It is strange to be writing about Tel Aviv from the Northeast Corridor regional Amtrak. I suppose it’s a testament both to my commitment to completing this travelogue, and to the fantastic last few days I’ve had in Israel. I have always been the sort of person who turns to writing when I have nothing better to do. I think that’s why it’s never been a clear-cut career path for me. But enough about my internal occupational psychodrama–we’re here for Tel Aviv.
On Tuesday morning, I visited an outdoor arts and crafts market near the Shuk Ha’Carmel. I read online that the local artists are required to be present at their stalls, rather than employing salespeople, in an effort to directly engage with the people who buy their work. My most memorable interaction was with an older Russian woman who handpaints batik designs onto silk scarves. I liked her work, but mostly I just liked this feisty lady who is doing something creative in her retirement, so of course I had to buy something from her.
When I buy a gift, I always try to keep the recipient’s tastes in mind, even when they differ wildly from my own. So as I sorted through floral designs and Jerusalem cityscapes to find just the right pattern for my grandmother, my lovely new Russian friend was showing me her silk paintings of leopards, elephants, and cats playing saxophones. Creative, yes, but not exactly Bubbi’s taste. After I settled on a beautiful design and mentioned that I was getting it as a gift for my grandmother, I was given the ten shekel “Babushka discount.” Small potatoes (enough for vodka?), but a victory to be sure.
I also bought myself a beautiful, unusual ring from a female artist, and having decided that I had probably spent enough money for the day, I decided to do something historical. I walked down to nearby Founders Park and visited Independence Hall, the military bunker turned art gallery that was the site of David Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of an independent state of Israel back in 1948.
I found it quite meaningful that this announcement took place in an art gallery established by Meir Dizengoff, one of Tel Aviv’s most famous early citizens and the first mayor of the city. According to our very knowledgeable tour guide, Ben-Gurion even requested that the paintings in the main gallery space be selected specifically for Jewish themes before he delivered his speech. Just a few years earlier, Jewish creatives were being exterminated across Europe. In 1948, a state is established, quickly, and in doing so, makes a point of recognizing the contributions of its artists. I have never been a religious person, but part of the reason I’ve not abandoned my cultural heritage is because Judaism, as a culture and ethnicity, tends to recognize the value of all intellectual achievements, whether they occur in theology or philosophy, science or art.
Speaking of art, this tidy little segue brings us to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. I have been to many art museums around the world (#humblebrag?), but I was totally unprepared for the quality and diversity of art here. I saw so many cool pieces by both contemporary artists and classically-trained “masters” (I put this phrase in scare quotes to make my friend M.S. laugh).
There were many memorable pieces, but one exhibit stands out. I am picky about museum spaces. If the explanatory captions are too trite, or the floor plan of a gallery is not organized in a logical manner, I rarely enjoy looking at whatever is on display. At this museum, however, I stumbled into the most brilliant, simple exhibit designed specifically with children in mind.
Tiny, brightly-colored, silkscreened images of toys all displayed at child height. The miniature guard rail barely hit my knees. Images of toys arranged in such a way that they are meant to be wondered at by those who still play with toys. Is this not a perfect way to get kids interested in art?
We can debate the artistic merits of Andy Warhol all we want, but ultimately I consider this to be a highly successful exhibit. It doesn’t even remotely pretend to give a shit about adults. Any adult viewer of average height would have to bend down to inspect these paintings. And that is exactly how it should be.
Later that evening, I had a nice meal at a local Israeli-European bistro. I don’t usually snap food selfies, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. It was a very pleasant end to a wonderful day. The soporific effect of the train has begun to kick in now, so I will write a bit about Jaffa later (and how I slept through Hamas rockets). Thanks again for sticking with me.