Visitors to the Israel Museum usually make a beeline to the Shrine of the Book, home to the Dead Sea Scrolls. But besides its impressive collection of biblical-era ancient artifacts and fine arts inside, a visit to the museum is not complete without spending a few hours outdoors, and on foot, in the Billy Rose Art Garden.
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The Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi designed the space to resemble a Zen garden but with zigzagging sloping sections that display a wide range of diverse, international masterpieces. Minimal climbing is necessary on some rocky, gravel terrain; so wear your walking shoes, and sun-screen is a good idea even in the winter months.
The oldest sculptures in the garden are by the bronze master Auguste Rodin, dating back to the 1880s. His human forms offer a classical juxtaposition to the more modern 20th century works of art, including Alexander Calder’s cosmic, metal piece The Sun at Croton (1960), the Pop-Art of Claes Oldenburg’s Apple Core (1992), Emile-Antoine Bourdelle and Alexander Archipenko’s whimsical figures, and the heavy angles of Henry Moore’s sculptures.
Israeli art is also represented by Menashe Kadishman, Igael Tumarkin, Ezra Orion, and Benni Efrat, to name a few.
Pablo Picasso’s surreal and massive sculpture Profile (1967) has an undeniable presence, resting on the same plane as Robert Indiana’s famous piece LOVE (1977), which takes on a unique linguistic form specific to Israel. Indiana created an Israeli version with the four-letter Hebrew word (ahava – aleph, he, bet, he) using core-ten steel. The block of letters is set on a ridge of the garden overlooking Jerusalem, providing intriguing photo opportunities.
Spaces of emotion
Among the most impressive examples of time and space in the art garden are the more interactive installations that invite the visitor to physically experience the sculptures. Magdalena Abakanowicz uses seven colossal, limestone circles in Negev (1987) to encapsulate the effect of Israel’s vast desert region. The Polish artist describes this and her other outdoor installations as “spaces of emotion.”
Richard Serra’s Outdoor Circuit (1972-86) requires the viewer to walk into a room that is divided into four sections with all points meeting in the center. Once you reach the middle of the installation, “the room becomes the condition of the piece,” the artist says about his similar works of art. The four metal plates coming out of the four corners expose a wide-open room – the view from the center comprehends all fours spaces as one space because nothing is hidden.
American artist Roxy Paine’s sculpture Inversion (2008) looks like something from the future, standing at 42-feet tall with all of its weight resting on the finest limbs of the upside down form. The tall, stainless steel, tree-like structure has no foundation thereby making it look like an industrial yet effortless mass, creating a very haunting atmosphere.
Secreted behind a sloping hill with only a small sign to point the way is James Turrell’s Space that Sees (1992). After walking through a narrow corridor, the room opens up to expose the sky through the ceiling – you can’t help but look up as the natural light floods the enclosed space. The ocular trick calls for a few pensive moments sitting on the benches lining the interior room.
Space that Sees belongs to Turrell’s “Skyspace” series which are performance pieces responding to the environment over time. The longer you sit and experience the art work, the more cloud variations and shadow plays you will witness: You are confronted with an empty space that moves. Everyone will see different things depending on the time of day and weather conditions.
And of course, all the sculptures in the art garden are dependent on your very own personal frame of mind.
The garden is named for its founder, the American entertainer Billy Rose (1899-1966), among whose best-known pieces is the song "Me and My Shadow".
The Billy Rose Art Garden is open during regular museum hours: Sun., Mon., Wed., Thurs. (10 A.M. – 5 P.M.); Tues. (4 P.M – 9 P.M.); Fri. (10 A.M. – 2 P.M); Sat. and holidays (10 A.M. – 5 P.M.). Please see the Israel Museum website for more information: http://www.english.imjnet.org.il/