The Israel Museum’s board of directors has unanimously approved the appointment of Eran Neuman as the museum’s next director, succeeding James Snyder, who has been in the post for 20 years.
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Neuman, who currently heads the David Azrieli School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University and also directs the Azrieli architectural archives at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, will take over as director of the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, next month. No replacements for Neuman have been decided upon at the two Tel Aviv institutions he is leaving.
Snyder will remain associated with the museum, working on behalf of the museum’s international donor organizations with art collectors and cultural institutions, and will raise funds for the museum. The museum noted that despite Snyder’s proven fundraising record, Neuman’s position will include responsibility for fundraising.
The search for Snyder’s replacement was carried out by a special committee that worked for nine months and considered a large number of candidates from Israel and abroad. The panel did not disclose the list of candidates.
“Eran has the right mix of leadership experience, academic rigor, intellectual curiosity and civic values needed to guide the Israel Museum into the future,” said Isaac Molho, chairman of the museum’s board and an attorney representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Neuman, 48, is a graduate of the architecture department at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and has a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from UCLA. He has focused on research and teaching rather than the practical application of architecture. In recent years, in addition to writing articles, he has been working as a curator.
In 2008, together with architect Jascha Grobman, he curated “Performalism: Form and Performance in Digital Architecture” at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In 2014, he was curator at the Tel Aviv Museum of “David Yannay: Architecture and Genetics,” based on research that he conducted about the radical Israeli architect. Neuman also edited a book about Yannay’s work that was published to coincide with the exhibition. Neuman’s architectural approach is more about aesthetics and history, form and technology, and less about social and political aspects of the discipline.
“Eran is someone who knows how to build institutional resources, create collaborative initiatives, and bring new ideas to life,” Snyder said. “He is both an innovator and a scholar, bringing essential talents to the museum and, in turn, to the people of Israel and to our international visitors for whom the museum reflects cultural values that resonate both locally and globally.”
For his part, Neuman said: “It is our duty to encourage artists and art and the freedom to create that they need and to stretch the boundaries from a pluralistic, respectful perspective. I believe that the Israel Museum’s role is also to lead the discussion regarding the relations between what is being done in Israel and in the world, and at the same time to continue to fulfill its role as an educational and research institution that advances culture.”
Neuman has headed the Tel Aviv University architecture school for the past seven years, after working as a lecturer at the school. Faculty members described Neuman as “demanding and tough” but also as a “bulldozer” and “a professional who knows his work and manages to leverage projects at almost any price.”
Neuman established the digital laboratory for architecture research at the school and the master’s program there. At his initiative, exhibits of final student projects were displayed around the city. In addition, Neuman organized a large number of international conferences and during his tenure, a number of leading architects from around the world visited the school.
Tel Aviv University director general Moti Cohen highlighted Neuman’s fundraising abilities, referring specifically to the late Israeli-Canadian real estate developer, David Azrieli and his family. “There aren’t a lot of people like him who have managed to capture the heart of the Azrieli family, both David and his daughters. They really connected with Eran because he knows how to open people up and speak to every kind of audience in a simple manner.”
Nevertheless, Cohen expressed the view that Neuman would not be tempted to accept donations that come with objectionable strings attached. “He has a view of what is important and what isn’t. He won’t sacrifice an important subject over a donation. If a donor proposes something to him that is not within the aims that he views as important, he will consider it properly.”
Another project that Neuman has been involved in is the physical expansion of the architecture school that the Azrieli family supported. The initial plan, which Azrieli himself prepared together with architect Moshe Tzur, sparked major criticism from school faculty members who claimed that the addition would do harm to the existing building.
Neuman did not oppose the controversial plan for the addition, despite the faculty’s criticism. Following Azrieli’s death in 2014, however, it was decided to scrap the first plan. A new one is now being advanced. Cohen noted that Neuman was a central figure in the change in the plans. “Eran explained that he preferred to locate the school at the front of the university [campus],” he said. “The Azrieli family became convinced that the prior solution was not good enough, [that it was] expensive and did not address the needs of the department well.”
In a news release on Neuman’s appointment at the Israel Museum, it was noted that during Snyder’s tenure as director, the average annual number of visitors increased from 400,000 the year before he arrived to a current 800,000, a third of whom are from abroad. One of the reasons for that is the museum’s exhibitions geared to a broad audience and to foreign tourists. This generates revenues for the museum but has also engendered criticism from the art world that is not satisfied with the exhibitions, which are considerable in number in the fields of contemporary and Israeli art.