The house museum of Ilana Goor in Jaffa.  Transit to Jerusalem.

Whether it is the Isabel Gardner Museum in Boston or the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, I fall for people’s “house museums”!  Ilana Goor’s Ottoman Mansion was no exception.

I admit I had never heard of her even though she is a well known artist, designer, and sculptor famous both in Israel and the United States, where her career began in the 1970’s.  And I am an art historian and should know…  But I have lost touch with most of modern art and I realize that.  In a movie at her museum which I watched for a few minutes she wants you to believe that she started out poor – I have a very hard time picturing that.  These days, she “could buy half the world” – that’s really what she said in that movie! – but “this does not interest me”.  You get the picture:  Money is absolutely no issue and if it’s true, then she made a lot of her money in selling belt buckles she designed for Bloomingdale’s.  She never had formal artistic training but is probably outdoing most professional artists in the world with her financial success and her public image.  Her museum contained an entire wall of photographs showing her with famous dignitaries from around the world starting with the Dalai Lama and ending with President Clinton!  She must be a charismatic figure, to say the least.  I rather picture her as a formidable force.

In her own words, her house museum is “the embodiment of everything I believe in and is molded in the shape of my homeland: the old with the new, the rural alongside the industrial, the organic framed inside the geometrical — two combined worlds becoming a complementary, equalized and tolerant unity”.

Indeed, the house is a perfect union of contemporary art and historical setting.  The 250-year-old stone mansion used to be a Jewish hostel for pilgrims arriving at the Jaffa port to continue from here to Jerusalem.  It later was an olive oil factory and many other things.  In the clashes between Muslims and Jews in and around Jaffa, the Old City was abandoned after 1948 and was deteriorating.  In the 1960’s the government decided to revitalize the area by giving artists practically free access to these homes.  Restoration in Ilana’s case must have cost millions!  Most other houses are a lot more modest, but it took a lot of TLC and dedication to turn these abandoned old structures into the unique historical, yet contemporary homes and studios you see today.  Ilana’s complex is by far the most conspicuous and most centrally located of them all.

According to the literature and to her staff, she really lives in this house at least half of the year; the other half she spends at her New York home.  Some wings are off limits to visitors, but much is accessible, including the kitchen, and a bathroom.  Several flower-laden balconies overlook the Mediterranean and Jaffa port.

Walking through her house is a bombardment of strong visual statement.  Nothing is left to chance.  Ceilings are enhanced by the application of broken pottery – I have never seen anything quite like it.  Every functional piece in the house was designed by the artist and executed in mostly bronze, but wood, leather and stone as well:   Chandeliers, railings, lamps, desks, and chairs.  Entire tables are laden with her bronze sculptures.  The walls are filled with art by contemporary Israeli artists or Jewish artists from around the world.  A gift shop in the basement puts it all into perspective.  Just about the cheapest thing you can buy is some small-scale jewelry for $400.  “I make things for people who have everything” is another one of the sentences that stuck with me from that introductory movie.  Ilana is bridging the lines between applied and high art, but not in the Bauhaus – accessible for all – philosophy, but in her own exclusive ways.  I was duly impressed.  Would I want to own anything of her work?  Not really.  Even though I don’t have everything, I don’t need anything.  But to live in her house for just a month, that would be something else!

After the visit of Ilana’s house-museum we took our two oversized and overly heavy suitcases to the bus station, hired a microbus and then walked a good ½ hour through Jerusalem to our new destination, the Jaffa Hostel.  Not my favorite days, when I have to move…

The microbus was fast and efficient and once again I was amazed at how much open space, unspoiled by human habitation, Israel still has despite its limited size and its fast growing population.  Long expanses of forests and seemingly endless valleys used for agriculture can be found between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  I wonder if every one of these trees had to be planted and if every one of these fields has to be irrigated or if some of it comes naturally.

The contrast from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is immediately apparent; the new versus the old; the modern and secular versus the conservative and religious.  I can imagine that most people drift towards one or the other and that it is hard to embrace both of these worlds with equal passion.  My heart leans toward Jerusalem.

Good night.

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