Kadishman's "Uprise."
Menashe Kadishman's environmental sculpture "Uprise" is a Tel Aviv landmark. Photo by Guy Raivitz
Text size

A few days ago, I was rolling happily on my electric scooter down Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, toward the Mann Auditorium, dreading the moment when the huge, white monstrosity that is to house the renovated Habima Theater would come into sight, when I was relieved to see that "Uprise" - Menashe Kadishman's giant, rusty-red steel sculpture - had been returned to its rightful place nearby. The aesthetic blow was thus softened somewhat.

Kadishman's work, created between 1967 and 1974, made quite a stir when it was installed: It is 13.5 meters high, with three wheels, each of them five meters in diameter, tilting precipitously (at about 30 degrees ) to the east, making a mockery of logic and the power of gravity. In 1970s Tel Aviv, and smack in front of the imposing Mann Auditorium, next to the last incarnation of the Habima building, all marble and glass - this was a statement.

Kadishman, a painter and sculptor known for his trademark sheep and trees, and who in 1995 received the Israel Prize, raised some eyebrows back then with his rusty wheels that don't spin. The newspapers were full of opinion pieces, pro and con, while "Uprise" became a permanent feature of Tel Aviv's cultural landscape.

Three years ago, when renovation of Habima was already underway and work on the underground parking lot in front of the Mann Auditorium began - along with the ongoing controversy (as to what extent one can change a building that is a recognized cultural icon ) over renovation of the hall itself - the Kadishman sculpture was temporarily removed. Not long ago, it was re-erected in almost exactly the same place where it stood before, facing the same direction (the city fathers wanted to revolve it by 90 degrees, but the artist refused ).

Seeing it anew was a relief, because the piece was always a constant fixture in my mind's eye, associated with the Mann hall and the Philharmonic, which performs there. Seeing it again made me realize that I've been missing it. And in that same vein, I was also reminded of Yoram Bronowski (1948-2001 ), the ultimate authority and arbiter on matters cultural for Haaretz editors, writers and readers alike - who did not like Kadishman's sculpture.

For the uninitiated, Polish-born Bronowski arrived in Israel with his family in 1957 (the same year I immigrated with my family ). At a very early age, he already read, spoke and translated from some 10 or so languages (Latin and Greek, too ). He impressed people with his vast reserves of knowledge on many varied subjects, his prodigious memory and his inimitable way of writing: never pompous, always mildly ironic, self-deprecating in a way that only people who know their true value can be, and also lethal. He succumbed to that temptation often, but always with a keen sense of style.

For Haaretz he edited the literary pages, did weekly TV round-up reviews and could write about virtually anything and everything, en passant, dropping pearls of knowledge, aware that he was usually being read by not-very-discerning swine. He was a disarmingly honest elitist, and proud of it. He left us many volumes of translations, some books and three posthumous collections of his writings for Haaretz, edited and published by his friends.

When I started writing myself, although it was never stated explicitly, I felt that Bronowski was considered the standard for people who write about culture. Being of Polish origin, and well aware of my limits, I knew then that I could aspire at best to be a "poor man's Bronowski."

My father, who was acquainted with his parents, had the highest regard for Bronowski and his work. But, in a manner reminiscent of Bronowski's own way of deprecating his interlocutors, whenever the writer's name was mentioned, my father hastened to add that one should not confuse him with Jacob Bronowski - the Polish-born mathematician and biologist, who wrote and presented, among other things, the acclaimed 1973 BBC television series "The Ascent of Man," on human cultural and scientific evolution. I recently encountered an intriguing quote by that Bronowski: "To me, being an intellectual doesn't mean knowing about intellectual issues; it means taking pleasure in them" - a notion I heartily subscribe to, and to which my father and Yoram probably would as well.

In any event, the name Yoram Bronowski popped up from the recesses of my memory when I saw the Kadishman sculpture. The newspaper's archive people found a copy of the weekly column he wrote from March 21, 1975, (whose logo was, in a sort of symbolic way, taken from the description of Satan's wanderings, in Book of Job 1:7, and entitled "From going to [and fro in the earth], and from walking up [and down]" ).

Under the headline "Love of three rounds," he wrote that some of his friends told him they had become used to the sculpture, and admitted that he too was not repulsed by it any longer, that it was also growing on him. However, he added, he had not yet reached the near-nirvana mental state of one of his friends, who was actually able to ignore it to the point where he was to be able to see the Mann Auditorium through its tilting red wheels.

And that instilled some hope - or maybe despair, depending on the way you look at it - that one day I'll get used to the boxy white edifice the national theater building has become thanks to the renovation process. After the work had begun, I was appalled: It looked so out of place, context, proportion, reason and shape that I could hardly believe it was approved by any self-respecting planning committee.

But now, each time, I feel a tad more resigned and less angry about it; I shrug my shoulders and look the other way. Seeing the Kadishman piece (which I never had such strong feelings about; I think I rather kind of like it ) back in place, I am beginning to think that it will help soften the visual blow of the new Habima building, and furthermore that anyway, in time, I'll be able to look at that building and not see it. Perhaps even to see through it, in a nirvana-like state, like that of Bronowski's friend.

Yes, it is a very old truth: One can, over time and after repeated exposure, even to things that were at first offensive, get used to almost anything. Almost.