The Israel Museum will kick off its 50th anniversary celebrations this week, with exhibits including contemporary artists and the country as it was in 1965.
Over the years, the country’s leading cultural institution has collected more than 500,000 objects and now serves nearly one million visitors a year.
It houses huge holdings of biblical and Holy Land archaeology, among them the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts ever found.
The museum was inaugurated May 11, 1965, at a ceremony held barely a mile from what then was the Israel-Jordan border, and attended by 500 local and foreign dignitaries.
The spirit behind the museum was Teddy Kollek, at the time director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office and later Jerusalem’s legendary mayor. Kollek had dreamed of creating a museum that would house archaeological, artistic and Jewish cultural treasures under one roof.
In 2010, the museum’s 20-acre campus, just across from the Knesset, underwent a $100 million renovation, including the complete renewal and reconfiguration of its main wings.
“The reopening of the museum in 2010 launched a new period in its history, which we are writing together with our many friends in Israel and abroad,” said James S. Snyder, director of the Israel Museum. “Thanks to their constant support, we will open our jubilee celebrations with fresh momentum and with the same determination and love of doing that characterized the establishment of the museum 50 years ago.”
Snyder, an American Jew, had served as deputy director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York before being appointed to his current position in 1997.
As part of the jubilee celebrations, an exhibition recognizing six contemporary Israeli artists – “6 Artists / 6 Projects” – will open on February 10 and run through August 29. Participating are the artists Uri Gershuni, Roi Kupper, Dana Levy, Tamir Lichtenberg, Ido Michaeli and Gilad Ratman.
Another exhibition, “1965 Today,” is scheduled to open at the end of March and run for a year. This will explore Israel’s visual and aesthetic character in the year in which the museum was founded.
Two special exhibitions, opening April 19 and running for a year, will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the urn-shaped Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.
On May 1, the museum will open a major exhibition offering a brief history of humankind, as told through 12 key objects from its holdings, among them examples of the first use of fire in a communal setting; the first tools used by man; the first examples of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal life forms; the early practice of law; and the manuscript for Albert Einstein’s “Special Theory of Relativity.” This exhibition will run through the end of 2015.
On May 11 (the museum’s birthday), the Ruth Youth Wing for Art will open a special exhibition devoted to artistic depictions of birthday celebrations. This exhibition will run for a year.
Exhibitions of avant-garde art from Germany and of architecture in Palestine during the British Mandate period are among the special events that will open the second half of the year.
On May 11 itself, the museum will be open to the public free of charge, and plans special tours, workshops and performances.
Among the unique objects on display in the museum’s permanent collection is a carved female figure said to be the world’s oldest artwork, the interior of an 18th century synagogue from Suriname, necklaces worn by Jewish brides in Yemen, and a nail attesting to the practice of crucifixion during Jesus’s time.
Among the major recent exhibitions held at the museum was one devoted to King Herod.