Director of TA Museum of Art Dies of Cancer

Professor Mordechai Omer, who passed away Friday at the age of 70, was a senior lecturer in both the Tel Aviv University and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.

Prof. Mordechai Omer, chief curator and director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art since 1995, passed away Friday at the age of 70, signaling the end of an era for Israeli art.

Since 1997, Omer was also the chief curator and director of the Tel Aviv University art gallery, a senior lecturer in both the Tel Aviv University art history department and at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, and he fulfilled innumerable public roles. He was totally devoted to art.

Omer's death from cancer comes just months before the dedication of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art's new wing, a huge project that has been underway since 2003.

Omer's greatest contribution to the Israeli art world is his pioneering endeavor in the conceptualization of the research of Israeli art - as opposed to the reading of art as a historical narrative. His views contributed significantly to the international recognition of Israeli art over recent years.

Omer expanded the horizons of interpreting Israeli art. His exhibitions - "The Column in Contemporary Israeli Sculpture" (1990 ) and "The Presence of the Absent: The Empty Chair in Israeli Art" (1991 ) - were organized based on the concept of motives in art.

During the mid-1960s, Omer wrote his master's degree under the supervision of two advisers including Prof. Meyer Schapiro at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Schapiro was a towering figure in 20th century art history scholarship and is considered one of the founders of the interdisciplinary study of artwork.

Omer was sometimes criticized for holding too many powerful posts - lecturer, curator, director of various boards and adviser to others. Omer also was scrutinized for apparent conflicts of interest involving some members of the museum's board, as well as increased attention on fundraising and administrative work.

Omer supported an agreement to name the museum's new wing after the late Sammy Ofer and his wife Aviva in exchange for Ofer's contribution of $20 million for the construction of the new wing - less than half the cost of the wing's construction. The agreement was rescinded following public pressure, one of the few victories against privatization of culture and other fields in Israel.

As the director of the Tel Aviv Museum, Omer curated and initiated a series of retrospectives of pivotal Israeli artists - thus initiating a clear historical canon - and promoted Israel's most outstanding Israeli artists, including Michal Rovner, currently showing in the Louvre, and Sigalit Landau, showing in Venice in the Israel pavillion.

As a curator, Omer was considered conservative, and his exhibitions were criticized for being too excessive. However, it is difficult to think of another figure with a greater impact on the current generation of curators. This is in large part due to the museulogy studies program of which he was one of the founders.

Omer frequently stressed the connections between the interpretation of art and spiritual-religious philosophy, particularly Jewish philosophy. Still, despite the rising popularity of this trend, Omer was not part of it. Only at his funeral - where his ultra-Orthodox family met the art world-types who filled the funeral home - could it be seen that Omer was, in his own way, a bridge between those two worlds.