About the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
The Israel Museum is the largest cultural institution in the State of Israel and is ranked among the world’s leading art and archaeology museums. Founded in 1965, the Museum houses encyclopedic collections, including works dating from prehistory to the present day, in its Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Jewish Art and Life Wings, and features the most extensive holdings of biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world.
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Rare Byzantine Era Antiquities on View for First Time
Since A Discovery near Temple Mount
Exhibition Features Largest Gold Medallion with Jewish Motifs Ever Found
Jerusalem, Israel, September 21, 2014 -- A rare cache of Byzantine-era antiquities discovered in 2013, including the largest gold medallion with Judaic symbols known in existence, are on public display for the first time in a focused exhibition at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Among the archaeological finds on view—all of which were packaged in two cloth bags — are gold coins and silver and gold jewelry, in addition to the sizable medallion, measuring four inches in diameter. The treasures were found in a Byzantine period public building near the southern wall of the Temple Mount during excavations led by Dr. Eilat Mazar, of Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, together with a team from Oklahoma’s Ambassador College.
The unique medallion has, in its center, a menorah (seven-branched candelabrum). On the left is a shofar -- the ram's horn traditionally blown on the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, and on its right, an unidentified object – possibly a bundle of myrtle, willow and palm branches, being three of the four species used during the Sukkot holiday and common Jewish symbols of the period, or perhaps a uniquely-fashioned Torah scroll of unknown design from this period.
“We are pleased to be displaying this rare Byzantine treasure to the public for the first time,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “Although much remains unknown about the use and significance of these artifacts, they are undoubtedly among archaeology's most exciting recent finds. They are now on display in the Holy Land Gallery of our Archaeology Wing, which is devoted to the concurrent development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam during Byzantine times, strengthening the Museum’s narrative of the early chapters in the evolution of the world's three main monotheistic faiths.”
The unusually large size of the medallion raises important questions about its use. Some scholars believe it was used to decorate a Torah or piece of furniture, while others argue that it was simply a large ceremonial ornament. Like many finds from this period, the medallion’s combination of symbols reflects the timeless notion of Jewish yearning for the restoration of the Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
One of the two cloth pouches in which the hoard was found held thirty-six gold coins, decorated on one side with portraits of Byzantine-era emperors over a period of 250 years, together with their names and titles; on the back there are crosses or images of gods. The latest coin is dated 602 CE, indicating that the cache was hidden at the beginning of the 7th century, possibly during the Persian invasion of 614 CE.
The special exhibition of the hoard is made possible by Meredith Berkman and Daniel Mintz, New York, who also supported the hoard’s excavation, and curated by David Mevorach, Senior Curator of Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Archaeology.
Perspectives on Modern Social Instability
Examined In New Exhibition At Israel Museum
Opening June, 2014, Unstable Places Showcases
Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art
Jerusalem, June 10, 2014 – Exploring the political, existential, and psychological instability of today's world, Unstable Places: New in Contemporary Art brings together an international roster of artists whose works reflect on experiences of uncertainty that shape both individual lives and the social order of life in our time. On view from June 6 through October 27, , 2014, the exhibition features approximately 20 works across a range of mediums, most of them recent acquisitions in contemporary art and new to the public. Featured artists include: Francis Alÿs, Klara Lidén, Thomas Demand, Omer Fast, Nira Pereg, Ed Ruscha, Dayanita Singh, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Cyprien Gaillard and Luc Tuymans, among others.
“Given our standing as a major international institution, in Jerusalem but with a reach that is worldwide, it is important that we collect and present contemporary work that reflects big issues in our lives, both locally and around the globe,” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “We look forward to engaging our visitors with this stimulating selection of new acquisitions, by known and lesser-known artists whose creative approach to the questions that the exhibition raises will be revelatory.”
The first group exhibition to be curated by Rita Kersting, the Israel Museum’s new Landeau Family Curator of Contemporary Art, Unstable Places highlights a range of perspectives toward the precariousness experienced in different ways among different populations in the world today. From works that reference troubling historical events, to those that use abstraction to convey chaos, the exhibition represents a spectrum of artistic interpretations of the notion of instability, being one of the defining characteristics of life at the start of the 21st century.
