Primary sources: The archival exhibition of Israeli arts

"Primary sources: Activating the archives of Israeli Arts" is a museum event that will take place at the Genia Schreiber University Gallery.

 DISPLAY IMAGES of the exhibition ‘Primary sources: Activating the archives of Israeli Arts’ at the Genia Schreiber University Gallery. (photo credit: ELAD SARIG)
DISPLAY IMAGES of the exhibition ‘Primary sources: Activating the archives of Israeli Arts’ at the Genia Schreiber University Gallery.
(photo credit: ELAD SARIG)

‘The word ‘archive’ conjures up an image of an old and dusty place, where you are cautioned to please just keep quiet,” says Prof. Eran Neuman, dean of the Yolanda David Katz Faculty of the Arts at the Tel Aviv University, and the founder of the new arts archives. “But today’s archives are different and this is not true anymore. Today everything is digitized and goes online, and it is in the public domain, meaning it is available to students, researchers and everyone who is interested.”

An archive can initiate another conversation with the artwork and the activities around it. ​Compared to a completed piece of art, exhibition, play, building or music score, ​an ​art​s​ archive provide​s​ a very different and more complex story. They document the creative process and why certain decisions were made.

The archive can tell us where an idea came from and what it was based on. It could include correspondence with contemporaries, family, business contacts, drafts, sketches, details of materials, exhibitions, technical requirements and decisions. Providing a different story to the finished work we are familiar with, an archive gives an insight into the processes, and a behind-the-scenes narrative account of how the artwork came to be. 

This is very valuable not only to researchers and audiences in a thematic or historical sense but is also of value to contemporary artists, who can draw upon and extend those narratives for inspiration, and as part of their intellectual and creative activities. 

Primary sources: Activating the archives of Israeli Arts, is a museum event currently taking place at the Genia Schreiber University Gallery, which seeks to reveal and activate our primary sources.


“In the course of this two-month-long event, the David and Yolanda Katz Faculty of the Arts will present Primary Sources by Israeli creators. In conjunction, the faculty will hold a range of activities – lectures and conferences, classes and research, visual art and performance art, music events, architecture and films, which will respond to the theme of ‘primary resources,’” Neuman said.

“The exhibition Primary Sources is a showcase of the collections we have at the arts faculty, or the arts center that we are currently building. We do not collect the finished pieces; they usually go to museums,” he said. “We collect the work that led to the finished piece, the sketches that often are artworks in their own merit. 

“We often meet children of artists who do not know what to do with all the materials, and sometimes they throw it out. We believe that it is part of our inheritance, our cultural inheritance. Many people don’t understand how important it is – the ideas, the inspiration, and the thought process. It makes sense that ​it will be here, ​​at the university where we do research.”

The exhibition is divided into the different disciplines: architecture, visual arts, theater, music and cinema, with each discipline presented separately

“The first hall is dedicated to architecture. You can see works of the important architects – sketches, preliminary sketches. You can see the thought, the ideas. 

“We do not show the finished works. The museum collects works and some are in libraries, but there is no center. I was a fellow at the Getty Research Institute; we are not [at that level], but we are working in that direction. The art center will be made of a few parts – the gallery, the youth wing where high school students can start researching, and the research center. The next one is the visual arts – you can see sketches that are very beautiful on their own, as artworks.​“In the theater hall, we have posters of Habima ​of their 1920s tour around Europe, in different languages. There is a maquette of old productions divided into different subjects, including photos of the actors by photographers. These are real treasures,” Neuman said.

“In the music sections, you can see scores and listen to sketches. In the last hall, dedicated to the Israeli pioneering film director Judd Ne’eman, we dive into his research, scripts, sketches for the films, synopsis of his Masa Alunkot, photos from the set, and the making of his films.”

But the show does not only exhibit archive materials. ​“You can see works by students who reacted to the originals, and see short films created by students ​who reacted to Judd’s films. For students it is not about nostalgia, but inspiration. They can research, understand processes, learn the history and get inspired by their artistic ancestors,” he noted.

