Tel Aviv Museum Surprises Art World With Staid Choice of Curator

Suzanne Landau, who has been the chief curator of fine arts at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for 34 years, appointed after search committee widely criticized for lack of transparency.

In a move that surprised the art world, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art yesterday announced the appointment of a single individual as its director and chief curator.

The appointment went to Suzanne Landau, who has been the chief curator of fine arts at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for 34 years.

Suzanne Landau - Shiran Granot - February 2012
Shiran Granot

She will take up her new post in September.

The search had been on for new director and chief curator since the death of the previous director and chief curator, Mordechai Omer, eight months ago.

However, it was widely believed that the museum would split the position, and that the search committee would select an international figure as director.

Some people were also surprised at the selection of such a longtime member of the museum world.

The search committee was widely criticized by Israeli curators and artists over the past several months because it included collectors and administrators but no local artists, was not sufficiently transparent and did not seek input from the public. After months of protests, rallies and petitions, the Israeli artist Ofer Lalush was brought on board.

Joshua Simon, one of the leaders of the protest, said yesterday that on the professional level the choice was excellent.

"I hope this will mark a new beginning for the museum," he said. "I wish Suzanne good luck. Her success will be all of our success."

Martin Weil, who was director of the Israel Museum from 1973 to 1993, said Landau's curatorial style is very different from Omer's.

"Moti [Omer] was a man of research; Suzanne is more interested in young talents, she is much stricter than he was in selections," said Weil. "She will have a clearer line. It is a very different personality and I'm sure the museum will benefit from this move. Suzanne has tremendous stature abroad and other museum directors admire her very much."

Weil and Landau worked together to build the Israel Museum's collection of contemporary art. They met in 1978 when Landau began her career as Weil's personal assistant.

As curator of fine arts at the Israel Museum, Landau curated solo exhibits of artists of international repute as well as exhibits that helped underscore the international standing of artists. She curated the 1995 exhibition of Gerhard Richter's works; the 2005 video installation by Frances Alys called "The Green Line"; and the 2002 exhibit by Yinka Shonibare.

Landau also curated Michal Rovner's video installation on Tabor Street in Tel Aviv, which preceded the artist's international breakthrough in New York.

The Israel Museum's current director, James Snyder, said Landau's appointment was a moment both proud and sad because she would be leaving the Israel Museum after 34 years.