Design inspires art and craft. It can make life easier, more beautiful, sinful or divine. Design can also reflect the values of a place. It asks questions and explores cultural values. Currently without a home, Israeli design lovers are about to inaugurate a new museum in the city of Holon, expected to attract the highest caliber works in the field.
To be completed this winter, the Design Museum Holon was created by Ron Arad, who is considered one of the world's top designers. A recent retrospective of Arad's work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and an exhibition at the MoMA in New York this past summer attracted droves of visitors.
Born in Tel Aviv, Arad has been based in England since 1973, when he moved there after graduating from Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. In 1994, he designed an auditorium at the Tel Aviv Opera House. He has designed furniture, products and structures all over the world.
When municipal representatives from Holon approached Arad, they asked if he could design an iconic building that would "look good on a postage stamp." Arad concurred and the deal has been signed, sealed and almost delivered.
This February, flanked by gravity-defying red and orange steel waves, the museum will open its two large galleries to local and international exhibitors. Over the next five years, it will establish its own private collection that will be showcased but won't be on permanent display.
"We want to collect international design and Israeli design from the inception of the country to the '70s. We know it's being lost," says Jacob Peres, another Israeli-born designer who is currently working in the UK to promote the new museum. "If nobody is collecting [this work], in 10 years' time there won't be anything left."
Later this fall, Peres expects to bring a junket of UK-based and international media from glossy magazines to see the space and marvel at how so much can be built on shifting sand. Like Tel Aviv, a city that celebrates its 100-year anniversary this year, Holon was built on sand dunes. The "hol" in Holon is the Hebrew word for "sand."
ONCE A relatively quiet middle-class suburban town, Holon's mayor Motti Sasson and his managing director, Hana Hertsman, decided to transform their city's nondescript character. Starting 16 years ago, they earmarked municipal funds and invested heavily in the arts, culture, design and festivals catering to specialty groups like children and women.
According to Peres, Holon's Children's Museum is one of the most popular in the country and "unbelievably successful."
The 2004 decision to erect an international-class design museum was part of a pledge to give back to the community - one that thirsts to know more about local designers and achievements, as well as what's going on beyond Israel's borders. And it should go some way to slaking that thirst, when it brings top-notch designers, products and installations to Holon. Tourists are expected to enjoy the facilities, too.
The opening exhibit in February will feature an all-star cast of four international curators - including design critic Julie Lasky from New York and Garth Walker, a prominent designer from South Africa - all of whom have been asked to select 100 objects in furniture, projects and installation work that examine eight themes in contemporary design.
Comprised of two square galleries for design and artifacts, the larger space, measuring about 5,382 square feet, will be built without columns and, according to Peres, will be filled with streaming natural light.
The Holon museum curators and staff - an active group of 10 - received the Innovation and Design Award for Culture from Conde Nast Traveller magazine this year. They are pledged to use the new space to seek out an enriching dialogue among designers, curators and the public.
A second exhibit later in 2010 will hinge on fashion and will include a collaboration with two New York-based curators. A third exhibit, Senseware from Japan, will finish off the year, featuring Japanese textiles and technology, some of which has never been showcased outside Japan.
Beyond the exhibition halls, a designer lab will provide a space where local and international designers can work in situ, as spectators watch from the sidelines.
A few Israelis have achieved great prominence in the design, architecture and fashion worlds. They include greats like Moshe Safdie, architect and urban designer; Arik Levy, a founding partner of a multidisciplinary design studio in Paris; and Gadi Amit, principal designer and founder of NewDealDesign studio in San Francisco, California.
According to Peres, Israelis like Levy and Arad are world leaders in design. "For sure," says Peres, noting that an Arad chair can sell for thousands of dollars. "He's up there with Starck... he's a living artist."