Surroundings / Janko the Architect

This is not an art exhibition, but rather a presentation of architectural works known only to a few, even in art and architecture circles.

An exhibition of works by artist and architect Marcel Janko (1895-1983) will open next Wednesday at the Bauhaus Center gallery in Tel Aviv (99 Dizengoff Street). This is not an art exhibition, but rather a presentation of architectural works known only to a few, even in art and architecture circles. The works are being shown in Israel for the first time.

The exhibition - "Marcel Janko - Inter-Disciplinary Artist: His Planning and Architectural Work" - is being curated by architect Shmuel Yavin and is presented in collaboration with the Architecture Museum of the Technical University in Munich and the Janko Dada Museum in Ein Hod. The exhibition consists of photographs of 15 of the 40 buildings designed by Janko in his native city of Bucharest between 1926 and 1937.

Most of the buildings are residences, multistory buildings or magnificent private homes in the international style - with local flavor and his personal touch, which is sometimes reminiscent of his Cubist paintings. Janko designed most of the buildings for established bourgeois clients, many of them Jewish, who were the first to adopt the new architectural style.

The apartment building Janko designed in 1926 for his father, Herman Janko, at 55 Dr. Maximilian Popper St., was considered the first "modern" building in Romania. Janko himself lived in the building until 1931 and worked in a studio in the attic. Other buildings featured in the exhibition are a luxury apartment bloc designed for Solly Gold in Bucharest's commercial district near the city center, a multistory apartment building for Frieda Cohen and a private villa for fur merchant Florica Reich in a luxury residential neighborhood in the north of the city.

The Tel Aviv display is part of a comprehensive exhibition on modern architecture in Bucharest between the World Wars, mounted a year ago at the Architecture Museum of the Technical University in Munich. Of the 50 or so buildings included in the exhibition, 15 were designed by Janko. This is an impressive share and indicative of Janko's central position in the modernist movement in Romania, not only as an artist, but also as an architect.

Janko was born to an established family of merchants and studied architecture in Zurich during WWI. While he was studying, he was an active participant in the Cabaret Voltaire, along with other avant garde artists who later formed the Dada art movement. He spent time in Paris in the early 1920s, and upon return to Bucharest he pursued his art, contributed to magazines belonging to modernistic circles and worked as an architect, becoming the leading avant garde and modernistic architect.

Unlike his contemporaries - Eugene Ionescu, Constantin Brancusi and Tristan Tzara, who were active mainly outside Romania, Janko worked in his native land until coming to Israel in 1940, where he continued to paint and design buildings, earning him the Israel Prize for Art in 1967.

Prof. Winfried Nerdinger, director of the museum in Munich, wrote an article about Janko's architectural works for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition last year. He explained that Janko "wanted to combine building with art and viewed modern architecture as an expression of democracy."

All 40 of the buildings designed by Janko in Bucharest were completed before WWII and "deviated from what was common in Romania at that time," Nerdinger wrote. He said that during the 1930s, Romania completed the transition from beaux arts architecture to the modern architectural language, and that Janko's contribution to this process (alongside that of architect Horia Creanga) was "decisive."

The owners of the gallery in Tel Aviv's Bauhaus Center heard about the exhibition in Munich and convinced the museum to allow the center to exhibit Janko's works alone, as part of the center's activity in documenting and preserving the work of modernistic architects who lived or worked in Israel. There is no doubt that the presentation of Janko's works in Israel would be more complete if they were shown in full at the exhibition, in the context in which he worked in Romania - one of the less recognized countries in Eastern Europe with respect to modern architecture.

The photographs of Janko's works at the exhibition were taken in Bucharest in recent years, and as can be seen in them, the physical condition of the buildings is not glowing. In Romania today, international style architecture, which was rediscovered after the collapse of the Communist regime, is viewed as the country's entry ticket into the community of Western European culture. A historical study of that period was begun back in the 1980s and continued full steam after the collapse of the Communist Bloc. It is conceivable that the time for preservation will come, as it did in Tel Aviv.

Unlike the photographs themselves, the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition presents the buildings in their heyday, immortalized in photos taken shortly after they were completed, under the supervision of Janko himself. The photos are from the Janko archive kept by his daughter Dadi Deborah Janko, who lives in Israel. Graphic reconstructions of the buildings, prepared by architect Ella Goren especially for the catalogue, illustrate the architectural characteristics of the buildings in their virtual "purity," devoid of materialism and unscathed by the ravages of time.

Even though the exhibition in the Tel Aviv gallery focuses on Janko's architectural work in Bucharest alone, Yavin decided to relate to Janko's work in Israel in the catalogue, and justifiably so. The avant garde, anti-establishment and Dadaist Janko, who joined the planning establishment when Israel was founded and enthusiastically adopted its path, is without a doubt a key figure for understanding architectural-political relations in Israel.

For five years starting in 1948, Janko worked in the planning department of the Prime Minister's Office, with a team headed by architect Arieh Sharon, who was then engaged in planning the entire state. Janko was in charge of plans for national parks, forestation and nature preservation, and in that capacity stood at some of the more politically and socially charged junctures in the history of Israel's spaces in the early years of the state.

In 1949, he played a major role in the designation of Old Jaffa as an artist's quarter, and in the early 1950s he worked toward turning the Arab village of Ein Hud into the Bohemian artist's colony of Ein Hod. As an architect, he was sensitive to the rural folkloristic beauty of the buildings and the ruins he found in the village and was enchanted by them as an Orientalist. Like many of his contemporaries, he was disinterested in the fate of the disinherited refugees - some of whom now live in the new Ein Hud, an "unrecognized" village not far from the artist's colony.

The story of Janko and Ein Hod became part of the mythology surrounding Israeli nationalistic Zionism. He himself viewed Ein Hod as his life's work, an Israeli version of Dada. In recent years, this myth was shattered and Janko's work in Ein Hod and Old Jaffa were put in the correct critical light. Such criticism, however, does not appear in the catalogue, and the articles printed there preserve the traditional apathy and dismissiveness, even after a generation.

Historians and art researchers have emphasized the contribution of Janko's artistic work after his arrival in Israel (where he was accorded a royal welcome), his total devotion to the Zionist effort and the inclusion of nationalistic content in his paintings. The complexity and contradictions of his architectural work in Israel can perhaps be seen in a charming private home that he designed in Herzliya Pituah in the Pueblo Espanol style - a style that is light years away from the modernistic revolution and which he may have viewed as "local." That house has now been incorporated into a new adjoining structure.

The exhibition in the Bauhaus gallery and the catalogue that accompanies it (published in both Hebrew and English) are the barest introduction to the comprehensive documentary and critical study that Janko's architectural and planning work in Israel undoubtedly deserve.

Incidentally, in a hyper-Orientalist article appearing in the catalogue, "Ein Hod or Marcel Janko and Vernacular Architecture," architecture Prof. Chaim-Vitto Voltera surprises with his own version of the Ein Hod story. Contrary to the accepted version, according to which it was Janko who first discovered the buildings of Ein Hod and rescued them from demolition, Voltera relates that he - and not Janko - discovered them "on a clear day in autumn 1951," and told Janko of his discovery. The rest is history.

The exhibition will be on display until November 30.