“The works in Unstable Places address both the local and international repercussions of the kinds of unsettling experiences that we all share in our time and speak to societal experience specific for Israel as well as to its globalized nature,” said Kersting. “By bringing together this group of artists, we hope our visitors will have the opportunity to experience fresh new works, while at the same time participating in a conversation about the instability that characterizes places and circumstances in our lives today. These works are valid in a broader sense while being specific to the Israeli audience because they touch upon local references while speaking in physical, psychological, political, and existential terms."
Highlights from the exhibition include:
Thomas Demand’s Pacific Sun (2011), a video depicting the chaos inside the lounge of an ocean liner going through rough waters. A painstaking scale-model recreation of footage from the surveillance camera aboard a cruise ship, Pacific Sun is Demand’s most ambitious film project to date and captures the sublime nature of disaster.
5000 Feet is the Best (2011) by Omer Fast presents an American Predator drone pilot’s experiences navigating unmanned combat aircraft to attack targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Blending documentary and fictional genres, the film is based on interviews with the Nevada-based drone operator in which he shares the technical aspects of his job as well as the psychological challenges he faced.
Nira Pereg’s videos Abraham Abraham and Sarah Sarah show the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a holy place for both Jews and Muslims as simultaneously connected and divided spaces. On ten occasions during the year the Jews turn their space over to Muslim worshippers, on ten days other days the opposite occurs.
Francis ALÿs, Palestine/Israel (2005) is a small dyptich showing the Judean Hills and the Westbank Seperation Wall covered with Gold Leaf. During his residency in Jerusalem 10 years ago, Alÿs recreated the Green Line from 1948 walking through Jerusalem with a leaking tin can At the same time he painted this Gold Leaf Project.
Unstable Places: New in Contemporary Art is made possible by the donors to the Museum’s 2014 Exhibition Fund: Claudia Davidoff, Cambridge, MA, in memory of Ruth and Leon Davidoff, Hanno D. Mott, New York, The Nash Family Foundation, New York and Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Foundation in Israel.
James Turrell: Light Spaces, Celebrates the Artist’s Return to the Israel Museum
Explores Light as Artistic Medium
Raemer Pink White, 1969
June 15 --For nearly fifty years, James Turrell, one of the giants of
contemporary art, has been exploring ways in which light is seen and
experienced. Treating light as material in his impressive and magical works,
Turrell examines conventions of consciousness and perception. In his
spectacular installations, the spiritual and the technological intersect as
light is framed, multiplied, altered, and isolated.
James Turrell: Light Spaces, on view from June 7 through November 2014,
presents works which highlight the artist’s pioneering and radical approaches
to art, including his use of light as his sole artistic medium to create
immersive sensory experiences for visitors.
Light Spaces includes a representative work from
each of Turrell’s three major series which he started at his Mendota,
California studio in the mid-1960’s and has continued to develop to this day: Shallow Spaces, Wedgeworks, and Space Division
Constructions. The exhibition features geometric light projections,
installations that explore sensory deprivation and seemingly unmodulated fields
of colored light, works on paper, and models and video images of permanent
The spatial installation Raemar Pink (1969), one of Turrell’s
Shallow Spaces, is based on the optical manipulation of light in a divided
space. The overwhelming, intensely colored light reaches the viewing space
through slits on all four sides of the wall, filling the space and taking away
any cues of dimensionality. The space is perceived as shallow while at the same
time, the central rectangular form is emphasized and appears as a transparent
painting made of light. Raemar Pink’s
light seems fleeting, but it takes on volume and form.
A dark corridor
leads into Key Lime (1994), from the Wedgeworks series. After entering
the space, the viewer sees a complex combination of colored light frames, the
outline of a three-dimensional form, and a translucent wall. The work’s sharp lines and dense
planes challenge the viewer’s perception of depth, color, light, and space.
Unlike Turrell’s other light installations, the light in Key Lime does
not expand into infinity or immerse the viewer. Instead, its rich composition
of variously colored lights and forms makes it a drawing in space. An earlier
Wedgework, Mikvah, was conceived by Turrell for his 1982 solo exhibition
at the Israel Museum, his second show outside of the United States.
