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Only several kilometers separate Mount Gilboa from Mount Tabor, but these two important landmarks couldn't be more different. The former, with its broad majestically swollen ledges and darkened crags planted solidly on the southeastern edge of the Jezreel Valley, is characterized by a biblical moodiness that changes dramatically with the passing sun and changing seasons. It is the site where King Saul took his own life and his son Jonathan was slain while battling the Philistines.
By comparison, Tabor, set between the Lake Kinneret and the city of Nazareth, is shaped like a disproportionate gumdrop that has erupted from the earth's magma in the middle of abundant fields. Grand, yet solemnly passive, this symmetrical edifice is holy to Christians as the site upon which Christ's Transfiguration came to pass.
In the hands of plein-air landscape painter Michael Kovner (b. Hadera, 1948), Gilboa, Tabor and the countryside between them come alive in all their manifestations. Painted during the past two years in both bright summer sunshine and winter's cloud cover, he has divided his works in two; each subject, related in more than a dozen pictures, is displayed in a gallery of its own.
This time out, Kovner, a sensitive artist possessed by a love of the land, has extended his palette in uncommon directions. Several compositions of Tabor, especially those in which brilliantly brushed skies salted with translucent clouds that gently roll past the mountain's ridge, are laced with a dreamy spirituality in a range of cool jade and turquoise that are contrasted by agrarian plains in the foreground of deep burgundy and reds or ocher, yellows and dark brown. These relatively representational images are pitted against a handful of visually demanding expressionist interpretations that hark back to descriptions of houses in Gaza Kovner painted 25 years ago. Pulling out all the stops he has fashioned a mixture of a reds, greens, oranges and blues into a syncopated composition of flattened shapes that transforms nature into a spectacular patchwork quilt.
Kovner's strength as an on-site painter is his ability to interpret the vistas laid out before him via his physical senses or his emotional spirit. The Tabor pictures most definitely touch on this quality, but the Gilboa paintings are there to prove it. He attacks the crescent-shaped string of rugged hills with a ferocious appetite for putting paint to canvas using colors that document the dimensional reality of a place or somber tones that elicit the poetry of stone and wood. In the entire cycle, the impenetrable slopes of Gilboa occupy the entire surface of the composition from edge to edge with only a sliver of sky or the houses and ponds of Kibbutz Beit Alfa indicated as minor pictorial elements in the painting's design. As it looms up in nature, a fortress separating the Jezreel from Samaria, so does Kovner portray it: Gilboa - a monumental, all-encompassing, presence.
In all his works Kovner shows he has mastered an alla prima technique of applying raw pigment over traces of secondary and tertiary colors. This method of dodging between undercoats and over painting not only sharpens the tactile quality of his surfaces but also provides them with an immediacy and density that tends to sparkle. There is nothing fortuitous about his use of color, for Kovner has become a skilled practitioner in seeing things not only the way they are but also the way his compassionate eye thinks they should be at that fleeting moment. (Museum of Art, Ein Harod, Kibbutz Ein Harod). Till mid April.
VIEWING AN engrossing potpourri of photographs, posters, menus, art works and original objects that make up the content of Coffee Houses of Tel Aviv, 1920-1980, was like being swept up in a time machine that hurled me back to revisit what was, and in many respects still is, an Israeli institution initiated and nurtured by an entrenched European tradition.
But the display is a actually a peek through rose-colored glasses into the bourgeois and bohemian life styles of the time period covered, for existence was not as easy at it is pretended to be (in the photographs) during the Mandate years immediately following World War I. Nor did it get any better in the 1930s and during the World War II. But for the small community of writers, artists, journalists, businesspeople and politicians the coffeehouses served a purpose: a place to escape to, meet, discuss the issues endlessly, to amuse and be amused.
As an academic exercise, coffeehouses in Tel Aviv can be studied as a parallel phenomenon with the development of the city, from its initial thrust around the southern districts of Herzl Street and Rothschild Boulevard in the 1920s to the emergence of a more cosmopolitan facade on the sidewalks of Allenby, Dizengoff and Ben-Yehuda streets a decade or two later. And each caf attracted a favorite clientele. The regulars at Caf Atara were from the German-speaking crowd, while judges, lawyers, architects and journalists preferred Caf Noga.
There aren't many of us who remember ballroom dancing at the Casino on the seashore promenade; the famous Kassit, home to three generations of artists, actors and writers, has, after several adjustments, become a fashionable restaurant; Pinati is still a sidewalk coffee shop but of the Italian kind; and Caf Rowal, a watering hole where the elite sipped their caf au lait, now sells bed linen and tablecloths. Others like Piltz, Sheleg Levanon, Ginati Yam, Caf Snir and Noga are gone and forgotten. Only the photos retell their days of grandeur.
In addition to the social interest that surround the hundreds of photographs and assorted memorabilia, original murals that once adorned the walls of Kassit, one by Yosl Bergner and a second by Uri Lifshitz, have been resurrected for the exhibition. Also of special interest are several architectural drawings - exteriors, interiors, furniture and site plans - for a number of coffeehouses created by noted architect of the period who were called upon by entrepreneurs to design fashionable establishments.
Unfortunately, there is no going back. All we have left are the memories of the days when life seemed to move at a slower pace and the many Tel Aviv coffeehouses served as an essential cultural institution.
At the same venue, Photo Sonia tracks the career of Sonia Kolodny (1901-1999), the first Hebrew woman photographer who documented, in pre-state days, the life and times of Hadera. Unattached to any Zionist funds or official organizations, she was a committed resident of the Sharon Valley and recorded in a most direct manner the people, their children, agricultural scenes, cottage industries, family occasions and, above all, portraits of the pioneers who founded the settlement of Hadera.
When one thinks that the country's museums have finally exhausted the portfolios of photographers working in Eretz Yisrael, another, like Kolodny pops up to rekindle the flames. Her work, being shown for the first time, is unimaginative yet honest, and above all documents an agrarian corner of the country whose early history would, if not for her, probably have gone unrecorded. (Eretz Yisrael Museum, Ramat Aviv). Comprehensive catalogs available for both exhibitions. No closing dates announced.
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