Gifting the gifted

The museum's photography department, headed by veteran curator Nissan Perez, holds over 55,000 works reflecting the evolution of the medium since the 1840s.

joan miro art 88 (photo credit: )
joan miro art 88
(photo credit: )
As briefly reported earlier, the Israel Museum has announced that longstanding patrons Harriette and Noel Levine have made a gift of $12 million through their foundation to the museum's department of photography. This extraordinary gift will support acquisitions, research, exhibitions, publications, and departmental operations. The museum's photography department, headed since its inception by veteran curator Nissan Perez, holds over 55,000 works reflecting the evolution of the medium since the 1840s. Unsurprisingly, the department has now been named "The Noel and Harriette Levine Department of Photography." The Levines themselves have developed an outstanding photography collection that ranges from vintage 19th-century photographs through contemporary works. The New York-based collectors are actively involved in the American Friends of the Israel Museum. In 1994, the Levines gave the museum 85 signed works by Andre Kertesz (1894-1985). The Levines have also gifted photographs to New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has named a gallery after them as well. By the early 1970s, New York photographer Arnold Newman had begun acquiring works for the Israel Museum's photography department, which was formally established in 1977, thanks to the efforts of a group of dedicated supporters, some of them friends of curator Perez. Today the department's encyclopedic collection includes works from the earliest days of photography and features in-depth representations of Man Ray, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Andre Kertesz. Over the years, the department has developed several areas of expertise, including important examples by the medium's pioneering 19th-century practitioners - for whom the holy sites of the Near East offered unique subject matter - and photography of the Dada and Surrealist movements. The 1998 gift of The Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art added works of unequaled importance to the Museum's existing holdings, which include comprehensive bodies of work by some of the most important photographers of this region, among them Mendel John Diness, a Jewish-born photographer who converted to Christianity and captured images of Jerusalem in the mid-19th century; and Yaakov Ben Dov, Yaakov Jack Rosner, and S. J. Schweig, the early 20th-century European photographers who emigrated to Palestine long before the founding of the State of Israel. The museum also holds over 20,000 negatives of Alfred Bernheim, a pioneer architectural and portrait photographer who worked in Jerusalem. A recent major acquisition is a unique album of 87 photographs by the early Scottish photographer James Graham, compiled together with Graham's handwritten notes from 1853 and 1857. Featuring some of the earliest photographic images of the Holy Land, the album is a gift of Katja B. Goldman and Michael W. Sonnenfeldt jointly to the Israel Museum and the Center for Jewish History in New York. The department also promotes contemporary Israeli photography through an active program of acquisitions, as well as through individual and group exhibitions dedicated to the work of Israeli photographers. It annually awards two photography prizes, the G rard L vy Prize for a Young Photographer, and the Kavlin Photography Prize. The museum has published several first class books by curator Perez, notably Focus East and a catalog-cum-book devoted to images of the crucifixion. LAST JUNE the Israel Museum received a bequest of 20th Century European Paintings and Drawings from the collection of Dr. Georg Guggenheim and Josi Guggenheim-Strauss but, until now, only one of the 20 gifts has been on view: Amedeo Modigliani's 1916 portrait of Leopold Zborowski, the first of Modigliani's six portraits of the young Polish poet who succeeded Paul Guillaume as Modigliani's dealer in 1916. Zborowski and Modigliani formed an intense personal and professional relationship, each dependent on the other's talent and success. The portrait depicts Zborowski with folded arms, more realistically than in the later portraits. The large capital letters of Zborowski's name, inscribed above his head, appear to underscore the artists's confidence in his friend. The bequest also includes two drawings by Modigliani, one of a nude and Man with a Pipe, 1919. Among the other works included in the Guggenheim bequest are Henrijk Berlewi's Mechano Faktura, an oil from 1924; an oil by Othon Friesz, Composition, 1910-1912; Paul Klee's Promenade, 1938, a watercolor on cardboard; sometime Jerusalemite Else Lasker-Sch ler's Yussuf Goes to God (Jussuf geht zu Gott) in ink and blue chalk, and also her Neapolitan in pencil, colored chalk, and collage. Others are a still life in oils by Louis Marcoussis; Joan Mir 's Bird, 1960, an oil on cardboard and two untitled Miro prints; Meret Oppenheim's Unidentified Objects 1954; Pablo Picasso's Woman Brushing her Hair, 1952, a study for the cycle La Paix in oil on linen; a Serge Poliakoff abstract gouache, 1950; Wladimir Segal's pencil portrait of Georg Guggenheim, 1962; Steinlen's undated pencil Head of a Woman ; Maurice Utrillo's watercolor Moulin Rouge and his oil Snow Effect at Chatillon, 1918; and Jacques Yankel's Composition, an oil on canvas. Many of these works are worth an outing. Perhaps we can all see them when the 40th anniversary shows finally close.