradition, the holiday was a reward given to the women of Israel because they refused to surrender their jewellery for the creation of the golden calf (Exodus 32). Because of their righteousness, the women were exonerated from working on Rosh Chodesh. In addition, many women have pointed out that the menstrual cycle is similar to the monthly cycle of the moon. (The English word "menstruation" derives from the Latin word for "monthly.") Furthermore, according to Kabbalistic teachings, women share a special relationship with the moon. For these reasons and more, Rosh Chodesh has long been sacred to Jewish women and some mark it as a woman's holiday and a time for prayer and study.
I created a papercut that loosely depicts the cycle of the moon. I drew a full moon surrounded by smaller crescent and gibbous moons in varying sizes, illustrating the moon moving through its monthly cycle. I added stars and swirls to add a feeling of movement.
"The stunning paper cut arrived today! It’s gorgeous!", Tamar wrote to me when she received it. She later reported back that "Mom LOVED the papercut!"

Sunday Snap

Monday, 21 May 2018

Two Weddings and a Silver Anniversary

Some time ago a customer asked me to make two wedding cards. The cards I created show each bride and groom under the chuppah, the canopy under which a Jewish couple stand during their wedding ceremony. I decorated the chuppah with a few flowers, as they are often decorated, and added a big pink heart to both cards. The cards open in the Hebrew direction, from the right, because the Hebrew language is read from right to left instead of left to right like English. The Hebrew greeting says "Mazal Tov Shani and Nathaniel" and "Mazal Tov Sarah and Arnon" respectively.
It seems that Sarah, above, was particularly happy to receive her customised card. "Thank you so much! It is so beautiful. Amazing." she wrote to my customer.
The same customer also asked me to make a 25th wedding anniversary card for her husband. She asked me to personalise it by adding pictures of their kids and pets, and to also include an Australian flag and an Israeli flag. I added the big 25 years in silver numbers and letters, since the 25th wedding anniversary is the silver anniversary.
Her husband loved the card and thought it was amazing how much the kids look like them!

* This post has been shared on All Seasons, Creative Mondays, Happiness is Homemade, Amaze Me Monday, Inspiration Monday, MMM Block Party, Busy MondayThe Good. The Random. The Fun., Make It Pretty Monday and Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday).

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Golf, Bridge and Freesias

I was incredibly flattered when the talented contemporary Jewish artist and Judaica designer Laura Cowan contacted me and asked me to make an 80th birthday card for her Mum. She likes golf, bridge and freesias, she told me. Oh, and could I add a black cat as well. Of course I could.
On the front of her card I have shown mum with a golf club in one hand and some bridge cards in the other. In the background is a golf course with a little red flag flying, which apparently signals a hole placement towards the front of the green. Some freesias in pink and yellow are to mum's left, while her black cat is on her right.
As an interesting aside, the freesia flower originated in South Africa and belongs to the iris family, which includes approximately 14 freesia species. The flower got its name when the botanist, Christian F. Ecklon named the flower after Friedrich H.T. Freese, a fellow botanist, as a commemoration of their friendship. Freesia is the 7th wedding anniversary flower in the language of flowers, and is said to symbolise innocence and friendship.
Laura was kind enough to let me know when she had received the card. "The card is amazing!" she wrote to me. "Mum loved it." Unfortunately she forgot to take a picture of her with the card but this was the birthday girl on her special day surrounded by her grandchildren.