In St. Elmo’s Breath, one of Turrell’s Space Division
Constructions, the appearance of fantastic framed color seems unreal as the
illusion of a monochromatic image becomes sharper. At the same time, the viewer
realizes that in fact there is no two-dimensional image but rather a
rectangular aperture in the wall. The room behind the separating wall is filled
with light. There is no depth or focus, only seemingly infinite, bluish purple
light. It is impossible to adjust one’s sight.
Turrell’s 1982 exhibition in Jerusalem led to the creation, ten
years later, of one of the most subliminal works in Museum's contemporary collection. Set in the Billy Rose Art Garden, Space That Sees (1992), is a minimalist
work whose principal materials are Jerusalem stone and the Jerusalem sky. Set below ground, like an archeological
discovery, and offering an upward view, the work has a highly meditative and
“The Israel Museum is privileged to close this past year’s cycle of
exhibitions celebrating James Turrell’s groundbreaking achievements as an artist
of light, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Given the artist’s legacy of connection with
Jerusalem, having first exhibited here over thirty years ago and with one of
his most monumental permanent outdoor sky pieces commissioned for our campus in
1992, we feel a special bond with his creative focus.” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher
Director of the Israel’ Museum. “And of course the special character of
Jerusalem light only adds to the uniquely celebratory nature of our
presentation of Light Spaces here.”
James Turrell: Light
Spaces, is drawn from the retrospective exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on view
from May 2013, through April, 2014, in honor of the artist’s 70th birthday,
which was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and curated by
Michael Govan and Christine Y. Kim. Curators
in charge at the Israel Museum are Mira Lapidot, Yulla and
Jacques Lipchitz Chief Curator of Fine Arts, and Rita
Kersting, Landeau Family Curator of Contemporary Art.
The exhibition is made possible by the donors to the
Museum’s 2014 Exhibition Fund: Claudia Davidoff, Cambridge, MA, in
memory of Ruth and Leon Davidoff, Hanno
D. Mott, New York, The Nash Family Foundation, New York, and Yad Hanadiv, the
Rothschild Foundation in Israel.
Doug and Mike Starn Commissioned to Create Monumental,
Immersive Installation for Israel Museum’s Billy Rose Art Garden
Big Bambú Will be Activated Throughout Summer with Audience Interaction
and Cultural Programming
Jerusalem, Israel, June 10, 2014 —This summer,
artists Doug and Mike Starn will transform the landscape of the Israel Museum’s
Billy Rose Art Garden with a monumental installation of bamboo and rope, towering
16 meters high (52.5 feet) and covering an area of more than 700 square meters
(7,500 square feet). Opening to the public officially on June 16, visitors have
been able to watch the immersive
environment take shape in the garden since the end of April, as the
Starn brothers and their team of rock climbers worked to construct the site-responsive
installation and collaborate in the performative act of creating. Composed of
more than 10,000 bamboo poles, the completed work, 5,000 Arms to Hold You, will be activated throughout the summer as
visitors are invited to ascend into the upper levels of the sculpture and
participate in cultural programming from within the artwork. On view in its
entirety through October 2014, the tower of 5,000 Arms to Hold You will remain permanently installed in
the Museum’s Art Garden.
“Set within our Noguchi-designed garden, against the backdrop of
Jerusalem, 5,000 Arms to Hold You marks the first time the Starns have been
commissioned to develop a structure in their signature medium in a landscape
unrestrained by architecture,” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher
Director of the Israel Museum. “From its inception, Big Bambú
has activated our Art Garden with the energy of its creation. Through a range
of cultural programs and artist projects across disciplines, the installation
will become an even more dynamic setting that we hope will engage and inspire
5,000 Arms to Hold You marks the largest and most complex sculpture
by the Starns to date. Its architecture builds upon the artists’ ongoing investigation of the interconnectedness of life,
which serves as a foundational principal and guiding philosophy for their
unique approach to art making.
“The concept of Big Bambú has nothing to do with bamboo,"
said Mike Starn. "It makes concrete
the invisible architecture of life and of living things; the random
interdependence of moments, trajectories intersecting and actions becoming interaction
that spur growth and change."
