Among the goals that the Negev Museum of Art set itself in recent years is highlighting the Negev's place and importance in the plastic arts in Israel. And indeed, exhibitions are devoted to themes related to the Negev, and works by local artists are regularly part of the museum's exhibition schedule. Dani Karavan's Negev Brigade Monument is undoubtedly the most significant work of art in the region, and one of the most important ever created in Israel. It is historically and geographically connected to the Negev, and is a prominent landmark for visitors from the region, from across Israel and abroad. The initiative to hold an exhibition wholly dedicated to the monument was raised as early as December 2010 and Karavan immediately agreed to the idea. Guest curator Adi Englman curated the exhibition and accompanying events with talent and determination, in addition to editing and producing the monument guide. It is thanks to her efforts that the programme was so successfully realized.
The world of shapes, lights, shadows, and sounds that Karavan created in the monument inspired numerous later works of his, spanning many countries. The monument attracted worldwide publicity for Karavan’s international work, in tandem with the interest it aroused as a tourist destination. For residents of Be’er Sheva and the surrounding area, the monument is more than a tourist attraction; it’s a social meeting-place, often intimate; an inspiring backdrop for artists in different fields – music, movement, and photography; a site affording spectacular views over the city and the ever-changing landscape.
It is a work with several strata of meaning, and the weight given to each one changes over time. The original request from Karavan was to create a site commemorating the fallen soldiers of Palmach’s Negev Brigade who fought in the War of Independence, and who protected the Negev communities and water resources, as well as the conquest of Be’er Sheva from the Egyptian army, which took control of the city with the end of the British Mandate. The commemorative purpose is preserved through the names of the fallen, the symbols and historical texts carved on the monument. Its location on a hill overlooking the city and the desert, and its design on an environmental architectural scale, soon imbued it with additional meanings and contexts. The raw concrete used to build the monument ties it to Brutalist architecture, which is typified by exposed concrete and an experimental modern approach. The style was widely used in buildings in Be’er Sheva dating from the 1960s and 1970s, which were designed by leading Israeli architects.
The distribution of forms and shapes that compose the monument, which extends over a large area, generated a sculptural environment that differed radically from all previous public monuments and sculptures in Israel. In the 1960s, the concept of environmental sculpture – that you can walk on or into – was also a new arrival in international sculpture. The scores of people who visited the monument over the decades may be unaware of these facts – which attest to Dani Karavan’s role as a world pioneer of environmental art. Many revisit it not because of the artist’s international fame, but because of the unique aesthetic and spiritual experience the monument offers – an encounter with nature, possibilities for discovery and play, and a liberating space for self-expression. Over the years, the monument has been extensively photographed by both professional and amateur photographers, preserving the site in the personal memories of many. A new form of collective memory has accumulated here – a collection of diverse memories of one place.
The Negev Monument’s remarkable and enduring success is a rare and unpredictable event in art. Such a ‘miracle’ is always the outcome of several factors that together generate the precise result, which can only be explained in retrospect. When this happens, the work breaks away from the artist’s intentions, even from the circumstances of its creation, and takes on a life of its own in the public domain. That independent life is one of the themes of the exhibition and the guide you are holding.
Dedicating an entire exhibition to one work is unusual, all the more so when the work is not present in the museum. It is indeed a remarkable step, aimed at introducing the public to the processes which created the monument and its layers of meaning; to its crucial impact on Karavan’s later oeuvre; its contribution to other artists’ works; and its importance for the general public. Above all, the exhibition is aimed at informing residents of the Negev, and Israelis in general – including many who are familiar with the monument – about the place and role of artist and sculptor Dani Karavan, who created one of the icons that represent Be’er Sheva and a masterpiece of environmental sculpture.
Guest Curator: Adi Englman
50 Years to The Negev Monument / 50 Years to Dani Karavan's Public Art
Design: Ohad Hadad
Be'er Sheva municipality
Ministry of Culture and Sport