The artist, sculptor and 1977 Israel Prize laureate Dani Karavan died on Saturday at the age of 90. One of Israel’s most prominent sculptors, Karavan worked over the course of his career in Tel Aviv, Paris and Florence. He was one of the pioneers in Israel of landscape and environmental sculpture.
His most famous works include “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem,” a relief mural installed in the Knesset chamber in 1965; the Negev Brigade memorial, a 1968 environmental sculpture located outside of Be’er Sheva; “Axe Majeur,” a monumental sculptural pathway in Cergy-Pointoise, outside Paris that he began work on in 1980; the design for Habima Square in the heart of Tel Aviv, in 2011; and a memorial to the Romani victims of the Holocaust in Berlin, which was dedicated in 2013.
Karavan’s work was characterized by its simple geometric components to create fascinating compositions. Over the years, he moved around, creating new sites in, among other places, Japan.
Since the dedication of his redesigned Habima Square, it has become the work with which he has been most closely identified. At times, he had to defend it amid critics who claimed that it lacked shade.
“Everyone who meets me on the street thanks me,” he said in his defense in an interview marking his 85th birthday. “Show me a single square around the world that has shade. If they want shade, they should make a grove. They asked me for a square, not a grove. It’s chutzpah that people dealing with public spaces don’t understand what a square is.”
Dani Karavan was born in 1930 in Tel Aviv. His father was Tel Aviv’s chief gardener. He was a student of Israeli artists Avigdor Stematzky, Yehezkel Streichman, Marcel Janco and Mordecai Ardon. In 1950, he studied set design at Givat Haviva and at the Cameri Theater. In the mid-1950s, he went to Florence to study mural art and later studied drawing in Paris. He was also among the founders of the Batsheva Dance Company in 1964.
His 1982 solo exhibition “Makom” at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, curated by the museum’s director, Marc Scheps, was a landmark in Karavan’s career and in exhibition design in Israel in general. He created an entire setting, as if he had rebuilt the museum’s exhibition space.
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In the 1980s, one of his notable works was “White City,” a monumental creation measuring 50 by 30 meters (165 by 100 feet) in Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv, transected by a water canal.
The catalogue for a 2004 retrospective of Karavan’s work at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art curated by the museum’s director at the time, Mordechai Omer, noted that Karavan’s artistic goal involved “the design of spaces in which the people, the work and the environment create a single, complete essence.”
In 2018 and 2019, he planned a monument to Poles who had saved Jews in the Holocaust. It had been due to be installed on the façade of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, but it prompted criticism that it would further the version of Polish history that the current Polish government has been seeking to promote.
Karavan was critical of what he said was Israel’s destruction of historic assets, including Palestinian ones. He also frequently expressed his political views, writing in Haaretz in 2015 before that year’s election, for example, about the importance of “voting against unnecessary wars and in favor of negotiations on peace agreements with Arab countries, first and foremost Saudi Arabia, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.” Negotiations, he wrote, could put an end “once and for all to the death and mourning and prevent a terrible war that would cover the entire country with sophisticated missiles.”
In the late 1990s, he designed “Way of Peace,” a sculpture path stretching from the ancient site of Nitzana to the Israeli-Egyptian border, consisting of more than 100 columns each of which has the word “peace” written on it in different languages.
Karavan is survived by his wife, Hava, three daughters, Noa, Tamar and Yael, and two grandchildren.
President Reuven Rivlin paid tribute to Karavan, saying that he will be sorely missed and that he was "very dear to Nehama and me."
"Dani was an example and role model as a public servant," and always sought to make his work accessible to the public rather than placed in museums, said Rivlin.
"His works have always been commissioned by public bodies, been built in public spaces and existed for the general public. This is how Danny returned the art to the public."
Rivlin said that by doing so, Karvan gave Israel, and the world "an eternal gift."