The Art Deco Society of New York Visits Israel

Yoram DoriYoram Dori is a longtime political and media strategic adviser. He served as the spokesman of the Israel labor party

Israel is a very interesting place for professional tourism. A recent tour was conducted for The Art Deco Society of New York (ADSNY). ADSNY organized a special tour for its members, “Exploring the Roots of Modernism in Tel Aviv and Beyond,” On the tour, ADSNY members were immersed in the arts, architecture, and design of the country in the 1920s and 1930s.

Roberta Nusim, President of ADSNY, had made frequent visits to Israel over the years and during her visits to Tel Aviv, she had noticed neighborhoods filled with rich examples of 1920s’ and 1930s’ architecture and design. The collection of thousands of buildings had been built by German immigrants in the Bauhaus style and had been named the White City. In recent years, Nusim noticed that many of the buildings were being restored back to their original splendor. Members of ADSNY, hearing of this, asked her to arrange a visit for them, as most had never visited Israel.

In October 2017, she met with Tamar Tuchler, Regional Director of the Tel Aviv District & Head of the Department of International Affairs of the Council for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, and Micha Gross, co-founder and head of Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus Center, to explore the idea of an architectural and cultural tour for ADSNY to explore Modernism in the 1920s and 1930s.

Tuchler and Gross were enthusiastic about hosting the group and offered many ideas and contacts. Nusim met with architectural historian Michael Levin (active in Tel Aviv’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Mary Gilben (former head of the Tel Aviv office of Christie’s), who related the history of the 1930s Levant Fairgrounds which has been restored as a vibrant part of the port area, and Tal Amit (curator of Shenkar’s Rose Fashion Archives), who shared extraordinary Jazz Age fashion sketches designed by a local artist who had worked in Paris in the 1920s.

These meetings helped Nusim shape this special tour.

The group included 20 ADSNY members and four members of the Executive Committee of ICADS (The International Coalition of Art Deco Societies) from around the world. In addition to ADSNY President Roberta Nusim, members of the group included Joseph Loundy, President of ICADS who heads the Chicago Art Deco Society; ICADS’ Vice- President Robin Grow who heads the Art Deco and Modernist Society of Australia; and ICADS’ Board member and President of the Cuba Art Deco Society, Geo Darder.

Additional members of the tour included ADSNY’s former Vice President, Stephen Van Dyke, head of America’s Smithsonian Libraries Art Department; Meghan Weatherby, ADSNY’s Executive Director, an expert in the history of decorative arts and design; Alex Disbrow, ADSNY’s International Global Ambassador; and Eric Meyers, author of Screen Deco, a book about architecture and design in films of the Jazz age.

The group stayed in Tel Aviv at the boutique hotel Cinema which is the restored 1930s Esther Theater. One evening, the grandson of the theater’s founders gave a special talk and tour to the group. One of the week’s highlights was a tour of the Levant Fairgrounds with Tamar Tuchler whose organization was active in its restoration. This was a unique opportunity for ADSNY members to actually visit an intact, restored World’s Fairgrounds. Fairs of this nature took place around the world in the 1930s but very few exist today as an enduring example of the architecture and design of the period.

In addition to the series of talks and walking tours in Tel Aviv with Micha Gross and Michael Levin, the trip also included a trip to Haifa with a talk and tour by Waleed Karkabi, Director of the Building Conservation Department in Haifa; a visit to Kibbutz Mishmar Hamek to see the recent restoration of the Joseph Neufeld school with the team responsible for its documentation and restoration; and a two-day tour of Jerusalem with architectural historian and preservationist, Moshe Shapiro.

Other activities included talks and tours at the Bauhaus Museum with curator Estee Cohen; the Rubin Museum with founder Carmela Rubin; the Rose Archive for Fashion and Textiles at Shankar College of Engineering and Design with curator Tal Amit and the Schoken Institute and Library with the exhibition’s curator Dani Hacker. Author and design historian Rubin Kohn offered an illustrated talk on Poster Design of the 1930s which included the iconic Levant Fair’s Flying Camel posters.

The tour ended in Jerusalem at the historic YMCA Art Deco building which was designed by the same architectural firm that designed New York’s famed Empire State Building.

“We learned a lot and we are sure that such initiatives (like the special visit and seminar by Art Deco experts) has a very unique impact on the work of preservation in Israel”, said Tuchler summing up the visit.

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