Dani Karavan was born in 1930, in Tel Aviv. He studied painting in Tel Aviv and at the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem and then went to Italy and France. In Italy, he studied fresco painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence and continued his education at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, where he studied drawing. In 1960, he started working as a stage designer, a profession he kept up until 1973, working for theatres in Israel, in New York (also for the Martha Graham Dance Company), Florence, and Spoleto.
In 1962, Karavan began to extend his work to include sculptural forms and created wall reliefs, soon also on the basis of public commissions. Among these works are his wall reliefs for the law courts in Tel Aviv and for the plenary hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem: Jerusalem City of Peace (1965 — 66). For the plenary hall he did a flat stone relief whose geometric shapes with their angular and round patterns as well as their concave and convex indentations, remind of the silhouette of a city. More influential for his further work, however, are his early architectonic Environments, for example, the Negev-Monument (1963 — 68). With its elements of sand-colored concrete, its desert acacias, wind organs, and water, it created a monumental landscape architecture in the Negev desert. The fortress-like memorial near Beerscheba – built to commemorate the victory of the Palmach-brigade in 1948 – consists of a sculptural group of cubic buildings, inclined planes, curved walls and rooms with cupolas, with narrow passages, and a tall tower, 20 meters high. Karavan conveyed the events of the war and its memories by making use of spatial experience as a language. He employed comments, characters, and traces of human impressions, to achieve a historical concretization and interpretation of the abstract spatial experience. The means of expression chosen for this work, remained his most important medium in the years to come. »Behind my art, there is the idea to integrate it into the place, so that it becomes a part of the place. There is neither the question of installing something somewhere, nor of violently imposing something on a place or a landscape. What I do is supposed to become a part of the location, as if it had always been there and couldn’t possibly be different« (Karavan, qtd. in: Kunstforum International, 150/2000).
In 1971, Karavan’s work attracted increasing international attention through a solo exhibition in the Gallery Bellini in Florence. Starting in 1975, Karavan created his first works for museums and public institutions in New York and Milan. He participated in the Venice Biennale in 1976 and, in 1977 and 1987, in the Documenta. Public space became a decisive interest in Karavan’s work. Its vocabulary of forms retained and varied its focus on urban layouts and buildings in the following years, for example with Kikar Levana (White Square), 1977 — 88, Tel Aviv. Visual axes, square, and turret-like or pyramidal and spheric elements function like parts of a construction kit, evoking representative, communicative, and meditative spatial experiences in the temporal course of spatial exploration. Further transformations of urban space emerged with the Axe Majeur in Cergy-Pontoise, France, in 1980, a sculptural axis of landscape, about 3 km in length, with twelve thematic stations. Also, the creation of Ma’alot (Steps), in 1980 — 86, shaping the space in front of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, is another example of this thematic complex.
Working on Holocaust memorials has taken up an especially significant place in Karavan’s work. An early example of this work is his creation of the Holocaust Memorial at the Weizmann-Institute in Rehovot, in 1973. For the memorial sites that followed, Karavan again used abstract sculptural signs in the spatial arrangement of his Environments, in order to point towards events and individual fates during National Socialism. In the Street of Human Rights (1988 — 1993) in Nuremberg, an architectonic axis is lined by high, round pillars, drawing on a classicist vocabulary of forms. It is inscribed with the articles of the human rights declaration. Karavan did his Hommage à Walter Benjamin in Portbou, Spain (1990 — 94) as a sequence of passages and corridors that also takes into consideration the interaction with the given landscape and its materials. »I hate the word monument, especially when it relates to this man who took his life trying to escape from the Nazis. I prefer homage, instead of memorial. I do not like to give advice. (…) If I had not been encouraged to create a monument for Walter Benjamin, I would have never had the idea. But during the time of preparation, I refused to study Benjamin so I would not run the risk of illustrating his ideas and his concepts of time. I was interested in realizing something that closely relates to nature and to the place and that perhaps also tells a story. A story that goes beyond his story« (Karavan, ibid.).
In the 1990s, numerous works emerged, for example, in 1993/94, a French-commissioned memorial in Gurs. In Regensburg, Karavan’s Arbeit Misrach (Osten)(Work Misrach (East)) was inaugurated in 2005. A walkable floor relief makes the floor plan of the synagogue visible and allows visitors to walk on it. The synagogue had been destroyed in the pogrom of Regensburg in 1519. Until the present, Karavan has also continued his involvement with landscape architecture, an example being his Garten der Erinnerung (Garden of Memory, 1996 — 99) at the inner port of Duisburg.
Dani Karavan lives in Tel Aviv, Paris, and Florence.
Favole, P.: Plätze der Gegenwart. Der öffentliche Raum in der Architektur, Frankfurt/M. 1995
Straße der Menschenrechte, Dani Karavan: Ausst.-Kat. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg 1993
// Restany, P.: Dani Karavan, München 1992
Dani Karavan, Dialog Düsseldorf-Duisburg: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen Düsseldorf, Wilhelm-Lehmbruck-Museum Duisburg, Düsseldorf 1989
Brockhaus Chr.: Dani Karavan, Ma’alot, Museumsplatz Köln 1979 — 1986, Köln 1986