Beginning on June 16, visitors
will be able to walk along the sculpture’s elevated platforms to experience its
interior. Intended to be viewed from the inside looking out, Big Bambú encourages visitors to explore
their perception of the world around them from different vantage points
throughout the sculpture. The title 5,000
Arms to Hold You-- the 9th work from the Starns’ Big Bambú series— refers to the web of bamboo that
encompasses the visitors and is representative of the myriad connections that
contribute to all individuals’ continual states of becoming.
5,000 Arms to Hold You will be enlivened with visitors walking
along the winding, intimate paths, encountering artworks integrated within, and
with cultural programming that draws inspiration from the monumental sculpture.
Beginning on July 10, visitors can experience the work at night as it becomes
illuminated with lights in conjunction with Counterpoint, a multi media event
featuring interactions between artists and visitors. During the month of
August, 5,000 Arms to Hold You will
be further activated by visitors participating in the Museum’s annual
Kite Festival (August 6) and Wine Festival (August 11 – 14).
American artists and identical twins Doug and Mike
Starn (born 1961) work collaboratively to create artworks that merge a range of
traditionally separate mediums such as photography, sculpture, and architecture.
Beginning with their participation in the 1987 Whitney Biennial, the Starns
became internationally known for their photography, which examines the concepts
of chaos, interconnection, and interdependence. Over the past two and half
decades, the Starns have pushed their practice into new mediums as evidenced in
their Big Bambú series. The brothers debuted the first project in the
series in 2010 in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor
Roof Garden, where it was the 9th most attended exhibition in the Museum’s
history. They have since been commissioned to create site-responsive works in
bamboo for the 2011 Venice Biennale; Museo d'arte contemporanea Roma (2013);
and the Naoshima Museum in Japan (2013).
In each country, the Starns create the installation in response to the
venue to characterize the place in which it was constructed.
Big Bambú: 5,000 Arms to Hold You, is made possible by Jill and Jay Bernstein,
Old Westbury, New York; Bloomberg Philanthropies; and the Maimonides Fund, Englewood,
Unfolding Worlds: Japanese Screens from the Gitter-Yelen Collection
New Exhibition Features Distinctive Form of Japanese Art Never before Shown in Israel
Cranes, 3rd month
Jerusalem, June 10, 2014 - Unfolding Worlds: Japanese Screens from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, opening at the Israel Museum on June 7, displays masterpieces by some of the leading Japanese artists from the seventeenth century through the early twentieth century.
Unfolding Worlds presents 15 large-scale, exquisitely-painted screens from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, amassed over a period of forty years and marking the first time the collection is being exhibited in Israel, including five screens on display for the first time anywhere.
Representing one of the most distinctive forms of Japanese art, these outstanding screens exemplify some of the most brilliant artistic achievements of the Edo period (1603-1868) and depict beautifully designed pictorial compositions that reflect the social and cultural ideals of their time. Prevalent Japanese themes such as nature, urban life, and mythic or classical literary narratives unfold in each screen, telling a story and bringing to life both the world envisioned by the screen and the world in which it was created.
Unfolding Worlds displays monumental screens commissioned during the Edo period by nobles of the Imperial court and feudal warlords for their castles and stately homes and by wealthy lower-class merchants for their urban homes. Each screen is constructed of a thin wooden frame, encased by layers of paper. The paper surface is then painted with natural pigments derived from minerals such as malachite, pearl, and iron oxide. Gold leaf and silver were also used for their opulence as well as for their reflecting qualities, which illuminated the screens displayed in unlit and darkened castle settings.
“Unfolding Worlds offers the first display in Israel of the history of Japanese screen painting, as well as a first presentation here of Japanese masterworks from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, one of America’s most comprehensive private holdings in Japanese Art,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director. “With its focus on framed light in Japanese art, the exhibition also offers a fitting counterpoint to James Turrell’s Light Spaces, opening concurrently in the Museum’s adjacent contemporary art galleries.”
Unfolding Worlds: Japanese Screens from the Gitter-Yelen Collection is curated by Miriam Malachi, Associate Curator, Marcel Lorber Department of Asian Art. The exhibition is made possible by the donors to the Museum’s 2014 Exhibition Fund: Claudia Davidoff, Cambridge, MA, in memory of Ruth and Leon Davidoff; Hanno D. Mott, New York; The Nash Family Foundation, New York; and Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Foundation in Israel.
