Art is Happening Now in Jerusalem

Cutting a limestone block into a sculpture
Russian sculptor Alex Shestakov at work in Jerusalem
Last night, as I wandered the streets of Jerusalem, I unexpectedly came across two awesome art events happening simultaneously in this city. Following the summer’s Jerusalem Season of Culture, these two events are extending the cultural happenings into the fall. I am hoping that they become regular events, added to the already extensive and diverse cultural calendar of this city.

First, I was walking along the Park HaMesilah, the narrow park that about two years ago transformed the old train tracks from a hideous eyesore to a usable (and well-used) recreation and relaxation zone. I was heading to the newly redeveloped Tachana HaRishona (First Station), the old Ottoman-era train station that has been transformed into a lovely shopping, dining and events venue for the entire family. I’d recently discovered some of the newer things added there (as it is still new, there are constantly new places opening there), and was thinking about getting a quick drink at a new beer-garden (of sorts) there.

But before I got there, I noticed something happening in the open area that has been split off from the main area by the buildings that had been put up for the Ice Festival. (By the way, I pray they take those down soon — they were clearly built as temporary structures, are hideously ugly, are not covered in Jerusalem stone, and completely destroy the flow of traffic in the area.) Loud noises that seemed like construction and clouds of white dust filled the air, and I was wondering what was going on. But at a closer look, I realized that this was actually more orderly than a construction site. So I decided to go in and look around.

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the midst of the first Jerusalem International Stone Sculpture Symposium. Ten sculptors, five from Israel and five from around the world, have all been given large blocks of “Jerusalem stone” — the limestone that covers nearly all buildings in this city. For the next two weeks, the artists will be creating large-scale sculptures live, in front of the public! Entry to the area is free for all, and you can watch the artists work and even converse with them about their work.

After the symposium ends on September 30th, the ten sculptures will become public art at different locations around the city. This idea is largely based on the “Stone in the Galilee” sculpture symposium that has been held in Maalot-Tarshiha since 1991. I know that I plan to go back multiple times over the next few weeks to see the progress of the artworks!

Limestone block, marked and carved
Another work in progress, this one by Israeli artist Jamal Hassan
After I left the Tachana HaRishona, I headed to Emek Refaim street in the German Colony. I ran into a friend who was heading to one of the opening events for the First Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art. I had heard about this cool new cultural offering in Jerusalem, but didn’t realize it was already starting. So when she told me she was going, I decided to tag along!

We went to the Achim Hasid complex, a newly restored complex of old Arab homes that appear to serve as an office and showroom for a real estate development company that is building some new residential towers in Jerusalem and also renovates historic properties into luxury homes (more on this another time, perhaps). There were actually two separate exhibits on display — “Here and There” and “NOW NOW.”

The Biennale includes six exhibitions at five locations throughout the city. The others are Hechal Shlomo, Beit Avi Chai, Musrara neighborhood and (once again) the Tachana HaRishona. In addition to the exhibits, the Kol HaOt organization (focused on Jewish educational art programs) will be running some events at Achim Hasid on Sunday and Monday, September 22-23. Pre-registration is required via the Kol HaOt website.

In the model of the famous Venice Biennale, and many other contemporary art events around the world, the Jerusalem Biennale is planned to take place every two years (as the name suggests). Hopefully, the Sculpture Symposium will become an annual event. If so, September can grow into Jerusalem’s Season of Visual Art!

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