In the midst of very old workshops and light industrial buildings at 17 Ha’Amal Street, Tel Aviv, a stark and impressive modern white building catches one's eye. This is the result of 12 years of searching for the right spot, altering the existing building to suit its new purpose and creating an exciting art center for ceramists.
It all started with a dream - a meaningful and devoted friendship and the generosity of the late Issachar and Yehudit Benyamini, two local ceramic artists living in Tel Aviv. Their home in their lifetime was an open house to ceramic artists and the youth of the vicinity who came in to learn about clay and art.
In 1990 this couple visited Egypt to view the ancient monuments. Their bus was attacked by terrorists and Issachar was one of the nine passengers killed in that attack. Nine years later Yehudit passed away and her will disclosed their legacy, which appointed Marcelle Klein and Ilan Meyer, intimate friends of the Benyaminis, as trustees, with the task of establishing a national ceramic center for Israel.
That dream has now been realized. The Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center opened its doors in mid 2011. Marcelle Klein is the manager of the center, Ilan Meyer is in America, but the plans and purpose of the museum and center are the joint effort of all three trustees - Marcelle Klein, Shlomit Bauman and Ilan Meyer, together with a devoted team of volunteers who are the directors and are responsible for the content of the various activities of the center.
The intention of the project is to concentrate all ceramic resources in one place. They work in conjunction with the National Ceramic Association which has its offices in the same building. It is intended to create a permanent showcase for ceramists in this ideal spot right in the center of the Tel Aviv art scene. The apparently derelict buildings surrounding the center house about 80 artists' studios and several contemporary art galleries behind the padlocked doors. In contrast, the Benyamini Center has two beautifully designed galleries which capture the natural light and are perfect spaces for exhibits. Exhibitions are changed every two or three months. The current exhibition is “Voyage” which displays thought provoking exhibits. Some of the art is experimental in nature, some of it is mainstream. There is a small retail outlet where special work from past and present artists is displayed for sale.
Behind the passive façade there is the vibrant active section of the center which houses a state of the art ceramic studio where people come to work and to learn. There are classes for beginners and for advanced students and also special master classes with visiting artists from abroad who share their talent. In December Akia Takamori gave a master class, and in January two ceramic artists from England presented classes as well as a performance artist visiting from Singapore. In March a casting specialist from Latvia will visit the center.
There are regular weekly classes on specific subjects - be it glazing, handwork, wheel throwing, printing on clay or other aspects of ceramics. Lectures are also offered. The facilities in the center allow for both intimate and large audiences.
The Benyamini Center gives an annual First Studio Scholarship to two graduates of an academic ceramic arts program. The scholarships provide the winners with a small studio space in the center and, in exchange, these young artists are responsible for assisting in running the studio.
Entrance to the center is free. Income is generated by the studio and students working there. A small commission from work sold augments this and, of course, the donations of art lovers from near and far are gratefully accepted. It is hoped that the center will, in time, receive municipal and government recognition and support. At present it is being run with the assistance of dedicated volunteers.
This center affords the public the opportunity to learn about ceramics and to be exposed to what is happening in the ceramic world. This is an art that is very accessible to people. Ceramics encompasses fine art, sculpture, design and craft. The whole spectrum will be showcased in the gallery. The contact with our youth will encourage commitment to the art. This vibrant art center is the only national home for ceramics which includes a gallery, a school and a library, and is a showcase for artists. Open seven days a week, it is well worth a visit.
A glance at the website will give you details of current exhibitions: www.benyaminiceramics.org/en/benyamini-center
Lynette Karp is a nursery school teacher by profession and a writer and communicator by passion. Today a volunteer in areas of special interest and writer of `Life Tapestries’ and family chronicles.