Just around the corner from Tel Aviv’s central Dizengoff Square, Noa Karavan-Cohen grew up playing in the tree-filled park designed by her grandfather, landscape architect Abraham Karavan, and later named for him.
Her late father, artist Dani Karavan, would hide among the olive, guava, mango and grapefruit trees there when his teachers sent him out of class from the school next door — a frequent occurrence.
“He was dyslexic,” said Karavan-Cohen of her father, an award-winning sculptor who died last May 29.
His studio was housed in an apartment building constructed on the site of his two-bedroom childhood home on Zvi Shapira Street, adjacent to that park.
This weekend, to mark the first year of the artist’s passing, the Open Houses architectural event — called Batim Mibifnim in Israel — has created a Karavan experience in Tel Aviv.
There will be tours of his studio and his site-specific sculptures, as well as the gardens and boulevards designed in the early years of the city by his father.
Batim Mibifnim, celebrating its 15th year and taking place Thursday through Saturday, will see hundreds of historic buildings, public spaces, private apartments and homes open for free to the public for one weekend, some requiring pre-registration.
This year’s Batim Mibifnim will also include tours of the city’s under-construction underground transportation system.
Part of that planned underground subway system will necessitate changes in the Habima Square outside the Tel Aviv Cultural Center, where Karavan designed an outdoor space with landscaping that echoed Tel Aviv’s design as a garden city. His family is currently battling the NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit company in charge of planning the mass transit system for the city.
Karavan, who won the Israel Prize for sculpture in 1977, was born in Tel Aviv in 1930 and died there in 2021.
He created some 80 site-specific sculptures in Israel and around the world, including Tel Aviv’s White Square, the wall reliefs at the Tel Aviv District Court, and installations at the flagship offices of Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi. He was also part of the process to have Tel Aviv’s collection of Bauhaus architecture designated as a UNESCO site, earning it the moniker White City.
“Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem,” on the southern wall of the Knesset plenum, is also by Karavan.
Much of his love for Tel Aviv and the way it looked came from his father, Tel Aviv’s first landscape architect Avraham Karavan, who carried out much of the garden city plan designed by Sir Patrick Geddes, including planting the trees and flowers that today still line the boulevards and city parks.
Dani Karavan’s parents came to Israel from Ukraine in the 1920s. The lived first near the Sea of Galilee and in Tel Aviv, moving from a tent by the beach to the Yemenite Quarter and finally to the small house near Dizengoff Square, where Abraham Karavan purchased a small parcel of land.
“There was no money,” said Karavan-Cohen. Her father slept on a folding bed in the kitchen.
The house was torn down and rebuilt in 2000 as a four-floor building. On the first floor was Karavan’s studio and office, which he used whenever he returned to visit. He and his wife and three daughters lived in Italy from 1967 to 1980, then moved to Paris, where he received funding from the city, including for the assistants who worked with him. Much of his work remains there to this day.
When Noa Karavan-Cohen, the eldest daughter, returned to Israel to enlist in the army in 1981, she lived in the family house as a young soldier and then as a university student. Her two younger sisters eventually used the house as well during their late teens and twenties.
Throughout those years, the neighboring houses on this quiet garden street were gradually torn down and rebuilt as a larger apartment buildings surrounding the park designed by her grandfather, planted with flowering bushes and purple jacaranda trees.
“My mother still misses the house. We all do,” said Karavan-Cohen. “All our friends would come… It wasn’t fancy but it was the real thing.”
When Batim Mibifnim’s organizers suggested tours to mark the first anniversary of her father’s death on May 29 last year, it turned out they wanted to show the studio as well as the public sites. “We said, Sure,” said Karavan-Cohen.
“It was never a holy place that people couldn’t enter,” she said. “Dad loved people and loved when people would come here — young artists, reporters.”
He was very Israeli, said Karavan-Cohen, despite the many years spent studying and working abroad.
Karavan learned to walk in the Tel Aviv sand, she said, and that became his first sculpting material. He learned about the mural technique of frescoes in Florence in the late 1950s, and wanted to bring that back to Tel Aviv.
Upon his return to the city in 1956, he was commissioned to make murals at the Tel Aviv District Court. When he realized he couldn’t make frescoes on cement, he created cement bas reliefs instead.
Much of his work in Tel Aviv revolved around his lifelong friendships with renowned architect Yaakov Rechter and Rechter’s brother-in-law, engineer Micha Peri. Rechter was married to actress Hanna Maron, whom Karavan met while making theatrical scenery, and Maron connected Karavan to her husband.
It was Peri who brought Karavan to his iconic work at the Monument to the Negev Brigade, designed in memory of the members of the Palmach Negev Brigade who died fighting for the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
The Negev monument was built between 1963 and 1968; made of raw concrete, it covers 10,000 square meters. A tower alludes to a watchtower, while a pipeline tunnel popular with visitors symbolizes a channel of water in the Negev that was defended by soldiers.
“He couldn’t explain how or why he designed it as he did,” said Karavan-Cohen, who was just a toddler at the time, and only remembers a dog named Negba that Peri brought home from the site. “The term site-specific didn’t exist yet.”
Twelve related tours and activities are available during the Batim Mibifnim weekend, including Karavan’s studio; his works at Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi; an evening lecture in the French Institute about refugees, a subject dear to his heart; activities for kids in Habima Square; bas-reliefs at the Tel Aviv District Court; the White Square; and two tours of the White City guided by family friends and experts.
Despite the architectural angle of the event, Dani Karavan was not an architect, though he was often called one, said Karavan-Cohen.
“He never studied architecture,” she said. “He called himself an artist, and if specified, a sculptor.”
For more information about dates and times for Batim Mibifnim and the Dani Karavan sites, go to the Batim Mibifnim site. (Some of the tours, including those of the studio, are already sold out.)
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