Painting Israeli Art With a New Brush

The Israel Museum, reopening to the public today after three years of renovations, is making a powerful show of strength with its new exhibition of local artwork and other shows curated by artists of international renown

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Three years of expansion, renovation and renewal have come to an end: Today the Israel Museum opens its doors and all its galleries to the general public once again. The change can be felt already at the entrance, which was moved from its original location and made more accessible and pleasant.

The first work that visitors will encounter on arrival will be the Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson's "Whenever the Rainbow Appears," which is on display at the new covered "route of passage" leading into the museum. Next they will see "Turning the World Upside Down, Jerusalem" by Indian artist Anish Kapoor perched at the top of the museum campus en route to the renewed exhibition galleries. Both works were specially commissioned for the museum and are in a sort of state of interaction with their surroundings.

Yizthak Danziger's statue 'Nimrod' - at the 'intersection' between modern and ancient culturesCredit: Timothy Hursley

Other than "The Meaning of Windows," already on show in the Youth Wing, the museum's various branches will feature new exhibitions. The upgrading of the campus and the organization of the collections and the new exhibitions, which are based mainly on the Israel Museum's own collection, constitute a show of strength and showcase the institution.

The truly new and perhaps most significant addition to the museum is the establishment of a permanent exhibition of Israeli art. The importance of an exhibition of this kind is immense since, as the biggest museum in the country, the Israel Museum has the responsibility of collecting, maintaining and investigating Israeli art throughout the generations.

This exhibition is not merely important to the general public, but also to the professional artistic community - students of art and the history of art, curators and scholars alike. What adds to its importance at this time is the fact that the new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum has not yet been opened; it's slated to do so next year.

The Israeli art exhibition, curated by Yigal Zalmona (chief inter-disciplinary curator ) and Amitai Mendelsohn (curator of Israeli art ), opens with the canonical and powerful work of the sculptor Yitzhak Danziger, "Nimrod," from the end of the 1930s. Thanks to the spatial planning of the galleries, this work stands at the "intersection" between local art and archaeology. Indeed, with its controversial Canaanite aesthetic, the statue "watches over" two cultures - ancient and modern.

The exhibition consists of some 70 amazingly beautiful Israeli works, some of which have not been on display for years. It does not follow a chronological order, but rather is divided into three thematic axes that begin with three "triptyches," through which the curators integrate Israeli art through the generations: Reuven Rubin and his "First Fruits" which, the curators say, deals with body and scenery in a local context; Joseph Zaritsky with his "Painting," which symbolizes abstraction, a universal approach without a local context; and Mordechai Ardon, father of early Modernism, with his painting "At the Gates of Jerusalem."

The works of other important artists also "connect" with these three axes - whether they are early artists like Avigdor Steimatsky, Yehezkel Streichman, Moshe Kupferman, Aryeh Aroch and Ori Reisman, members of the intermediate generation - Michael Gitlin, Yehoshua Neustein, Micha Ullman, Moshe Gershuni, Rafi Lavie, Yair Garbuz and Larry Abramson - or younger artists like Gal Weinstein and Adi Nes.

In this exhibition, it should be noted, works by an impressive group of men are displayed alongside those by a handful of women artists: Aviva Uri, Michal Neeman, Tamar Getter, Sigalit Landau and Efrat Natan. Unlike most of the men, every one of the women artists has only one work on display - as if it were simply a duty to put them there. Furthermore, Palestinian art, which has established its own place since the end of the 1980s, is hardly represented at all here. It is simply not sufficient to show the beautiful but over-exhibited work by Sharif Waked, "Chic Point."

Little moments

The Edmond and Lily Safra Fine Arts Wing is being inaugurated with an exhibition called "Pe'imot" (Heartbeats ), curated by Suzanne Landau (chief curator of the arts ). Despite the monumental nature of most of the works here, the strength of this show lies actually in the little moments - in the relatively minor appearances of sound and movement. The exhibition comprises works of photography, video and installations, the vast majority from the museum's collection, and about half of which have never been shown.

Landau explains that "throughout the years, many artists have tried to describe movement across time - from the descriptions of racing cars by Italian photographers to video artists who wished to turn a static image into a digital screening. 'Heartbeats' examines how contemporary artists have approached the

contemplative angle of movement and incorporated it into the experience of their work."

Two works inspired this exhibition: "Table" (2005 ) by Junya Ishigami, which is composed of a nine-meter-long steel sheet that stands on four legs, on which are placed organic materials such as plants, herbs and flowers that the artist bought at the Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem and the Carmel market in Tel Aviv. The table moves slowly up and down, as if it is breathing. The second work is Bill Viola's "An Instrument of Simple Sensation" (1983 ) - a short film, in which an exposed human heart is seen and its beating echoes off the walls of the gallery.

Among other artists whose works are on display here are Carlos Amorales, Mona Hatoum, Olafur Eliasson and Ori Gersht. Three exhibitions are displayed in this wing, curated by renowned contemporary artists Yinka Shonibare, Susan Hiller and Zvi Goldstein - all three were created from the museum's collection of masterpieces during the past two years, and present dialogues between the works and the artists. Also on show, for the first time, will be photographs from the collection of Harriett and Noel Levine, curated by Nissan Perez (senior curator of photography ). The collection, which spans 170 years, was presented to the museum two years ago. The current show features 117 pictures.

The opening events begin today and the museum will remain open until late every day during this gala week.



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