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Igael Tumarkin

(1933 – 2021)

Igael Tumarkin was a sculptor and painter. Tumarkin was born in Dresden, Germany, the son of Berta Gurevitch and Martin Hellberg, a German theater actor and director. His mother and his stepfather, Herzl Tumarkin, raised Tumarkin in Israel from the age of two. In 1955–57, after his service in the navy, Tumarkin traveled to Europe. In East Berlin he met his father and worked as a set designer for Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble. The sculptors Rudy Lehman and Itzhak Danziger influenced his turn to the medium of sculpture, and his first iron sculptures appeared in the summer of 1956.

The landscape of the desert also inspired him. Tumarkin created reliefs made from sand using a unique spraying method. Through the 1960s Tumarkin turned to assemblage techniques and his sculptures were created from the junk of Israeli ships, weapons, and machines. Over time the weapons became integrated into figurative sculptures of males and females made from casts taken from show window mannequins (He Walked in the Fields, 1967, Tel Aviv Museum of Art).

Tumarkin's visits to New York in the mid-1970s influenced the composition of his sculptures. They became horizontal as counterpoints to the skyward orientation of modern architecture. The use of glass reflecting the environment was also based on the urban landscape. In 1974–75 he completed his monument dedicated to the Holocaust and renewal in Tel Aviv. With his interest in earth architecture he traveled to Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, and elsewhere. The works created under the inspiration of these trips were made of iron, earth, and fabric. The subject matter dealt with nature, religion, sacrifices, and the connection among them (Bedouin Crucifixion, 1982, Israel Museum, Jerusalem).

Iron became Tumarkin's main material, and from the 1990s he improved his technique, shaping the iron by himself at a temperature of 1200 degrees using heavy tools in a process that required the utmost concentration.

Tumarkin’s sculptures were placed all over the world and he gained international recognition. In Israel he was one of the dominant figures in modern Israeli art. A feature of his art is its connection to the history of the country. Israeli ideals, wars, and the social situation were all part of his artistic content. The fact that his art involved controversial political statements created enormous objection to his being awarded the Israel Prize in 2004.

Awards and recognition

  • 1963 First Prize for Battle of Hulaykat Monument
  • 1968 The Sandberg Prize for Israeli Art, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
  • 1968 First Prize for Memorial to Sailors, Haifa
  • 1971 First Prize for Memorial for Holocaust and Revival, Tel Aviv
  • 1978 First Prize in the Biennale for Drawing, Reike
  • 1984 Award from the President of the Italian Republic
  • 1985 Dizengoff Prize for Sculpture
  • 1990 Guest of the Japan Foundation
  • 1992 August Rodin Prize, The International Sculpture Competition of the Open Museum, Hakone, Japan, for his sculpture of the sign at the entrance to Auschwitz concentration camp Arbeit Macht Frei.
  • 1997 Award of Excellence, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • 1998 Sussman Prize, Vienna
  • 2004 Israel Prize for sculpture[


Jerusalem, Israel Museum, To Paint a Mustache on the ZamirIgael Tumarkin New Works (1999); Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tumarkin Sculptures 19571992 (1992); Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tumarkin Prints 19621991 (1992).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Israel Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.