A Philosopher to Run Bezalel's Arts Program

Surprise appointment marks new, multidisciplinary emphasis at renowned school.

Ellie Armon Azoulay
Avital Burg
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Ellie Armon Azoulay
Avital Burg

Dr. Raphael Zagury-Orly has been chosen to head the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design's Master's in Fine Arts program, and will replace Prof. Nahum Tevet at the end of the academic year. Zagury-Orly, a lecturer in the Master's program and in Philosophy in the academy's department of History and Theory since 2004, was elected ahead of well-known artists, several of whom teach in the department.

"There is no doubt that this is a decision with a certain amount of courage on the part of Bezalel because it is not a conventional decision," Zagury-Orly said, considering that the head of the program, like similar positions in other leading art academies, is traditionally an artist.

He added that he was excited about the appointment and happy that his vision was accepted. "I think I bring something beyond technique. Technique is indeed important, but the question is whether we can create something here that is not merely technical. I am not a plastic artist but I have been teaching at Bezalel for a number of years now. I believe I have brought a total and multidisciplinary experience. My impression is that an artist needs to be multidisciplinary today; he has to deal with politics, to understand what kind of world we are living in, and he has to have ties with other forms of art. An artist must be open to everything, and for me it is important to nurture this plethora in every aspect."

Zagury-Orly was born in Haifa and at the age of 12 moved to Canada with his parents. After completing his Bachelor's and Master's degrees at the University of Montreal, he moved to France in 1994 and began studying for his doctorate in Philosophy at the Sorbonne. Between 2000 and 2002 he was an assistant to the philosopher Jacques Derrida, and in 2003, after completing his doctorate, he returned to Israel.

Zagury-Orly is a permanent member of the editorial staff of the important French philosophical journal "Les Temps Modernes." In 2007, he edited a special edition of the journal devoted to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and his cogitation.

"I believe this is an excellent appointment," Tevet said. "Raphael is a man of many talents, and since he comes from the field of philosophy he can develop new ideas and lead the program in new directions. This creates a big challenge for the program and for Bezalel, and I'm certain that only good will come of it."

Regarding the surprising choice of a man of theory rather than an artist, Tevet said: "It is surprising that it is not an artist, but at the same time it's a challenge. This is a new, fresh and unexpected choice, a big challenge especially with regard to the question of the relationship between artistic work or practical study and theory, and how to do it in an intelligent way in order to maintain the practice, and he is the right person for this challenge."

Among the other names mentioned at the academy in the past as candidates to replace Tevet were Gil Marco Shani, Michal Helfman, Sharon Yaari, Yossi Berger and Yehudit Sasportas. Tevet has held the position since 2001 and during this time the studies at the Jerusalem academy were considered extremely successful.

The Hamidrasha art school (the Beit Berl College School of Art ) recently announced that it will conduct a program of continued studies under Roee Rosen, which will join that of Bezalel in Tel Aviv and the University of Haifa's MFA program under Sharon Poliakine.

A senior figure in the art world said: "Raphael Zagury-Orly has a philosophical training from France, and is experienced with French philosophical thought in the second half of the 20th century that feeds contemporary artistic thought and is nurtured by it. On the face of it, this is a most worthy choice, one that indicates that the Master's program will take a new path. Since this program is directed to those from outside Israel and not only to people in the country, the choice should be welcomed and we can expect the professional ties that Zagury-Orly has established with institutes and personalities of international stature to be integrated into his work at Bezalel. At the same time, he lacks experience in the field of contemporary art and will require assistance, and especially good advice."

Raphael Zaguri-Orly.Credit: Nikita Pavlov