A Monumental Portrait in Motion, Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s Horizontal Alters Viewers’ Perceptions of Nature
Exhibition Marks First Display of New Contemporary Art Acquisition
Jerusalem, June 10, 2014 – A 6-channel projected installation of a living spruce tree comprises Horizontal (2011), by Finnish contemporary video artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila. At over 10 meters wide, this video work creates an undistorted portrait of a tree in its entirety – a difficult subject to capture on film given its tremendous size. Ahtila chose to project the image in a way that challenges the viewer. Presented horizontally, the simple 90 degree rotation alters perceptions of the tree’s wind-blown branches, making it appear more animal than plant.
Ahtila approach to filming the spruce tree entailed capturing its movement on a very windy day, one section at a time, by moving the camera into six positions up the full length of the tree. By rotating the tree horizontally she was able enlarge each section, particularly the spire of the tree, resulting in an unusually intimate, precise and monumental portrait of poetic movement.
“The positioning of the tree in Horizontal subverts the way we experience the natural world,” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “The tree’s uncharacteristic posture, with the wind blowing through it and imbuing it with life, creates a mesmerizing effect that invites the viewer to contemplate concepts of time and space."
For the past two decades Ahtila, who lives and works in Helsinki, Finland, has been a leading voice in the field of film installation art. In 2000, she won the inaugural Vincent Award for excellence in European contemporary art and in 2002 her works were exhibited in a solo show at the Tate Modern. In 2006, she was awarded the Artes Mundi Prize, in Cardiff, Wales and her multi-screen cinematic installation, The Wind, was exhibited at MoMA. Ahtila continues to push the boundaries of storytelling through film, creating museum installations that appeal on an intellectual and emotional level. Straddling the border between painting and cinema, beauty and incongruity, Horizontal examines human perceptions and the validity of the language we use to represent the world around us.
Horizontal is on view from through November 2014 and is curated by Rita Kersting, Landeau Family Curator of Contemporary Art. Horizontal is made possible by the donors to the Museum’s 2014 Exhibition Fund: Claudia Davidoff, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in memory of Ruth and Leon Davidoff; Hanno D. Mott, New York; The Nash Family Foundation, New York; and Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Foundation in Israel.
Gustav Klimt’s Only Surviving Study for
Destroyed Viennese Commission Acquired by Israel Museum
Die Medizin (Kompositionsentwurf) (1897-1898) is Last Major Remnant
from Artist’s Paintings for the University of Vienna’s Great Hall
Die Medizin (Kompositionsentwurf)
(1897-1898) by Gustav Klimt
Jerusalem, Israel, May 27, 2014 —The Israel Museum, Jerusalem,
today announced the acquisition of Gustav Klimt’s Die Medizin (Kompositionsentwurf) (1897-1898), the artist’s only
remaining oil study for a controversial series of monumental paintings created for
the University of Vienna’s Great Hall. Commissioned by Austria’s Ministry of
Culture and Education in 1894, Die
Medizin is one of three allegorical panels representing the themes of
enlightenment Klimt developed for the Great Hall’s ceiling. All three works
were later destroyed by retreating German SS forces in May 1945. Blending
elements of neo-Baroque and Secessionist aesthetics, the work captures the
emergence of Klimt’s iconic style and unconventional treatment of subject
matter and themes. Representing a seminal moment in the artist’s development,
this acquisition is the first painting by Klimt to enter the collection,
joining several works on paper. It is on display in the Museum’s 19th
century, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist galleries, within the context of
the Museum’s presentation of fine art from the Renaissance through the 20th
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) is considered
one of the most innovative artists of the early 20th century for his
distinct style, which joined gold leaf and ornamentation in rich figurative
compositions. In 1897, he became one of the founding members and president of
the Vienna Secession, whose aim was to break away from historicism by providing
a platform for unconventional young artists through exhibitions and publications.
A joint project by Klimt and fellow
artist Franz Matsch, the paintings for the Great Hall were commissioned to
celebrate each of the faculties of the University of Vienna. Titled The Triumph of Light over Darkness, the
series included a large central canvas devoted to enlightenment and four
surrounding paintings depicting philosophy, medicine, jurisprudence, and
theology. When presented to the Ministry of Culture and Education at the University
of Vienna, Klimt’s depiction of Medicine was
condemned for its use of nudity and its radical treatment of the subject. This
controversy continued when the final version was displayed at the Tenth Vienna
Secession exhibition in 1901, which prompted infuriated responses from the
public, particularly among the doctors in attendance, leading to the
University’s decision against installing the works in the Great Hall.
