Culture and commerce

A new Israel museum exhibition brings art to the people.

On Sunday, the director of the Israel Museum, the Mayor of Jerusalem and the director and president of the Jerusalem Malcha Mall were all gathered around an enormous, prancing, pink-colored woman with her arms wide open and nothing on but a bathing suit. They weren't alone. About an estimated 20,000 people came to see the same woman within the space of the next twenty-four hours in the middle of the mall. The pink lady's name is Nana, or "Pink Nana Standing," and she's one of 12 pieces of sculpture and 3 DVD installations that the Israel Museum has loaned the Jerusalem Mall until the end of October. "We were going to have her," says James Snyder, Israel Museum director, sweeping through his office and pointing to a picture of Ashdoda, a prehistoric clay figure of a seated woman who actually has a lot in common with Nana. "But she didn't have a bathing suit. So we took her instead," he says, waving a picture of Nana. "And now she's running to embrace you through the mall. I love it. I love it," he exclaims. This latest venture at the mall is one of a number of Snyder's projects designed to bring people closer to art and marking part of the Museum's 40th anniversary celebrations. "I'm always thinking," says Snyder, running his fingers smoothly along his salmon-pink crochet tie, "Where are the people? How do we get to the people?" By all accounts, Snyder, whose enthusiasm for the museum is legendary, is actually doing a pretty good job at getting to the people. In the past five Intifada-ridden years, Snyder has managed to attract 400,000 visitors annually out of a capital that numbers only 650,000. He is justifiably proud of this statistic, but isn't satisfied enough to stop there. "In the winter months there are 30,000 people who visit the mall daily. Think about that. And these aren't necessarily people who would actually come to the Israel Museum. We wanted to give them visual stimulation, to create a synergy between the art and the consumer products." Snyder and his team had to think hard about which pieces to display. The space allotted to them by the Jerusalem mall staff lies just outside the Hamashbir department store on the middle floor. Cafe Hillel sits to the left, Castro is to the right, and an elevator plummets two feet away. "It had to be eye popping to compete with the other visual stimuli. That's why we chose Nana, among others. It's by the same French artist, Niki de Saint Phalle, who created the monster sculpture in Kiryat Hayovel. She can definitely compete." Other pieces on show include Tom Otterness' black "Head" sculpture of a fleshy male face, 1988, Robert Indiana's "Love," of which a larger version is displayed in the Museum's sculpture garden, and Barry Flanaghan's "Running Hare" who seems to be racing away into space. On Monday evening, people were winding their way around the art. Some stopped, particularly at Nana, little children tried to climb the sculptures that weren't encased in glass, and the elderly commented. "It's really really, cool... it's fantastic," said the thirty-something Michael. "It's great to bring art to the people." "We saw the posters on the top level and came especially to check it out," says his friend Helena. " I've actually been to the Israel Museum this year, but it's great to see art here in a new perspective." As part of the exhibition, visitors who spend over 499 NIS in one day can get two free tickets to the Israel Museum. The exhibition also includes a small stand with items from the Museum's shop, and a children's creative activity corner manned by Israel Museum Youth Wing instructors. "People are always worried about Jerusalem's growing religiosity," says Sneider, through his Andy Warhol frames. "But Jerusalemites are more than willing to embrace these ideas. We were met with the utmost cooperation at the mall. We were delighted with the openness of the management." "It's not that the museum should become a mall," Sneider concludes, "Or that the mall should become a museum. But there should be a kind of merging of a place of commerce and culture. It's subliminally stimulating."
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