Monday, 7 May 2018

From Crocodiles to Tarantulas

"Israel is a small country. You must have seen everything by now!" people often say to me. "Heck no!" I always reply, "There is still plenty for me to see and do!". Having said that, there is absolutely no harm in going back to a place we have previously enjoyed and this Pesach (Passover), when my Dad was visiting from the UK, that is pretty much what we did. Long hikes were off the menu, so I looked for more gentle activities. We were busy!
We made a return visit to Shoham Forest Park, this time climbing up to Givat HaSaflulim, "The Hill of Cup Marks", where a lookout point is located in memory of a soldier who fell in battle in Lebanon in 1994. The name of the hill comes from a large rock located there which has various sized depressions carved into it. The small depressions are known as "cup marks" and may have been formed by cracking nutshells, and the larger ones from crushing grains and herbs. The view from the lookout point was impressive, extending westward toward the coastal plain and eastward towards the Samaria mountains.
We showed my Dad the ancient church of St. Bacchus with its beautiful mosaic floor, and we checked out the the Madaba map, which is part of a mosaic floor from the Byzantine period that was discovered in a 19th century church in the city of Madaba, Jordan. It was Pesach of course, so the obligatory Pesach picnic of matza, boiled eggs and salad was consumed. The kids used to moan about it, but now they just get on with it!
Another day saw us revisiting Nahal Taninim Nature Reserve in the Carmel coastal plains. The name of the reserve means Crocodile River in Hebrew, but we didn't see any crocodiles on this visit nor the previous one. Apparently they haven't been spotted there since 1877! We did however enjoy a leisurely stroll through the reserve, stopping to see the Roman dam and the lake it created, the aqueducts, flour mills and the ancient gravel quarries, one of which was used more recently, in the early part of the 20th century, by Edmund de Rothschild, who purchased much of the surrounding land and constructed a pipe factory.
Nahal Taninim is beautifully maintained and flowers bloom in many parts of the reserve. It was already too late in the season to see poppies, anemones and asphodels, but bicoloured Viper’s bugloss and wild yellow Chrysanthemum added splashes of colour to the antiquities. There was life in the water too and the catfish were easy to spot as we wandered along the stream.
We came across this exhibition of old posters, below, quite by chance. While I went to see the Picasso exhibition at Altmans Gallery in Tel Aviv, I suggested that Mister Handmade in Israel and my Dad go to the Shalom Meir Tower, Israel's first skyscraper, just around the corner. I had popped in to use the bathrooms on a previous visit and had noticed an exhibition of photographs of old Tel Aviv on the ground floor of the building. I thought that my Dad might enjoy seeing them. As it turned out, there are a wide range of exhibits in the lobby and on the first floor. They tell the story of the city of Tel Aviv, illustrating its historic, architectural, and artistic development over 100 years. Exhibits from some of Israel's larger museums are also on display, along with models, maps, and photographs.
The exhibit that I was particularly interested in features adverts and posters from the streets in Tel Aviv's earliest days. Their language, style, and topics embody the atmosphere of those formative years. The adverts include municipal notices, social announcements, and concert and theatre posters that all tell the story of the rich cultural life in Tel Aviv's first years. If we'd had the time, we could literally have spent the day at the Shalom Meir Tower! I will definitely be going back to take a closer look.
The following day we stayed at home but in the evening went to Jerusalem to see the wonderful Yonina in concert. Yoni and Nina, hence the band name Yonina, are a young religious couple who started out small, by uploading a weekly video to Facebook and YouTube, and in recent months have gained quite a following. Their music, a mix of covers and their own material, is gentle and pure. My Dad was smitten and declared it the best thing we had done all holiday!
We finally convinced the youngest son to join us for one activity! The Biblical Museum of Natural History, currently located in Beit Shemesh, is part natural history museum, part zoo, and part Torah education centre. We joined a tour led by the museum’s director, Rabbi Slifkin, who is affectionately referred to as the "Zoo Rabbi", and learnt about the animals that lived in the time of the Torah and their symbolism in Jewish texts. We saw large taxidermy specimens and skeleton exhibits, and had the pleasure of holding some live animals too. Unfortunately it wasn't the greatest activity we had participated in over the holiday (I think we would have been better off going off-season, when there might be less babies and toddlers in the group), but the youngest son particularly enjoyed holding the snakes, the chameleon and, yes, a tarantula! I was rather partial to the sweet little Siberian hamsters myself.
Our final outing before the end of the holiday was to The Yitzhak Rabin Centre in Tel Aviv. The centre is the official memorial dedicated to the legacy of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in November 1995 by an extremist who opposed the terms of the Oslo Accords. It includes one of Israel’s newest museums, the Israeli Museum, which explores the history and development of the modern democratic State of Israel, using the biography of Yitzhak Rabin as a connecting thread. Rabin's story is told in a very interesting manner and we all found ourselves consumed by it. The museum is both emotionally moving and full of information. We spent several hours there.
As an interesting aside, the centre, which was designed by the acclaimed Israeli architect, Moshe Safdie, was built on the foundations of a top secret power station known as "Reading G" or "J'ora." Built in 1954-1956 to supply power in the event of an enemy bombing, it was financed in part by the German Reparations Agreement.