“An early example of
Klimt’s signature work and an important precursor to his ‘Golden Phase,’ Die Medizin (Kompositionsentwurf) represents
a significant addition to our presentation of Viennese Secessionist art,
capturing the moment of Klimt’s breaking away from traditional artistic trends
and inventing his own segue to the modernism of the coming century,” said James
S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “This iconic
work encapsulates the spirit of the 19th century, while also laying
important groundwork for the radical shifts that would come to define early 20th
century art, amplifying our Museum’s narrative of the continuum of visual
cultural history. We are pleased to
share this ever-expanding chronicle with our public and are especially proud to
become custodians of this surviving remnant of one of Klimt’s seminal endeavors.”
Likely the first oil study for Medizin, the composition is full of movement, with sweeping
brushstrokes and dramatic highlighting. Captured at dawn with a hint of blue
sky emanating from the upper left, the main figure Hygieia—the Greek goddess of
hygiene and health—is depicted in the lower foreground. Her face is painted
clearly with tight brushstrokes, the only face to be given such detail, and
framed with the gold leaf that would soon become Klimt’s signature. Above
Hygeia to the left floats a provocative female nude, while a swirling column of
figures, described as “The Wheel of Life,” whirls to the right. Questioning the
triumph of scientific achievement, the painting suggests that there is no
escaping the inevitable decline to sickness and death.
Die Medizin (Kompositionsentwurf) was first acquired from the
artist by Dr. Hermann Wittgenstein (cousin of the philosopher Ludwig
Wittgenstein), whose family were major supporters of Gustav Klimt among other
Secessionist artists, and it remained in the Wittgenstein family until its
acquisition by the Israel Museum.
Purchase was made possible through the gift of Isidore M. Cohen, New
York; the Edward D. Mitchell Estate, Los Angeles; Joseph Spreiregen, Cannes; Michel
Goldet and Sabine Pierre-Brossolette, in memory of André Goldet, Paris; bequest
of Mathilda Schwartz-Goldman, New York; and gift of Mrs. Georges Marci-Bianchi,
Ritualistic Objects from Sub-Saharan Africa
Examined in Israel Museum Exhibition
Hidden Power in African Art sheds light on the symbolic
materials used to enhance objects’ spiritual significance
Jerusalem, May 21, 2014 – The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, presents an exhibition exploring the concept of accumulation and empowering materials found on and within ceremonial objects originating from twelve Sub-Saharan African countries. Bringing together 65 objects dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries—including objects from the Museum’s collection that have never before been displayed—Hidden Power in African Art marks the first exhibition in Israel to examine the sources of power in African ritual. The exhibition is on view through September 17, 2014, in the Nathan Cummings Building for Modern and Contemporary Art.
Understanding the nature of the materials that were added to African sculptures is essential to interpreting their significance. In recent years, this understanding has been enriched by the use of state-of-the-art technology – such as X-ray radiography and CT scans – to analyze the elements coating the surface of sculptures and to reveal the materials often concealed inside them.
Crushed ginger root, plants, bones, chewed koala nuts, saliva, hair, and claws are among the secret ingredients hidden inside or coating the surfaces of objects displayed in the exhibition, used in healing, judicial, and divination or prophecy ceremonies. For example, nails hammered into the Muserongo nkisi nkondi (nail power figure, were believed to release ancestral powers and activate the magical materials inserted within. Yoruba ceremonial crowns (adnela) were prepared with empowering substances made from plant, animal and other organic materials that were meant to protect and guide the rulers who wore them.
"African sculpture has had a profound influence on Western art, mainly by virtue of its formal and aesthetic values. This said, it was actually the act of accumulating extraneous material as elements of these sculptures that endowed them with amuletic power and gave them special meaning in their cultures of origin," said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. "Largely misunderstood or overlooked in the past, this focus is the raison d’être of the current exhibition, which explores the major role played by added substances and materials in African sculpture, encasing something that has a powerful meaning, and adding another layer of meaning for the viewer’s appreciation of sub-Saharan African art."
