Just a short bus ride from Tel Aviv, Bat Yam is generally known more for its beaches than for its cultural attractions. But the Museum of Bat Yam (also known by its catchy acronym, MoBY) is an unexpected gem well worth a quick visit, even if it means venturing out of the Tel Aviv bubble. Surprisingly reminiscent of the Guggenheim in New York but on a much smaller scale, the museum is laid out in a circular format, with natural light streaming in through a central skylight – a prime setting for the innovative, contemporary exhibits it houses. MoBY stands adjacent to an old water tower, conveying the message that to sustain a community, art may be just as essential as water.
Currently on exhibit at MoBY, Mini Golf Bat Yam defies what people might expect from an art museum, inviting visitors to become participants rather than spectators. While many museums post ‘Don’t touch!’ signs, this exhibit implores visitors to ‘Please play!’ After all, curator Elad Rosen, with the help of ten local artists, has temporarily transformed MoBY into a fully-functional miniature golf course! The exhibit consists of nine art installations – eight ‘holes’ and a welcome booth. After picking up a golf putter (10 shekels), visitors are welcome to navigate the exhibit as they see fit, and even to keep score if they wish on a bright green poster that doubles as an informational brochure. According to the written description, Mini Golf transforms the museum ‘into a playground;’ encouraging visitors to interact directly with the artwork instead of ‘moseying with their hands behind their back…’
Rosen has brought together a range of artists to create the exhibit. While the works are meant to stand alone as art pieces, artists are requested to make sure their creations would also function as working golf courses. For well-heeled museum-goers who are used to keeping their distance from precious artwork, the experience of being invited to walk all over a sculpture and knock balls into it can be jarring. But by playing each piece, players view the art from several vantage points, discovering different visual aspects along the way and making for a truly immersive experience. Some of the artwork has been designed with this discovery process in mind. In Lali Fruheling’s ‘Demon Days,’ the player is led around a corner before the dark underworld of the piece is revealed, replete with scattered bones, pentagrams and inverted crosses. The effect is that of feeling trapped in a room that belongs to a Satanist, a psychopath – or maybe just a rebellious teenager.
Many of the artists take various aspects of the game into account to engage participants in different ways. In some cases, there are detours where a player might get stuck and have to find a creative way out. Others include specific instructions on how the course is meant to be played. Artist Gabi Kricheli urges players to treat his piece, ‘Almostsexual,’ much like a billiard table and aim to hit a hole in one. The layout of the installation, with large wooden shapes spanning the width of a dimly lit room, encourages the player to comply as the area surrounding the hole is virtually blocked by obstacles.
Some pieces are more ‘playable’ than others; it’s pretty clear that these courses were designed by artists as opposed to structural engineers. But varied obstacles and designs make the exhibit fun to play, even if it’s hard to stick to the rules. Ruti De Vries’ ‘SUPER THROUGHWAY’ may lack the hole you would expect on a traditional golf course, yet it offers such a variety of challenges (launch the ball into the air through this tunnel!) that the missing aspects are not missed.
While miniature golf in a museum may seem out of the ordinary, similar collaborative exhibits have been on display in recent years at various locales across the world, everywhere from Berlin to Minneapolis to Venice. Rosen himself came up with the idea for Mini Golf independently, while sitting with friends in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park not far from the location of the now-defunct miniature golf place they had frequented as kids. The nostalgia factor certainly adds to the experience for visitors who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, when the activity was more popular. Picking up a putter for the first time in a decade or two can evoke a playful mood and bring back childhood memories.
Other MoBY exhibits in the near future will explore themes ranging from graphic design to the history of Communism. This versatility is part of why Rosen turned to the museum as an ideal venue for his exhibit, and it seems to be a great fit. Mini Golf Bat Yam is currently on display at MoBY until October 24.
By Danna Gutman
Danna Gutman was born in Israel, grew up in Maryland and did stints in San Francisco and Brooklyn before moving to her current city of Tel Aviv. She studied anthropology and migration but has worked primarily in tech, helping to bridge the gap between the people building the products and the ones using them. Danna takes every opportunity she gets to explore, whether that means flying halfway across the world or taking a walk down an unfamiliar street nearby. She loves learning languages, eating new foods and picking up new hobbies from SCUBA diving to acroyoga.