Today, Gutman's imposing murals stand as a mere cenotaph to a grandiose master plan.
By GIL STERN STERN GOLDFINE
In the late 1960s, the Tel Aviv Municipality its offices moved to Rabin Square (then known as Kikar Malchei Yisrael. The decision was made to transform the city's old headquarters on Rehov Bialik into a Museum of the History of Tel Aviv, which would complement the adjacent Bialik House and the Reuven Rubin Museum further down the street. The next step was to redesign the circle in front of the new museum into a "piazza," a tranquil public space with shaded seating, a coffee shop and a fountain at its center. And everyone knows that a fountain needs some form of additional visual accompaniment.
Enter Nahum Gutman. Commissioned in early 1971 by the Tel Aviv Foundation for the Arts to create a decorative trio of mosaic panels for the new fountain, Gutman immediately set to work. His vision, which was formed out of love for Tel Aviv, expanded the initial concept into a sweeping visual display of highlights from the city's history.
An exhibition at the Nahum Gutman Museum displays large watercolor studies of the preliminary sketches for Gutman's dream - that Tel Aviv would turn from a city borne from the ancient hill of Jaffa into a thriving, bubbling, Jewish metropolis of the 20th century.
The exhibition introduces the spectator to elaborate scenes of Egypt conquering Jaffa, the Crusaders landing on their march to Jerusalem, Napoleon visiting his troops, and other key moments in the history of the Tel Aviv area. Using these major subjects, Gutman has filled the plaza's spaces with a myriad of multi-colored figures, animals, landscapes and scenes of the seashore.
The mosaic panels were produced by Gruppo Mosaicisti of Ravenna in Italy and were finished in June 1972, more than a year after the initial arrangement was concluded with Gutman. Bureaucratic delays, unforeseen problems with the water supply and a general apathy on the part of the project's planning committee delayed the official inauguration ceremony until January 18, 1976.
In the end, the municipality was unable to solve the problem of the effect the fountain's water has on the mosaic stones, so today, Gutman's imposing murals stand as a mere cenotaph to a grandiose master plan. Yet with his incomparable decorative style and masterful rendering of local color, Gutman provided the city with a work of art that to this day sparkles, shines and glitters in the Mediterranean sun. This was Gutman's last major work. He died four years after the project's completion at the age of 82.
Nahum Gutman Museum, 21 Rokach St., Neve Tzedek. Visiting Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 10:00 -16:00, Thursday - 10:00 - 19:00, Friday - 10:00 - 14:00, Saturday - 10:00 AM - 17:00. Entry fees: Adults, NIS 15; Children and Senior Citizens, 10 NIS.
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