In many African cultures, the making of ritual sculptures involved the participation of several individuals including a sculptor, who carved a figure or mask representing an ancestor or spirit; and a ritual expert, who added special materials and offered libations while performing a ceremony. The ritual expert used incantations and secret formulas to heal, ward off evil forces, divine the future, or control the destiny of an individual or an entire community. The sacrificial materials – without which the sculpture was viewed as a mere piece of wood – were believed to renew or arouse the spirit hidden within the object, liberating its nyama (life force) and spurring it to act for the benefit of its petitioners.
The convention of adding an accumulation of material to a carved wooden sculpture -- whether nails, beads, mirrors, or organic matter – is distinctly African. And this practice eventually influenced the West, where it supported the emergence of assemblage art in the 20th century to emphasize the artist's unique vision and identity.
By contrast, African ritual sculpture conformed to the specific rules and conventions of the society from which it emerged and allowed for very little individual expression. Man Ray's iconic The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse from the Museum’s collection and displayed in the exhibition, resonates with the same mystery evoked by the strange creature hidden under layers of unidentified materials covering the powerful Bamana boli figure that is on display adjacent to it.
Through modernization and globalization, Africa has undergone rapid and significant change throughout the past century. “Though many of its traditional practices involving ritual sculpture have become dormant, the dense layers of often unfamiliar materials that are incorporated into the objects on display endow them with an enigmatic quality that still has the power to affect us today,” says Dorit Shafir, Curator of the Arts of Africa and Oceania.
Hidden Power in African Art is on display in the Museum’s Edmond and Lily Safra Fine Arts Wing through July 15, 2014.
Scenes of Sana'a: Yihye Haybi's Photographs from Yemen, 1930–1944, Opens at Ticho House
Rare documentary photos provide insight into the closed world of
Yemen's capital city
Yihye Haybi posing with his
automatic self-release camera
Jerusalem, May 2, 2014 -- An impressive selection of rare documentary photographs taken by the Yemenite Jewish photographer Yihye Haybi (1911-1977) is featured in an exhibition at Ticho House. Opening on May 4, 2014, Scenes of Sana'a Yihye Haybi's Photographs from Yemen, presents a rich cultural kaleidoscope of Yemen's capital city and sheds light on a crucial and largely undocumented period of history before Sana'a began to modernize.
Scenes of Sana'a includes 60 photographs taken during the 1930's and early 1940's during the rule of Absolute Monarch Imam Yahya ad-Din, whose reign was committed to preventing Western influence from infiltrating the cultural and political fabric of Yemen.
Haybi worked at an Italian medical clinic as a house manager, translator and medical assistant. Photography was strictly forbidden by law and could only be practiced with an official government permit, which Haybi managed to receive from the Imam.
With his camera, which was given to him as a gift from an Italian physician, Haybi documented the city's communal life and everyday public activity, providing a rare glimpse inside this otherwise closed world. The collection features photos of individuals –members of Haybi's own family; Jewish and Muslim locals; and the Italian doctors who employed Haybi and their families; as well as public events forbidden to be photographed.
Concealing himself behind windows, Haybi captured activities that were censored by the state, principally images of the Imam's street processions. He managed to document such disturbing moments as a public beheading and a hanging of beheaded corpses in the public square as a message to onlookers.
Haybi and his family arrived in Israel in 1944. In 1996, his entire collection of photographs, two cameras, and other photographic equipment were purchased for the Israel Museum from the late photographer's widow, Re'uma Haybi. These are on display in the exhibition at Ticho House, together with the official government permit Haybi received from the Imam.
Scenes of Sana'a: Yihye Haybi's Photographs from Yemen, 1930–1944, is on view from May 4, 2014, through September, 2014, and is curated by Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper, Curator in the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life.
JOURNEYS Invites Visitors to Explore Elements of Travel
at the Ruth Youth Wing at the Israel Museum
Jerusalem, May 1, 2014 --- Journeys, the new annual exhibition in the Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education, features 50 works by Israeli and international artists, including Darren Almond, Guy Ben-Ner, Ori Gersht, Gareth Moore, and Adrian Paci.
