Moving in artistic circles

‘Curtain Call,’ artist Arad’s massive 360º installation at the Israel Museum, turning heads in more ways than 1.

August 29, 2012 21:30
4 minute read.

Exhibition 370. (photo credit: Courtesy: Israel Museum)

The cliché has it that artists get their inspiration from all sorts of sources and at all sorts of odd hours of the day and night.

The idea for artist Ron Arad’s Curtain Call installation, which opened at the Israel Museum on August 16 and will run until September 5, was spawned by a chance encounter on the street with a neighbor in 2011.

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Actually, the local wasn’t just any Tom, Dick or Zvika but Marcus Davey, CEO of the fabled Roundhouse music and arts venue in London’s Camden Town district. Israeli-born Arad lives and works across the street from the Roundhouse.

“Marcus told me he wanted the next installation – the second at the Roundhouse, after the interactive Playing the Building work by David Byrne, from [US New Wave band] Talking Heads – to be made by me,” says Arad.

The response was immediate.

“We were just standing there, and I started reeling off my ideas for Curtain Call,” Arad continues. “I said we should do something round, which suits the shape of the Roundhouse, and it should incorporate screenings on a 360-degree screen which allows people to pass through it. He was very enthused with the idea. I was surprised. I thought he’d think I was joking, but he said: ‘Sounds good.’ So we went for it,” he recounts.

Arad admits that, in fact, he didn’t proffer the whole concept off the top of his head; some of it had been gestating for a while.

“I’d played around with moving images before, but I’d never done anything on such a scale before, and I had not created something round before.”

The installation was displayed in the Roundhouse in August 2011 and drew enthusiastic responses by critics and the public alike.

Curtain Call is, indeed, an installation of gargantuan dimensions, measuring eight meters in height and 18 meters in diameter, with the round “curtain” comprising 5,600 silicon rods. The rods provide a backdrop – or immersive digital canvas – onto which works by Israeli and non-Israeli artists are projected for outdoor and indoor viewing.

The video creations include contributions from some of Arad’s artist pals and are culled from a wide range of artistic disciplines, with works by the likes of American-Swiss artist and composer Christian Marclay; British visual artist David Shrigley; British photography and video artist Mat Collishaw; and British-based Israeli fine art photographer Ori Gersht.

Like much of Arad’s work, Curtain Call is both highly impressive and a lot of fun. For the past couple of weeks, members of the public have been flocking to the Israel Museum to catch the Arad show, which runs daily from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and from 9 p.m. on Saturdays. You can watch the works unfold sitting down, lying on the ground or standing inside the circle, as well as from outside. The works are the same, but the experience is very different from the inner and outer vantage points.

Sixty-year-old Arad has made an international name for himself as an architect, industrial designer and artist since relocating to the UK almost 40 years ago. He has created a wide range of innovative objects that have been displayed all over the world, as well as having a hand in the planning of some ground-breaking buildings. He has several works around Israel, including the planning of the Holon Design Museum and the public spaces of the Israeli Opera House in Tel Aviv. However, it may well be particularly pleasing for Arad to have Curtain Call on show in Jerusalem, where he started out on his professional path as a student at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

Mind you, his time as a student was brief.

”I was only at Bezalel for a year, and I went to London for a trip,” he recalls. “A lot of Israelis left the country at that time, but I hadn’t planned to leave.” This was in late 1973, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. “I didn’t take my LPs with me, and I never decided to leave, but I got to London and stayed. It was as simple as that.”

Arad took a year out from college, and then continued his academic studies for a further five years at the Architectural Association in London. After a brief stint of working at an architect’s firm, he set up his own business in 1981, called One Off. Eight years later, together with his partner, Caroline Thorman, Arad established Ron Arad Associates on the premises across the road from the Roundhouse in north London.

Arad made his first splash in the design world with his Rover Chair, a hybrid of two ready-made objects – a scrap yard seat from an old Rover car, which Arad mounted on a scaffolding frame originally designed in the 1930s. The chair became an instant hit, and Arad had set out his stall on the international design scene.

Arad’s works are often voluptuous, sometimes veer toward the outlandish, and generally suggest something of a tongue-in-cheek caveat. Curtain Call features all of the above attributes, and then some.

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