The Dizengoff Square Fountain in Tel Aviv is slowly gaining back its popularity after being restored to its original beauty.
By Sarah Carnvek
When the Fire and Water Fountain in Tel Aviv was installed in 1986, residents hailed the kinetic sculpture for its technology and artistic character. Israeli artist Yaacov Agam agreed to donate his work to the city and it was considered a great accomplishment to have it erected in Tel Aviv.
Located in the center of Dizengoff Square — often referred to as the Times Square of Tel Aviv — Agam’s fountain quickly turned into a landmark. Everyone who strolled through the square stopped to watch the water shoot upwards, the fire spitting in the air and music playing in synchronization.
“The fire and water together in the sculpture recreates the dynamic elements of time and change,” artist Ron Agam, Yaacov’s son, once explained. “The most important element of this artwork is its celebration of life, the most constant thing in life is change and everything is always in movement.”
But as the years rolled by the sculpture lost its luster. The fountain-sculpture, today known as Dizengoff Square Fountain, creaked to a halt. The water didn’t shoot up, the fire had long gone out, and no music could be heard. Pigeons defecated on it, people sprayed graffiti on all sides, rust appeared, and it turned into one of the city’s greatest eyesores.
Agam complained to the Tel Aviv municipality about the state of his sculpture and after a prolonged battle, won the legal clash to have it restored to its original beauty.
Today, Tzlilit Ben Navat, director of the Arts Department in the municipality, says people stop to look at this gigantic public art piece once again. "Tourists like it. It’s located in a central location in terms of foot traffic," she says.
Public Art in Tel Aviv
From large-scale memorials to much smaller sculptures, Tel Aviv is brimming with public art. Ben Navat says there are 175 public art works peppered around the White City.
In addition to Agam’s fountain, well-known pieces in Tel Aviv include Yigal Tumarkin’s "Holocaust and Resurrection," a triangular iron and glass memorial on Rabin Square; Rami Meiri’s "Couple on a Wall" on Ibn Gvirol Street; and Menashe Kadishman’s gravity-defying "Hitromemut."
"Art is, first and foremost, part of our life. Art enriches our lives in so many ways," says Ben Navat. "Art lovers go to museums and galleries but not everyone makes art a first priority. Art in public spaces challenges passersby to stop, think and learn more."
Though some critics have cited the steep costs of renovating Agam’s piece (more than $500,000) and maintaining it, Ben Navat says it is the city’s responsibility to take care of every public artwork.
“The Agam piece may be more expensive to maintain because of its complexity, but it is treated the same as other works," she says.
The fountain anew
Today’s Tel Aviv boasts many titles – best party city, best startup city, best architecture, best beach city, among others. The local and international art communities have also highlighted the city for the Dizengoff Square Fountain.
It is still a landmark, says Ben Navat, because "a landmark is something the public decides upon. Major sculptures in Italy weren’t defined as masterpieces by the city but rather they became masterpieces because the public titled them so."
The brightly colored panels on the fountain offer a unique view of a colorful kinetic mosaic from every angle.
"The fountain has the potential to attract the numbers it attracted back in the 1980s," Ben Navat says. "People like to see this as a piece from the mid-eighties. It is still relevant in terms of style."
The fountain sprays water, spurts fire and plays music four times a day – at 11am, 1pm, 7pm and 9pm.
Agam, who was trained at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, came from his home in France to Tel Aviv to attend the July 2012 reopening of his famous work.
"Simply because of neglect it turned into junk," he said. "The result [of the renovation] is very beautiful. Here they did the maximum amount of work. The combination of water and fire – there are no words in the world to describe it."