The desire to leave the familiar behind and head out for distant places has stimulated journeys since the dawn of time. Journeys invites visitors to explore remote locations and to experience the excitement that the discovery of "terra incognita" invokes in the traveler.to experience many voyages, sharing the exhilaration of departure, the discovery of new and beautiful vistas and the satisfaction of surmounting obstacles encountered along the way.
Focusing mainly on contemporary art, Journeys also features objects from a range of cultures and time periods, illuminating the timeless nature of the subject matter. The exhibition examines the chronological, geographical, and mental spaces between home and destination, as well as the physical and emotional baggage we take with us when we travel.
In dealing with all elements of a journey, including those things we take with us and the things we return with. Journeys follows the processes the traveler undergoes in the course of a journey. The route taken prepares travelers for their destination and for the fulfillment of the journey's purpose, and thus it serves as a common metaphor for life itself. The conventional wisdom that "life is a journey, not a destination" tells us that if we focus solely on our objective, we become blind to the path we travel and sacrifice the here-and-now in favor of a conjectural future. Thus, paying attention to our route does not just mean noticing physical changes that occur in the body, but also recognizing the conceptual and emotional transformations that take place.
The exhibition is curated by Kobi Ben Meir, Nordmann Family Associate Curator in the Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education.
World's Oldest Masks United for First Time at the Israel Museum
Jerusalem, March 5, 2014 – The Israel Museum brings together for the first time a rare group of 9,000-year-old stone masks, the oldest known to date, in a groundbreaking exhibition opening in March. Culminating nearly a decade of research, Face to Face: The Oldest Masks in the World showcases twelve extraordinary Neolithic masks, all originating in the same region in the ancient Land of Israel. On view from March 11 through September 13, 2014, the exhibition marks the first time that this group will be displayed together, in their birthplace, and the first time that the majority of them will be on public view.
Mask, Nahal Hemar cave, Judean Desert
Neolithic period, 9,000 years ago
Originating from the Judean Hills and nearby Judean Desert, the twelve masks on view each share striking stylistic features. Large eye holes and gaping mouths create the expression of a human skull. Perforations on the periphery may have been used for wearing them, for the attachment of hair, which would have given the masks a more human appearance, or for suspending the masks from pillars or other constructed forms. Based on similarities with other cultic skulls of ancestors found in villages of the same period, the masks are believed to have represented the spirits of dead ancestors, used in religious and social ceremonies and in rites of healing and magic. By recreating human images for cultic purposes, the early agricultural societies of Neolithic times may have been expressing their increasing mastery of the natural world and reflecting their growing understanding of the nature of existence.
"It is extraordinary to be able to present side by side this rare group of ancient stone masks, all originating from the same region in the ancient Land of Israel," said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. "That we have been able to assemble so many – first for intensive comparative research and then for display – is a tribute to the collections that were so cooperative in making these treasures available to us. And, given their origins in the region and the context provided by the adjacent setting of our Archaeology Wing, their display in our Museum in Jerusalem carries special meaning, underscoring their place in the unfolding history of religion and art."
The current presentation is the result of more than a decade of research. For many years, the Israel Museum has held in its collections two Neolithic stone masks–one from a cave at Nahal Hemar in the Judean Desert and the other from Horvat Duma in the nearby Judean Hills. A chance discovery of photographs of similar masks led Dr. Debby Hershman, the Museum’s Curator of Prehistoric Cultures, to begin to research the subject. Hershman enlisted the assistance of Professor Yuval Goren, an expert in comparative microarchaeology at Tel Aviv University, to explore the masks' geographical origins, as well as of the computerized archaeology laboratory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to conduct 3-D analysis that shed light on their comparative features and functions. The current display reflects the fruits of this in-depth research, bringing together twelve striking and enigmatic masks near the place of their origin and for the first time.
Face to Face is curated by Dr. Debby Hershman, Ilse Katz Leibholz Curator of Prehistoric Cultures. The exhibition and its accompanying publication were made possible through the generosity of Judy and Michael Steinhardt, New York, and with additional support from the donors to the Museum’s 2014 Exhibition Fund: Claudia Davidoff, Cambridge, MA, in memory of Ruth and Leon Davidoff; Hanno D. Mott, New York; the Nash Family Foundation, New York; and Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Foundation in Israel.