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Jerusalem stone gets colorful

by Ziva September 10 2008
ArtThings to do
Gabriel Cohen's triptych on the Gerard Behar Center
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So it's time for Jerusalemite to get Art Historical and we hope you'll enjoy this moment, 'cause we think it's pretty cool. We've headed down Bezalel Street like a million times – now that it's the city's central artery with all the nearby downtown renovation and train construction going on. But stuck in a recent traffic jam, on a beautiful late summer day, we looked up to the heavens for some salvation. Instead of receiving flowing traffic, we came upon a vision: Appearing on the wall of the Gerard Bechar Center, at 11 Bezalel Street, is a massively impressive and engaging three-part painting. It's awesome. Inspiring. Fantastical and even wacky. So we decided to look into this painting a bit more.

"Around the World in 92 Days," as the painting's called, is by Jerusalem-based artist Gabriel Cohen. Cohen was born in Paris in 1933 and came to Israel in 1942. He has been living and working in Jerusalem ever since. His work has been featured in Israel and worldwide. He even received the prestigious Jerusalem Prize in 1987 for his contributions and accomplishments in the arts; he is widely considered one of Israel's leading NaΓ―ve-style artists.

For Jewish exiles returning to their homeland in Israel, this style offered a way to explore their surroundings. It's wide-eyed and almost childlike, like everything is suddenly new and exciting (hence the term NaΓ―ve). Adopted by many early artists here, including Reuven Rubin, the style soon came to be known as the "Eretz Israel School". Following in the traditions of the art form, Gabriel Cohen leaves no Jerusalem-stone unturned as he explores the world from Jerusalem in 92 days - or three easy panels.

In this gigantic painting – the original belonging to the Israel Museum collection is smaller – countries, people, transportation all collide and interact as if they're all at the same tourist attraction. Glance over the entire work and you'll recognize: Jerusalem's skyline with its Old City walls and Dome of the Rock, Paris' cityscape with the Eiffel tower and Arc de Triomphe, Indian architectural wonders (is that the Taj Mahal?), London's bridges, Egypt's pyramids, Italy's Pisa and other international architectural wonders. In between the buildings, down on the streets and bridges, notice the mix of people, colors, animals and more - horses, camels, carts and bikes to name a few.

There's no starting point and no end in these three panels - the format of which takes from the Christian church triptych tradition in which a religious story is played out over the course of three panels, positioned around a central altar. Living in this city is often described as a spiritual experience - one in which religions, people, traditions, cultures and politics all intersect and collide, much like the people and countries in Cohen's painting.Gabriel Cohen's original piece

That might explain why the Jerusalem municipality was behind this public art project, joining French-based urban art production studio, Cite de la Creation to paint this and other outdoor murals across the city. A collaboration which also entailed the training of local Israeli artists by the French team in their special mural-painting techniques.

Cohen's Around the World in 92 Days is the only work in Jerusalem, painted by Cite de la Creation, that replicates a real work of art - the others recreate Jerusalem street scenes on the sides of buildings or walls. No doubt, Cohen's triptych, proudly positioned at the entrance to downtown, Jerusalem invites viewers and visitors to open themselves up to the excitement, sensations and experiences of Jerusalem. After all, there's more to this city than its ancient and modern streets of Jerusalem-stone gold, there's Cohen's newness of the colors, sights and sounds of our everyday lives here. Just open your eyes to it.
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Ziva Haller Rubenstein writes about art and design in, by and from Israel on her blog Designist Dream and for other leading blogs and websites.Β 
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Photo of the Gerard Bechar Center by Ziva Haller Rubenstein for Jerusalemite. Photo of Around the World in 92 Days is courtesy of Jerusalemshots.com
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