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(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
In 1905, the Seventh Zionist Congress met in Basel and decided to establish the forerunner to today's Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. For Bezalel's famous founder, Boris Schatz, an art academy was a vital component of the Zionist agenda, a means to, in his words, "find a visual expression to the long sought spiritual and national independence" of the new Jewish State. Schatz aimed to create an art institution integrating the traditions of European art, eastern and western Jewish design and the local culture of the Land of Israel.
Fast forward a century and Boris Schatz's dream - and more - appears to be the reality of Bezalel, as evidenced by a monumental exhibition, "One Hundred Years of Bezalel," at Ben-Gurion Airport. Today's Bezalel is home to 1,800 undergraduate and graduate students specializing in fields ranging from architecture and photography to jewelry and industrial design. All of these media are represented inside the airport's Terminal One, where works by over 400 Bezalel students and graduates will remain on display through August 8.
The experience of going through the metal detector and entering the old airport, rich in drama and memories for so many people, is truly a special one. Today, Terminal One functions as a time capsule from an era when airports still had local character. Superseded for passenger travel by the new, state-of-the-art Terminal three, the old Terminal One's interior atmosphere is diametrically opposed to the ubiquitous international airport aesthetic, that strange in-between world indistinguishable between one country and the next, and it's a peculiar feeling to physically re-enter the space today. Visitors will truly feel that they are embarking on a voyage, and the exhibition is indeed an exotic trip.
Through the old "Departures" entrance, viewers take an escalator up to the old passport control. Here, artists have installed faceless fabric mannequins inside the glass cubes. It's a creepy pleasure to be confronted by these lifeless government officials, and a liberating feeling to walk right past them into the terminal proper. The Bezalel undergraduate art show is installed in this wing, where the signs for gates - and almost everything else - are exactly as they were before the airport was sealed shut in 2004. The art is simply added to the space, without erasing the traces of the terminal's former life.
In the middle of the floor, viewers will find a diverse selection of young design, which includes everything from wearable yet pleasantly strange fashion to brightly colored silicon computer accessories and bicycles with wheels in funny places. Art is also installed inside the airport's abandoned shops. In particular, viewers might enjoy peering into H. Stern's glass jewelry cases, where decidedly avant-garde, wearable art devoid of diamonds is beautifully displayed.
Fine art is displayed in a delightful maze of makeshift white-walled spaces off to the side of the main drag. In this area, viewers will discover painting, photography, video art and more of what is, frankly, a surprisingly high quality. The photography in particular is provocative without resorting to shock value, as is sometimes the case with student work.
At the end of the corridor, viewers should follow the signs for Baggage Claim to arrive at "Goods to Declare," the masters students' exhibition downstairs. This display, organized in part by Nahum Tevet, the director of Bezalel's graduate program, showcases the work of 51 current graduates of 15 different European and American MFA programs. Amidst the old conveyor belts and signs for currency exchange, fresh, large-scale video and sculptural installations dominate the high-ceilinged space, where painting and photography are also on view.
Bezalel's new art experience is so comprehensive that viewers will feel they've truly been on a journey by the time they exit it through Terminal One's familiar Arrivals hall.