The Israel Museum was only open for short periods over the last year, but it’s still purchasing new art.
The Jerusalem institution was granted NIS 625,000 (around $190,000) to purchase 24 works from eight Israeli artists, mostly for its contemporary art collection.
The money was raised by the museum’s Here & Now Acquisitions Committee, made up of Israeli museum supporters and laypeople. In the decade since the committee was formed, they have acquired more than 170 artworks from some 95 artists for NIS 8 million ($2.4 million).
Given the museum’s financial losses over the course of the year, it wasn’t assumed the committee would be investing in new art, said Mendelsohn.
“This year was a huge challenge because we’ve been closed for so long,” said Amitai Mendelsohn, senior curator for Israeli art at the museum. “We want to encourage artists and support them, especially now, during what is a very tough time for artists, even when the museums are closed.”
The chosen artists — Nevet Yitzhak, Maria Saleh Mahameed, Merav Kamal, Halil Balabin, Lee Yanor, Khen Shish, Orly Maiberg and Uri Gershuni — range in age from 30 to 50, and work in different mediums, from video to sculpture to charcoal, oils and photographs.
It’s a very varied group, said Mendelsohn, chosen to help enrich the museum’s contemporary collection.
Among the new acquisitions is “Typical Jewish Portraits,” a series of 3D-animation video works by Yitzhak (born 1975), in a kind of collage of Hanukkah lamps, menorahs, sculptures, reliefs, and other Judaica works that combines high craftsmanship with Zionist dreams.
“Ana Hun” (Arabic for “I am”) is the monumental charcoal work by 33-year-old Umm al-Fahm-born Saleh Mahameed, which combines autobiographical elements with Christian and Jewish symbolism.
“It’s a great artwork,” said Mendelsohn, “and it’s a statement for the museum to acquire more works by Arab artists, which is what we want to continue to do.”
Nine sculptures and a monumental drawing made up of 57 sheets by the artist duo Balabin, 31, and Kamal, 30 – winners of the Israel Museum’s 2020 Beatrice Kolliner Prize for a Young Israeli Artist – form their project “The Hotdog Man and the Thief of Distances.”
“They were working very, very hard; the lockdown was a natural world for them,” said Mendelsohn of Balabin and Kamal, whose studio he visited between lockdowns. “That’s when they can maybe create the most imaginative and far-out stuff.”
Other acquisitions include a video work by Yanor, “Pina Bausch: Solo for Hands,” which focuses on the hands of the legendary late 20th-century choreographer; an oil painting by Maiberg (born 1958); and a large-scale drawing by Shish, 50, exhibiting the artist’s free-flowing and doodle-like style featuring birds, hearts, flowers and faces.
Four new photographic works by Gershuni, 50, were recently shown as a group in the Chelouche Gallery in Tel Aviv and round out the new pieces.
Mendelson’s team holds weekly meetings with Israeli artists, keeping track of the active local art scene. They pay attention to exhibits of graduating students from local art schools, and look toward their alumni as well.
“We’re out there looking for the new talent,” said Mendelsohn. “My policy is not only to see the youngest artists out there, but to maintain relationships with artists we’ve been following and you can see that in the range of the works we chose for this acquisition.”
He wanted to find works that dealt specifically with this period of time, but “you can’t ever force it,” he said. “Artists don’t stop working because of the coronavirus, and we may see the fruits of this period in a while. Who knows, they may have gotten their best work done in the last year.”