Bezalel goes abroad

The arts and design academy is showcasing its alumni’s work across the US.

Bezalel on Tour exhibition 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Bezalel )
Bezalel on Tour exhibition 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Bezalel )
The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design has nurtured a pretty good name for itself in the global arts community, and many of its graduates go on to bigger and greater things after they leave their cloistered study environment and head off for the big wide world. Right now the academy is presenting the fruits of some of its alumni’s creative endeavors to audiences across the US as part of the “Bezalel on Tour” exhibition.
The show is currently ensconced at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, and will run there until March 18.
Thereafter, the exhibition will move on to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, Sotheby’s in Chicago and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, Ohio, before eventually making it to New York. Venues in Rhode Island and Ottawa have also expressed an interest in hosting the display.
The show incorporates works by around 30 Bezalel graduates from the last three years and from across the academy’s range of departments, including art, industrial design, photography, jewelry and fashion, ceramics and glass design, architecture, screenbased arts and visual communications, and master’s degree programs in industrial design and art.
This is not the first time the academy has cast its net across the pond and elsewhere around the globe.
“We took the ‘Continuity and Change’ exhibition all over the world,” says Muli Ben-Sasson, who curated the current show and serves as head of Bezalel’s Ceramics and Glass Design Department.
“‘Continuity and Change’ ran in Europe and the US and even in South Korea for eight years, from 1998 to 2006.”
“Continuity and Change” dug deep into the academy’s history for its exhibits, going back as far as academy founder Boris Schatz’s time in the early 20th century. However, this time around, visitors to the show in the US will get a far more contemporary picture of what Bezalel has to offer, in real time.
“The exhibition presents projects that are, in fact, final works of students from Bezalel’s departments, including master’s degree students,” explains Ben-Sasson, adding, however, that logistical considerations will sometimes get in the way of strutting all the academy graduates’ stuff.
“Not all the venues can accommodate all the work we shipped over to America,” he says. “In MICA we are exhibiting 3D items and video works, including animation.”
Besides showing the world what the academy students are capable of producing, Ben-Sasson feels the show is doing its part to put in some positive PR work on behalf of the State of Israel as a whole.
“There were hundreds of visitors at MICA the weekend before last, and they all took a great interest in the Israeli works,” he says proudly. “I think it shows our good side to the world. It was wonderful to see how our creative approach is exhibited there.”
Ben-Sasson also feels that Israeli students offer the world some added artistic value.
“I think the items in the show present originality, a refreshing way of thinking and our local culture. We want to bring something from our own local way of life, and there are some wonderful works in there that convey that message very well,” he says.
The curator adds that the current traveling show combines a bit of “here” and a bit of “there.”
“The works use the language of the world, as well as our idiom from here.”
So how does that Israeliness come through in the Bezalel exhibits? “When it comes to porcelain works, for example,” says Ben- Sasson, “our students bring something new to the world in terms of the material itself and the students’ abilities.”
In fact, Ben-Sasson also has a good reason for feeling at home in Baltimore.
“Bezalel has a student exchange program with MICA,” he notes, adding that Israeli students who go Stateside come back with a better idea of who they are and where they come from.
“They return here with a different kind of experience. They come back very happy with the work they do there but, on the other hand, they also learn to appreciate what they have here in Jerusalem. We have a lot of ability at our academy. You don’t get the quality of students and of facilities at Bezalel in many other places around the world.”
Considering the economic squeeze on education and culture, those are encouraging words indeed.
“We are not wealthy,” Ben-Sasson hastens to add, “but we try to make the most of what we have.”
He is happy to return to the theme of the PR service he feels the academy and its ilk provide.
“Culture and the arts are pure ambassadors, the best ambassadors we have for Israel,” he asserts.
And the academy is doing its bit for president and country elsewhere, too.
“The Industrial Design Department currently has an exhibition in Milan. We are constantly doing stuff abroad. It is very important for Bezalel to get out to the world,” he says.
However, the exhibition in the US is the most representative of what the academy is up to.
“We took three to four projects from each department,” explains Ben-Sasson.
While he was ultimately responsible for compiling the show, he had some help along the way.
“I worked with an advisory team, with people like [Industrial Design Department lecturers] Prof. Hanan De-Lange and Prof. Ami Drach and [head of the Masters of Fine Arts program] Dr. Raphael Zagury-Orly. I had to make some changes and ask for various things, and I did the design, and I am proud of what our students have to offer. We really do have something to offer the world.”