Israel Museum opens 50th anniversary with new series

16 exhibits will be on display to celebrate the capital’s premier cultural institution, starting in February with work from 6 acclaimed artists

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

From 6 Artists / 6 Projects: Tamir Lichtenberg, Package Deal, 2013-2014; Mixed media, variable dimensions (Courtesy of the artist)
From 6 Artists / 6 Projects: Tamir Lichtenberg, Package Deal, 2013-2014; Mixed media, variable dimensions (Courtesy of the artist)

The Israel Museum is turning 50, and the seminal cultural institution is kicking off a year of celebrations with a broad range of exhibits.

“What we did here is something that most museums don’t do,” said museum director James Snyder, referring to the museum’s broad collections of art and archaeology. “And it all works.”

The sprawling museum campus of low, flat buildings constructed on a barren Jerusalem hilltop in 1965 was designed by architect Alfred Mansfeld to echo an Arab village on a hilltop. Mansfeld, noted Snyder, was awarded the Israel Prize for his groundbreaking design.

The core of the campus, said Snyder, is the same now as it was 50 years ago, when Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, the guiding spirit behind the museum, gathered the country’s leaders to inaugurate the cultural institution.

There have been changes, of course. A $100 million renovation completed five years ago enlarged the number of galleries, bring a fresh, new contemporary look. This helped increase the number of visitors to between 750,000 and one million each year, said Snyder, who was former deputy director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and who has been with the Israel Museum since 1997.

Part of the museum’s celebrations for the year include some 14 new exhibits, ranging from several solo exhibitions by contemporary Israeli artists in “6 Artists / 6 Projects” to the diorama-like collection of home design items and artworks from the early sixties in “1965 Today.”

Other exhibits opening during the celebratory year are “A Brief History of Humankind,” an exhibit of 12 objects from across the museum’s collections illustrating the history of human civilization, and “Twilight Over Berlin,” 50 masterpieces celebrating the avant-garde period in Germany in the first half of the 20th century.

A crowning item celebrating the museum’s birthday is “Sacred Heart” by Jeff Koons, a sculpture which will be situated at the museum’s entrance. (At the museum’s birthday event on May 11, there will be no charge to enter the museum, and, added Snyder, anyone turning 50 on the same day will receive a free lifetime membership to the museum.)

For now, the museum is kicking off the celebration with “6 Artists / 6 Projects,” after curators spent months researching and viewing the work of different contemporary Israeli artists before choosing the six featured in the exhibit, said head curator Mira Lapidot.

Three of the artists are photographers and videographers, and three feature work that does not revolve around Israel at all. But that’s also a sign of the times, said curator Amitai Mendelsohn, as Israeli artists move outside the confines of home to explore the world outside.

Roi Kuper's Zikim, 2014; Inkjet print; Collection of the artist (Courtesy Roi Kuper)
Roi Kuper’s Zikim, 2014; Inkjet print; Collection of the artist (Courtesy Roi Kuper)

Also in “6 Artists / 6 Projects” are Roi Kuper’s dreamy, panoramic photographs in “Gaza Dream,” capturing images of farmed fields, blue skies and the distant, hazy skyline of the Gaza. Kuper, who was born in one of the farming communities on the border with Gaza, said he began photographing the series before last summer’s war and as always, found it fascinating that the Palestinian city feels so far, and yet is just on the other side of the fields.

In contrast, Gilad Ratman’s “Five Bands from Romania” features an audio-visual installation of five Romanian heavy metal bands playing in a field, their amplifiers buried in a pit dug in the ground. The entire two-day concert was orchestrated by Ratman, who said he was inspired by how heavy metal became popular after the fall of the Iron Curtain, expressing the end of the Soviet era in Eastern Europe.

Uri Gershuni, Untitled, The Blue Hour, 2014 , 18 cm x13.5 cm (Photo courtesy of the artist and the Chelouche Gallery, Tel Aviv)
Uri Gershuni, Untitled, The Blue Hour, 2014 (Photo courtesy of the artist and the Chelouche Gallery, Tel Aviv)

Similarly, Uri Gershuni’s “The Blue Hour” also explores life outside Israel, this time the work of 19th century British inventor of photography, Sir William Henry Fox Talbot. Gershuni traveled to Lacock Abbey, Talbot’s former home, photographing his surroundings. When he couldn’t afford a second trip, he turned to Google Street View, manipulating shots of the village streets and people, and using early photographic techniques that bathe the photos in a hazy blue tone, offering an entirely unique angle on photography and subjects.

There is also Dana Levy’s “Literature of Storms,” a video installation that projects footage of Hurricane Sandy onto 1920s-era photos of Art Deco-designed living rooms from an interior design magazine. The effect is both romantic and spooky, much like her other work in the exhibit, a video-art installation of plants in Everglades National Park, overlaid with flickering, neon lights.

In Tamir Lichtenberg’s “Package Deal,” the artist examined the economics of the art world, and opens up his unusual exhibit of one year’s work, a collection of videos, drawings, poems and objects. For the purpose of the exhibit, he sold one month’s worth of work to collectors, patrons and institutions for the price of an average Israeli monthly salary. In return, each buyer received a box — about the size of a board game — containing the art products that Lichtenberg created during that month. The entire year’s worth of work is displayed in the “6 Artists” exhibit.

Ido Michaeli, Bank Hapoalim Carpet, 2013, Handwoven wool and silk, 250 x 320 cm (Courtesy “Here & Now” Contemporary Israeli Art Acquisitions Committee, Israel)
Ido Michaeli, Bank Hapoalim Carpet, 2013, Handwoven wool and silk (Courtesy “Here & Now” Contemporary Israeli Art Acquisitions Committee, Israel)

Finally, and perhaps the most fitting piece in the six-pronged exhibit that celebrates the museum’s place as Israel’s largest cultural institution, is Ido Michaeli’s “Bank Hapoalim Carpet,” a hand-woven rug (made in Kabul, Afghanistan, where the weavers had no idea where this carpet would end up), depicting Israeli society, history and art, with images of early Israeli art, archaeological artifacts, socialist figures (hence the Bank Hapoalim title, referring to the former workers bank that is now one of the country’s three largest banks) and other historical references.

6 Artists / 6 Projects opened February 11 and closes on August 29.

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