54 Basel St./Dr. Aya Lurie
For several years now, the artistic explorations of Assaf Evron (b. 1977) have centered on architectural ornament and decoration. In the current exhibition, these are presented through a sculptural arrangement combined with panoramic photography and paintings, accompanied by a visual index of sources. These works lie in the realm between art, design, and architecture, with references to history of art and ideas – in particular, the tension between center and periphery, East and West, and concepts such as nationalism, universalism, and locality. All these are examined by comparing the logic of European modernism as expressed in International Style architecture with that of vernacular construction – namely, local, tribal, popular construction (“architecture without architects”) based on traditional materials and technologies that have developed organically over years, which is mindful of the topography, climate, and needs of the local residents; an approach that, alas, has long been abandoned in the urban Israeli environment. At the center of the exhibition are ornamental elements taken from the Brutalist concrete structure of the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art (designed by the architectural office Rechter-Zarhi-Peri between 1965 and 1975), and from its immediate urban vicinity, which Evron scrutinizes methodically. From this architectural environment, Evron has formulated a sculptural collection that is unique to Herzliya and, at the same time, captures an aesthetic look characteristic of Israeli suburban urbanism of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In recent years, the urban environment surrounding the museum has undergone profound changes, following urban renewal and spatial reorganization of the institutions in the city. This includes the municipality’s move to a building opposite the museum on Ben-Gurion Boulevard, and the opening up of the museum’s sculpture park to the street level. Thus, the municipality has become part of the area that includes the law courts, the Beit Yad Labanim military memorial building, and the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. The particular case of Herzliya enables Evron to document and retrace, with a critical yet loving eye, processes of urban transformation, and to propose a means of deciphering the Zeitgeist that produced them. As a gesture of conservation and farewell, Evron reconstructs, within the museum’s exhibition space, a set of decorative red columns from the old Herzliya central bus station (designed by the architect Nahum Shani in the 1960s). The station itself – situated further down on Ben-Gurion Boulevard – has been slated for demolition, to make way for a residential and recreational complex. Also within the museum space, Evron reconstructs the geometric decorative tiles that appear on the façade of a nearby building, that bear a direct reference to the formal language of Josef Albers (1888–1976) – one of the most influential teachers at the Bauhaus, who developed an entire visual theory on the relationship between color and form. Next to this, Evron places another decorative object in the form of Oriental palms (originally made out of off-the-shelf ceramic tiles), from the façade of another neighboring building – one that lies at the junction of Ben-Gurion Boulevard and Ha’atzmaut Street. In these elements we gain a glimpse of a brief moment of promise in Israeli contractual architecture, when decorativeness was combined with a promise of advanced functionality and suburban convenience, while preserving a measure of modesty and unpretentious directness; a moment that has since given away to an aesthetic of “residential projects” and “prestigious towers.”
At the heart of the exhibition is a photograph of a concrete wall relief situated at the entrance to the Beit Yad Labanim memorial building (which from 1975 to 2000 also served as the museum’s main entrance). In this relief – created by the local artist Shlomo Eliraz – we see a combination of a formal, geometrically abstract arrangement, biblical verses, and excerpts from Natan Alterman’s poem, “The Silver Platter” – in keeping with conventional official and ceremonial protocol. Recently, the Mundi_Lab research group of the Technion’s Faculty of Architecture in Haifa (headed by Dr. David Behar-Perahia) removed the partitions between the memorial building and the museum, as part of ongoing research that they presented at the museum. Now, in a reiteration and amplification of that action, Evron has placed a photograph of that relief within the museum space, as an integral part of it, in a bid to tackle the charged historical, national, and local contexts that it embodies. In addition, Evron invited the American artist Leslie Baum – a graduate of the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago, founded as the New Bauhaus – to integrate in the exhibition her delicate, colorful watercolors, which pay homage to the modernist heritage while displaying an inner, highly appealing logic of their own. The juxtaposition between the photograph of the relief and these paintings offers a study of complementary contrasts, bringing together the universal and personal as well as an ideological call for the right to autonomy.
In the inner court, next to the exhibition’s central space, Evron has recreated a decorative feature made of Hebron stone that appears on the façade of the Egyptian Embassy at 54 Basel Street, Tel Aviv. Its three constituent triangles represent both the Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian structure of government in hierarchical order; at the same time, they are a universal, modernist abstract geometrical pattern. In the context of the exhibition, the pyramids highlight the charged historical space between utopian vision and reality, between the universal and the local, between optimism and a sense of continuous deprecation. Thus, it points to the biblical Exodus and the ensuing establishment of the Hebrew nation during its journey in the desert as a parallel to the founding of the Zionist movement as a national Jewish movement. The location of the feature – at the Egyptian Embassy on Basel Street (a street named after the Swiss city where Theodor Herzl headed the first Zionist Congresses), also makes it possible to hail the peace accords signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979 as the moment that, for Evron, was the pinnacle of Israel’s history, as well as the sense of deterioration following the failure to realize the much sought-after normalization process in the region.
The book accompanying the exhibition brings together dozens of photographs taken and collected by the artist. Collectively, they provide an intricate map of sources, contexts, and visual precedents, that projects into the spatial logic of the indexical model offered by art historian Aby Warburg (1866–1929). Thus, Evron anchors the aesthetic of the local environment in the very foundations of museum exhibitions and art history.
 See “Exposures: Mundi_Lab at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art ,” In Her Footsteps, exh. cat. (Herzliya: Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, 2017), pp. 28–29.