By imaging the majesty of existence art inspires love, beauty, awe, fear or even hate. The power of the emotions it awakens is the motive for which political rulers and their acolytes patronize artists to broadcast the strength of their dominance and fulfill their personnel strive for immortality. Conquerors have made a point to include works of art in their booty and financial magnates have spent colossal amounts of money for their possession. But also, ideology driven political upheavals have affirmed their newly gained dominance by the wreckage of art. The biblical narration of the Golden Calf destruction, the desecration of art as “Degenerate” by the Nazis, the misdeeds of the Iconoclasts and of the Taliban are vivid testimonies of the might attributed to art in shaping the minds of society.
The Tel Aviv aldermen by negligence, ignorance and maybe a distorted understanding of priorities have allowed a pernicious profanation of art. As I was driving along Shederot Ben Zwi, an odd structure, midway between Abukabir and the Blumfield Stadium, awakened my curiosity.
It turned out to be an abandoned drinking trough Sabil Abu Nabut erected in 1820. Adjacent to the building lays a small park heavily shaded by trees. The site is repellent. Heaps of trash and foul odors evoke a meeting ground for junkies.
Still, behind the waste and the dung, steel sculptures recognizable as the works of Tumarkin adorn the grounds, drawing me irresistibly to walk in. The ensemble is stunning. Each individual work stirs emotive thoughts. A miniature replica of the headless Nike of Samothrace on a barren table between two facing bleak sitters evokes the futility of military victory to resolve a conflict between two peoples that historical destiny has driven to covet the same territory; one calls it Israel, the other Palestine. The rigidity of the sitters conveys the depth of the cultural abyss between sides and is maybe an appeal for a dialog to end the deadlock.
Gender conflict is forcefully evoked in several sculptures. In a bold but enigmatic composition the self-portrait of the artist lays between a dominant male and a vociferous female engaged in a violent dispute. The presence of wheels on rails suggests travel. Tumarkin’s mother and stepfather immigrated to Israel when he was still an infant. Is the sculpture an autobiographical metaphor?
In another representation of a couple, tenderness emanates from the confluence of shapes. Yet, the aroused phallus points away from the female partner hinting that carnal attraction to an absent figure is tearing the union apart.
From the back of the artist’s head the Golden Ratio emerges in response to his quest for the secret of the harmony one finds in Nature (with a capital N.) If the ratio between length and width of a rectangle equals the Golden Ratio recombining length and width will construct either smaller or larger rectangles but reproduce exactly the shape of the original rectangle. The sculpture also refers to the role of the Golden Ratio in the construction of the pentagon and the five‑pointed star.
Another bewildering composition shows a laying body being drawn to a yellow pyramid. Remembering that Tumarkin’s Holocaust Memorial on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv has the shape of an inverted pyramid my first thought was that the composition alluded to the cremation of bodies in the Nazi death camps. But the body, again an auto-portrait of the artist, with exposed internal organs as mechanical objects, leads to a more insidious interpretation. Pharaohs deluded themselves by having their body embalmed and erecting pyramids as gateways to eternal life. The artist paraphrases the vanity of this futile creed and creates a striking metaphor of the ineluctable finality of life.
Regardless of the way a spectator perceives the sculptures he cannot remain indifferent. I don’t know how these few lines can become an appeal for transforming this neglected site into a cultural jewel. To do that all it would take is to build a fence around the park with a couple of gates that would open at sunrise and close at sundown, a surveillance camera and a signpost to inform the visitors.