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Agam, Agam

Tel Aviv’s famed fountain has been derided, scorned and graffitied — and now it’s being renovated

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

A couple teaches dancing in Dizengoff Square with the Agam fountain in the background (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A couple teaches dancing in Dizengoff Square with the Agam fountain in the background (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Shalom Sinuwani calls himself a kablan, a general contractor. He’s a handy guy who can fix a broken shutter, tile a bathroom… or refurbish the famed Agam fountain in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square, the job that he’s working on this year.

“They called me up to fix it, so here I am,” he says, hitching up the back of his low-riding jeans before descending again into the bowels of the layered fountain, where he is working on the mechanism.

Shalom Sinuwani working on the fountain (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/The Times of Israel)
Shalom Sinuwani working on the fountain (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/The Times of Israel)

The three layered-exterior of the combination sculpture-fountain is currently ground down to its stainless steel base, while the more than 900 painted triangles that make up Agam’s style of abstract, colorful and kinetic art are being scraped and repainted according to the Agam’s exacting instructions by an Israeli painter commissioned for the job.

It was Yaacov Agam who complained about the state of the “Fire and Water” fountain, claiming it had been degraded and desecrated over the years. Eventually the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa agreed, but only after a prolonged battle.

The city then hired project management company Amgar to handle the sculpture’s NIS 2 million refurbishment. It’s a firm that handles similar kinds of projects, from the Israel Museum’s recent renovation to the construction of Jerusalem’s new Teddy Kollek park. Agam has said that he wants the sculpture to be fully accessible and self-operated. For now, it’s unclear whether the municipality will take on that task.

“The mandate we got from the municipality is to restore the sculpture and fountain, to really redo the whole structure,” said Kobi Ben-Attar, the Amgar project manager. But nothing else for the meantime. The rest of the square is not under consideration for development for now, although Ben-Attar said the municipality is considering how to handle the area as a whole.

As for the fountain, “you can’t see more than 70 percent of the work that’s being done,” said Ben-Attar, referring to the complex electronic and water systems inside the fountain. “It’s like a submarine inside; it’s a machine.”

For now, Ben-Attar is attempting to manage all the work, including Sinuwani’s work inside the fountain, the Israeli artist’s delicate work of repainting Agam’s steel triangles, and the coordination with the municipality, which he says has been more than cooperative.

“We knew how complicated it would be, because it’s not just painting and cleaning,” he said. “It’s a year-long project and we’re on time for the moment.”

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