Text size

In April there will be an official opening on 21 Bialik Street in Tel Aviv of the small and pleasant private gallery that calls itself the Bauhaus Museum. The word "museum" is several sizes too large for the gallery, which only highlights the absence, in Tel Aviv of all places, of a real museum of the period's history. The museum's head curator, Daniella Luxembourg, an art dealer and collector with an international reputation, is the first to point that out.

In a phone interview from her office in London, Luxembourg places the museum that she helped establish - and which has already been operating in a partial fashion for several weeks as a dry run - in proportion, believes in its contribution to the Bauhaus scene in Israel, and is fascinated by the achievements of the period that made an indelible impression on the world.

"The museum is actually a Bauhaus kiosk, a drop in the ocean," she says. "The subject is huge but our space is small. We're a kiosk, there's no question about it. How can we be anything else? But I believe in small things. We'll focus and we'll continue to acquire and collect. I think that the entire Tel Aviv Museum of Art should devote itself to Bauhaus.

"I'm convinced that the Bauhaus archives in Berlin and Dassau, which demonstrated a willingness to help us, would be happy to loan collections to exhibits in the Tel Aviv Museum. The prices are still relatively low too. I'm amazed that it's still possible to buy Breuer's sweet folding chair, which we are displaying, for only $800, while a table by Zaha Hadid is being sold for $1 million."

Marcel Breuer's chair is one of several dozen items in the museum's opening exhibit, "Bauhaus at Home," which Luxembourg curated, together with local curator Esti Cohen.

The items were designed and produced during the years between the two world wars when the Bauhaus school(1919-1933) was active, and were loaned to the museum from private collections, mainly from the art collection of billionaire Ronald Lauder. Lauder, who is considered very close to Luxembourg, purchased and renovated the building where the museum is located.

The exhibits in the museum are industrial products, meant from the start for mass production in the spirit of Bauhaus and its vision of guaranteeing good design for every worker. Many of them are not only displayed in museums exhibits, but are sold in millions of copies in stores and are in daily use.

The exhibition items are also actually copies, several decades old, and for the most part rusty and shabby, but they are presented as authentic and purchased as collectors' items. Aren't the Bauhaus elders turning over in their graves?

"It's true that the products are industrial, but I think that there is still value to an 'original' in spite of the duplication and reproduction.

"Sometimes there are differences between what was manufactured then and what is manufactured today, and there are objects that are no longer manufactured. So that even the copy has museum and collection value. And there is also my nostalgia for the period. I do see the aura above these old objects. The rusty and shabby look emphasizes their modesty even more, and that is very poetic in my opinion."

Isn't that really another way to raise the price of these modest items on the collectors' market, as opposed to the vision of Bauhaus itself?

"I have been specializing in the subject for years, and the Bauhaus items remain inexpensive. In any case, relative to industrial domestic items from the same period in France or Czechoslovakia, which are more 'pleasant' and less rigid than the German Bauhaus.

"At the time there were other schools for modern design in Europe. But the Bauhaus was different, it had a vision and a mission. And in my opinion there is something poetic in this utopia, as in Tel Aviv itself.

"Our purpose in the museum was not to demonstrate our passion for collecting, but rather the modern home. And that's difficult because not much remains, and in Tel Aviv there wasn't much to begin with. The immigrants didn't think to bring a modern chair made of curved iron, or avant-garde glass utensils. This is not the Palace of Versailles."

The building's history

The building at 21 Bialik was originally designed in 1932 by architect Shlomo Gepstein, and is included in the municipal preservation plan. About 12 years ago it was renovated by Luxembourg's then husband, an architect. The two "discovered" the building by chance in the mid-1990s when there were walking down the street looking at buildings, as was their custom.

"The house was a rag, destroyed to the foundations, one reason being that the municipality was a protected tenant there," she says. "It's not the prettiest house in the style in Tel Aviv, but something about it touched me."

Since they could not afford to buy the bargain at the time, they turned to Lauder. "Without his intervention, it would be just another building that I looked at."

The museum, which is 120 square meters, was built as part of the purchasing conditions of the building, in return for the municipality's leaving the asset. It is situated on the building's ground floor, and the rest of the building is residential. Luxembourg herself has an apartment in the building.

The purchasers also promised to renovate additional buildings in the area that are slated for preservation. The building is one of about 20 buildings that are designated for preservation on Bialik Street which, by the 100th anniversary of Tel Aviv in 2009, will become a central cultural "compound" in the city.

Among the other buildings slated for preservation is the Old Town Hall in Bialik Square, which is about to be renovated and will once again house the Museum of the History of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Luxembourg hopes that after the renovation, a cafe will also be opened in the city hall building, and that the place will turn into a "place."

Do you see any connection among all these things - preservation, Bauhaus, international millionaires who are coming into the picture, the museum, the cultural compound - and the high price of apartments in Tel Aviv?

"At present there is construction momentum all over Tel Aviv, and to the same degree it is and isn't related to Bauhaus, whose price is still lower than other modern building assets in the in the city. As the cliche goes, real estate is location, location, location.

"Nobody wants to buy a Bauhaus building on an isolated hill in a German or Czech city. In Tel Aviv, Bauhaus is in the center of the city and at the center of activity and you can go downstairs from your Bauhaus to a cafe on foot and walk around the city. And that is its economic attraction and its charm here in Tel Aviv."

Which building in Tel Aviv would you buy as a collector?

"In my opinion, there is no more beautiful building in the world than Rechter's Engel House on Rothschild Boulevard. That building touches me. I would like to buy it. [Engel House at 84 Rothschild was designed in 1933 by architect Ze'ev Rechter and is considered the first building on pillars in the city. Its present condition is disgraceful, but in historical photographs it looks incredible.]"

Luxembourg came to Israel from Poland as an infant with her family in 1950, and grew up in Israel. Today she lives in London and New York. In the 1980s she founded the Israeli branch of Sotheby's auction house in Tel Aviv, and since then hasn't stopped.

Luxembourg's plans

Today she owns an independent art dealership and consultation firm in London, Geneva and New York and is considered one of the most highly regarded and influential (and wealthiest) figures in the field.

Her plans for the Bauhaus Museum are to mount architectural exhibitions - she has already had several requests and offers that are now under consideration - alongside imported exhibits, mainly of graphic art that was created in the Bauhaus "and changed the way in which we observe the world," she says.