Five years and $100 million later, the renewed campus of the Israel Museum will
be inaugurated on Sunday.
Featuring the comprehensive renovation and
reconfiguration of the museum’s three collection wings – for archeology, the
fine arts, and Jewish art and life – as well as the reinstallation of its
encyclopedic collections, the overhaul of the country’s flagship museum was a
labor of love for its dapper director of 13 years, James S. Snyder.
idea was to celebrate, invigorate and realize the original vision for the
powerful site and setting,” he told visiting reporters late last week, speaking
as a full contingent of workers in hard hats scurried in all corners of the
museum to complete the renovations.
Much more than a facelift, it’s more
like a rebirth of the 45- year-old institution. Overseen by James Carpenter
Design Associates of New York and Efrat Kowalsky Architects of Tel Aviv, the
architects were determined to complement the original museum, designed by Alfred
Mansfeld and Dora Gad, that then-Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek founded in
“When I arrived here for the first time seven years ago, I
recognized on the campus a remarkable sense of intimacy between the landscape
and the architecture,” Carpenter said.
“It had incredible resonance
relative to an individual’s movement through the landscape and into the
remarkable buildings – there was the strength of the Noguchi art garden, the
remarkable building designed by Frederick Kiesler and Armand Bartos, which
houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, and of course the Mansfeld buildings for the
“We looked at our challenge of how one might integrate
and more seamlessly pull together the three very potent pieces of the campus,
and by doing so, intertwine new architecture that relates to those original
buildings and enhance one’s relation to the landscape,” Carpenter
The spectacular results of Carpenter’s and Efrat Kowalsky’s efforts
will become evident to anyone who visits. Arrivals will no longer have to brave
the scorching sun or blustery wind and rain on the uphill outside Carter’s
Promenade to make their way from the entrance to the displays.
glass-enclosed, temperature- controlled route of passage situated directly below
the promenade brings visitors into the lowest level of a new threestory gallery
entrance pavilion, providing centralized access to the museum’s three collection
wings and temporary exhibition galleries on its main floor.
Calling it a
tall order, Snyder praised the architects, saying that the new museum offers “a
transformed way of moving to the heart of the campus through a new route of
passage, and new central core developed by Jamie Carpenter. And the
reengineering within the campus without changing the envelope, yet at the same
time doubling our gallery space, was an accomplishment achieved by Efrat
The museum’s collection wings – the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman
Archaeology Wing, the Edmond and Lily Safra Fine Arts Wing, and the Jack, Joseph
and Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life – have all been redone, with the
concept that less is more.
“The renewal of the preexisting architecture
is about the complete reordering of the preexisting museum in order to double
our collection galleries from 100,000 square feet to 200,000,” said
With fewer objects on display and almost twice the space the view
them in, the feeling of claustrophobic overload has been replaced by open spaces
and logical presentation. Snyder stressed that the redesign focused on quality
of the content – “the reordering within our existing campus and providing a
unique experience of the march through material cultural time.
archeology, this means the narrative in the ancient Land of Israel from
prehistory through the time of the Ottoman Diaspora, in fine arts, it means
showcasing the comprehensive and rich holdings of the Western and non- Western
tradition. In Jewish art and life, and particularly for us in Israel and in the
Jewish world, it means drawing a meaningful connection of the place in the world
of Jewish culture, both sacred and secular, within the broader continuum of
Snyder explained that the redesign was about “two chapters of one
story – journey and renewal. We reordered our content so that from the moment
you step on to the campus, you’re given an intuitive experience across 20 acres
of navigation which takes you across a million years of material
The museum’s new galleries are opening with a series of
exhibitions highlighting recent acquisitions and long-held masterpieces across
its collections. Among the innovations are the first permanent galleries for
Israeli art and more than double the gallery space for the extensive Modern Art
holdings in the Fine Arts wing.
Snyder also touted the newly configured
Synagogue Route at the heart of the Jewish Art and Life wing, which, in addition
to existing synagogue interiors from Italy, Germany and India, features a newly
restored 18th-century synagogue from Suriname in South America.
showstopper,” Snyder said.
But it may receive competition from other
displays, introduced to celebrate the completion of the renovations. The museum
turned over three galleries to three artists – Israeli Zvi Goldstein,
British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare and London-based American Susan Hiller – and
made them an unusual offer.
“We gave them the pleasurable mandate to use
any work from across our collection of 500,000 pieces to create their own
vision,” said Snyder, describing the temporary threepart exhibition that
juxtaposes works from all three of the museum’s collection wings.
renewed campus will also feature two new site-specific commissioned works –
Olafur Eliasson’s “Whenever the Rainbow Appears” and Anish Kapoor’s “Turning The
World Upside Down, Jerusalem,” both created with a focus on their location in
Called “magnificent” by Snyder, Eliasson’s “Whenever the
Rainbow Appears,” installed at the end of the museum’s new route of passage,
recreates the visible light spectrum in a series of 360 monochromatically
“It resonates with the unique quality of light in
Jerusalem,” said Snyder.
Kapoor’s “Turning The World Upside Down,
Jerusalem” is situated at Crown Plaza, the highest outdoor point on the museum’s
Standing five meters high, the sculpture captures both the
Jerusalem sky and the landscape of the campus in its polished stainless steel
“It was commissioned especially to pay tribute to the power,
strength and beauty of Teddy Kollek’s original vision of this site in
Jerusalem,” Snyder said.
As Jerusalem, and the rest of the country,
prepare to celebrate the unveiling of the renewed museum, a weeklong series of
public programs and events is planned, including concerts by prominent Israeli
musicians, activities in the galleries for all audiences, and a latenight art
and music festival, engaging artists, writers, and performers with the museum
and its landscape.
All events are free with museum
Throughout this week, the museum is extending its opening
hours, offering tours of new exhibitions and gallery installations, art
workshops for children, and live music in the galleries.
Shalom Hanoch will perform an evening concert in the Billy Rose Art Garden, and
the weeklong celebration culminates on Thursday with an evening concert by
Yehudit Ravitz in the Art Garden, followed by Contact Point, a night of
activities throughout the campus, including dramatic encounters between artists,
writers and performers with artworks in the galleries and across the
“They’ll come to interact with our campus, to resonate with
the campus – with the objects here and the landscape – in exactly the way we
feel and hope every aspect of the campus resonates with the other,” said
Like architect Carpenter, the 58-year-old museum director had his
own story about his first visit to the museum on his first day in Israel back in
“I felt the power of this place... That first day I thought this
was a place I need to come to.
“I thought also this is a place where,
once we can get our arms around it, it deserves a redressing. Because when I
came, the message was that this is many museums under one roof. I thought to
myself how much powerful this place would be when it becomes one continuous
timeline of material culture under one magnificent roof.”
It’s taken 13
years – the last two and a half years with up to 90 percent of the museum under
construction – but his vision has finally been realized.
and humbling for us to realize that 45 years after the founding of this place,
we may be well be achieving the realization of what Teddy Kollek’s vision was
all about. For us, who are only custodians of this place, it is a great
privilege,” Snyder said.