How did the exhibit come about?

AN ARCHITECT and a designer, Neuman admits that history has always attracted him. “My PhD was about history and theory in architecture. I believe that when creating art of any sort, you always need to look at the history. I was always attracted to history and historiography. It became my mission to save those materials for the future. But it is not only me. We are a large group building the archives; there are researchers for each discipline and we work together,” he said.

“Regarding artists in the fields of visual art, architecture, theater, music, film and television – Primary Sources attests to creative processes, reveals artistic deliberations, and enables us to study the works in depth. Yet they can also serve as a platform or source of inspiration for a new response or creation.”

The materials featured in Primary Sources are courtesy of the Ziffer House Archive: Documentation and Research Center of Israeli Visual Arts, the Israeli Center for the Documentation of the Performing Arts, the Azrieli Architectural Archive, and the private collections of the participating artists.

“The idea began when I arrived in 1998 at UCLA to do my master’s degree and then my doctorate."

Prof. Eran Neuman

“The idea began when I arrived in 1998 at UCLA to do my master’s degree and then my doctorate. As part of my research, I went to the Getty Research Institute, a world-leading institute. From the moment I set foot there, I knew we had to build an arts archive in Israel. An institute that will hold the archiving and research of everything connected to art – everything involved in the artistic process.

“This is the way research is done and it offers a different perspective to the artistic process. ​Today, even in museums, you don’t just hang the works. You show processes, sketches​; ​you create activities around the show​; you mention the context in which the artwork was created. So already then, all those years ago, I was dreaming of building a center like this at home.”

Neuman began his journey building art archives in 2009, when he founded the architecture archive at the Azrieli Architectural Archive. “Naturally I started with architecture, which is my subject. To my great joy, Prof. Moti Omer, who was the director of the museum at the time, and the museum’s management, saw the importance of the subject and promoted the idea, donating funds and time to the idea. 

“The Azrieli Foundation –  Danna and Naomi Azrieli  – donated a lot of money, and things developed. Then, after I learned how it is done and saw how things are done in other countries, I realized that we need to do the same with other fields of creativity.”

Neuman says that building an Israeli arts archive is an act of Zionism. “When I became dean of the arts faculty, I discovered that the faculty of the arts at the Tel Aviv University’s Ziffer House already has an impressive collection, and that was a fantastic starting point,” he recalled.

But that was not enough. “We needed to add to these collections, and I am very happy to say that in the last year alone we received 10 important collections in various fields of the arts. You look at these treasures and you say to yourself, ‘Such important artists.’ Names such as Ruth Zarfati, Moshe Sternschuss, Yair Garbuz, Ziona Tegar, Arie Aroch. Or those in films – Perlov, Assi Dayan, Michal Bat Adam – such important artists, and their materials are kept in their children’s homes, at the bottom of closets or tucked away in drawers. 

“It is a shame. Their condition deteriorates fast and no one gets to see and research them. We know how to keep the materials, to preserve and digitize a lot – for the future.”

Neuman stressed that the university is completely behind this project and supports the idea, as has the Culture Ministry and its outgoing minister, Chili Tropper. 

“We are building what is a real national institute, a national archive. The gallery is open to the public and we hold openings and cultural events connected to the shows from time to time. It is a Zionist act; this is our cultural heritage, which is part of building the land,” he said proudly.

The arts archive is indeed a nation-level project. “We are approached more and more by families who wish to donate materials from their private collections, and we are very happy with every approach,” he said. 

“Of course, we cannot collect everything. For each subject, there’s a dedicated advisory committee made up of academic scholars from various universities as well as active artists. They make the decisions. 

“The National Library is partnering with us and they are in charge of digitizing the materials, making them available to everyone online, free of charge. The physical materials are kept by us, but an important part of our mission is to make the materials accessible to everyone who is interested.”

The exhibition will be open until December 14.