By Jeffrey F. Barken/JNS.org
Tel Aviv’s iconic King Albert Square is in the midst of a significant makeover.
The Norman Tel Aviv, a luxurious boutique establishment, has restored two buildings on Nachmani Street, at the heart of the Tel Aviv UNESCO heritage site for historic Bauhaus architecture. The newly renovated hotel’s management is also a dedicated patron of the arts, seeking to support contemporary artistic expression in Israel. When complete, the complex will be a travel destination that houses and showcases many avant-garde cultural treasures.
“Tremendous care has been taken to restore these buildings to their original grandeur, preserving the eclectic style, Renaissance and oriental influences that characterize the edifice at #23 Nachmani, as well as the striking modernist architecture of the adjacent building at #25,” Olivier Heuchenne, managing director of The Norman, tells JNS.org.
The hotel—whose grand opening is planned for this summer—will sport an interior design echoing the luxury and style of the grand hotels of the early 20th century, featuring top restaurants, an extraordinary collection of Israeli artwork, an elegant library bar, and The Norman’s signature world-class amenities.
The art collection of more than 100 works stands at the center of this accomplishment, uniting design themes and creating an interactive experience for guests. Featured are works by Ilit Azoulay, Sigalit Landau, Klone, Dana Levy, Assaf Shaham, and Tsibi Geva, among others, celebrating a class of leading contemporary Israeli artists whose work already is exhibited worldwide.
For Tamar Dresdner, the in-house art curator and consultant who selects works for display, the opportunity to participate in the restoration was a dream come true. “I’ve been living in Tel Aviv for years,” Dresdner tells JNS.org. “I remember walking past these buildings when they were residential properties and then entering them when they housed offices for businesses and lawyers. I always fantasized about what could be done with the space.”
Mindful of the layered history that defines the new hotel’s premises, Dresdner sought works she felt were in dialogue with the buildings. “Since we have an eclectic style building, I wanted eclectic art,” she explains. This meant acquiring works of assorted media, including video, sculpture, photography, and paintings.
In contrast to other hotels, which typically hang commercially reproduced prints and stock décor, Dresdner has taken significant risks in her selection, making the collection reflective of Israel’s fractious social dialogue, as well as an open-ended commentary on the country’s economic and political situation. “A work, even in a hotel, should challenge the viewer,” Dresdner says. “[In Israel], we are sitting on a powder keg. Art should ask questions, not offer answers, directing the viewer to places that are not clear, that are edgy and explosive.”
A small sampling of the collection reveals a wide breadth of styles and themes. Paintings by Tsibi Geva offer penetrating glimpses into Israel’s communities. “Tsibi is very influenced by American abstract paintings, but he is also very local. His work addresses political issues and is very rooted in this place,” says Dresdner.
Sigalit Landau’s salt crystal sculptures and videos draw from the Dead Sea landscape and mythology. Works by the graffiti artist Klone, meanwhile, provide a fresh perspective of Israel’s melting pot immigrant heritage and the collision of disparate cultural populations in Israel’s cities.
“An immigrant himself, Klones’ works mirror the alienation of urban life and explore the difficulty of assimilation,” Dresdner says.
Ilit Azoulay’s photography in the collection captures a particular sensitivity for the artifacts of urban decay. “The artist goes into dilapidated buildings, discovers objects, and then by shooting each one separately and digitally reassembling them, creates a new reality from the city’s demolished environments,” Dresdner explains.
To mimic the series of modernist windows on the larger building at #25, Dresdner was attracted to sequential compositions that extend the prevailing color scheme composed of pleasant blues, browns, cream, and pinks. Likewise, renowned British designer David d’Almada of Sagrada was conscious of the patterns found in the salvaged and refurbished antique tile floors. He cleverly designed curtains and bedspreads that duplicate geometric shapes and colors, blending textured elements in harmony with the elegant and conceptual artwork.
The Norman’s management made a point of supporting Israeli artists through the collection. In a move that is rare in the art world, 95 percent of the collection has been purchased directly from the artists. “When you ask an artist to loan their work, you are manipulating them,” Dresdner says, noting the opportunity cost lost by artists when their work lingers on someone’s walls without promise of remuneration. “We made a point of buying from artists,” she adds.
The collection will have a permanent and prominent presence in the city, attracting collectors, critics, and art enthusiasts. By request, Dresdner will provide tailored art tours based on each guest’s specific interests, and the artists whose work is displayed will be invited to participate in sponsored events.
To establish a tradition in Israel that supports and appreciates the arts has proven challenging. External pressures and internal discord relentlessly strain the country’s resources and people, undermining their enthusiasm for artistic and visionary talent. But the Norman Tel Aviv is hoping to create a mechanism for promoting emerging artists, and through the art to stimulate discussion of themes relating to Israel’s existential issues. Notably, the hotel’s financial investment in artists will continue past this summer’s grand opening, according to Heuchenne, who notes The Norman’s plans to offer an annual prize to “celebrate an artist’s success and promote their continued development.”
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