Capital showcase

Exhibit looks at 100 years of Jerusalem through the eyes of its artists

Set in new Tower of David pavilion in Old City and nearby Hamiffal art space, show serves up shot of history chased by exploration of the city’s complicated contemporary realities

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Curator Tal Kobo at the Tower of David Museum's new exhibit, 'Spirit of the Stone,' which opened March 7, 2024 (Courtesy Ricky Rachman)
Curator Tal Kobo at the Tower of David Museum's new exhibit, 'Spirit of the Stone,' which opened March 7, 2024 (Courtesy Ricky Rachman)

The Tower of David Museum is taking an extensive look at art over the last 100 years in Jerusalem in its latest exhibit, “Jerusalem School,” which portrays the city as reflected in the works of artists who have called the city home from the earliest days of the Bezalel art school to the contemporary works of recent years.

“Jerusalem School,” which opened March 7 and will remain in place through July 15, is split into two parts in two separate venues, one examining pre-state art in the museum’s new Angelina Drahi Entrance pavilion exhibition space, and another that takes the story forward to modern times at art space HaMiffal, just a short walk away.

“We’re the museum of Jerusalem,” said Eilat Lieber, director of the Tower of the David Museum. “We have asked ourselves many times, what happened in Jerusalem in the art world?”

The new pavilion is part of a recently completed $50 million renovation of the Old City citadel complex, which dates back to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods.

There, visitors will find “Spirit of the Stone,” curated by Tal Kobo, which examines the first 50 years of Eretz Israel art in Jerusalem from the period of the Second Aliyah immigration in the late 19th century until the establishment of the State of Israel.

The exhibit begins with perhaps the earliest introduction of modern art to the city, showing tapestries and woodworking from the Bezalel art school, founded in 1906 by Boris Schatz.

The second Bezalel building had a menorah affixed to its rooftop, an icon repeated in many of the early works. In the Bible, it is Bezalel who is tasked by God with making the menorah and other holy objects used for the priestly service.

One of the watercolors by early Bezalel student Nehemiah Bedarshi of young art students in Jerusalem, at the Tower of David Museum’s new exhibit, ‘Spirit of the Stone,’ which opened March 7, 2024. (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Next is a group of humorous watercolors by Nehemiah Bedarshi, a young artist from Thessaloniki, who was sent to study in pre-state Israel at Bezalel where he chronicled his classmates’ social life in a series of clever, colorful portraits.

In fact, those early Bezalel students attended art exhibits at the Tower of David, said Kobo, including some 16 exhibits during the British Mandate period, the first time that the citadel had hosted contemporary works.

“Jerusalem was a ruined city back then,” said Kobo, “and these new efforts were pushing it toward culture and modernity.”

The exhibit looks at artists who migrated to Jerusalem, such as Schatz, Ira Jan, Mordechai Ardon, Reuven Rubin and Anna Ticho, and also takes a glance at the artistic groups that developed then and continued into modern times.

There are lesser-known artists’ works as well, such as Else Lasker-Schuler, an artist and writer in Germany who settled in Jerusalem in the late 1930s, and her good friend, Austrian-born artist Grete Wolf Krakauer. Krakauer’s body of work comprises portraits of well-known Jerusalemites who attended salons in her home.

The new Angelina Drahi Entrance pavilion exhibition space at the Tower of David Museum. (Courtesy: Dor Pazuelo)

The exhibit ends with a look at the early typography of those years, as seen in tourist posters and alphabet books.

A fairly short jaunt through the outdoor Mamilla mall leads to HaMiffal, situated in a historic space behind the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where the second part of the exhibit, “Forsaken Zone,” is being shown.

The high-ceilinged rooms of HaMiffal serve as the backdrop for installations that demonstrate the city’s complex political, religious and modern realities.

Curator Elad Yaron shows how the concept of artist groups functioned, from their relationship with Jerusalem and its history, to collective gatherings and the city’s societal issues.

Curator Elad Yaron and the ‘Forsaken Zone’ exhibit at Jerusalem’s HaMiffal, part of the Tower of David Museum’s new exhibit, ‘Spirit of the Stone’, which opened March 7, 2024. (Courtesy: HaMiffal)

Here many of the works are on a larger scale, including massive paintings or photographs of the seminal moments in Jerusalem’s complicated political history.

There will be guided tours in English of the “Jerusalem School” exhibit every Sunday at 1 p.m. The exhibit closes on July 15.

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