The Bezalel Museum of Art received its first objects from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas in the 1950s. The bulk of Precolumbian, African, Oceanic, and North American art was donated by major collectors in the late seventies. Over the years many more unique and rare individual pieces were given, as were whole collections, which came from the United States, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. As the collection grew, the department experienced a number of major changes in concept, eventually crystallizing into the Department for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
By combining artistic excellence and ethnographic and archaeological value, the exhibits on permanent display aim to create a comprehensive view of the various cultures. Reflecting a broad range of artistic styles and traditions, the objects function as a unique source of information for the visitor.
The department’s steadily growing collection today numbers over 6,500 objects from diverse cultural traditions, spanning four continents and four millennia. Organized by geography and culture, the permanent display presents the art of Pre-Columbian civilizations, North America and its links to Eastern Siberia, and the tribal cultures of Africa, Oceania, and Southeast Asia.
The Americas display includes sections on North America, Mesoamerica, South America, and the Caribbean, featuring artworks from 2000 BCE to the 20th century.
The Mesoamerican collection, spanning the period from 1200 BCE to the 16th century, comprises nearly half of the American holdings. It includes outstanding monumental sculptures from Classic and Post-Classic Veracruz (600–1300 CE), notable Mayan incense burners from the 7th century, artworks from Olmec, Teotihuacan, West Mexican, Zapotec, Mixtec, and Aztec cultures, and a complete display of art inspired by the Ballgame.
The South American holdings include significant Andean textiles from 200 BCE to the 15th century, ceramics from Chavin, Paracas, Nasca, Moche, Lambayeque, Chancay, Chimu, and the Inca Empire, and objects from Ecuador and Colombia, as well as Cuzco Colonial paintings.
The North American collection comprises ceremonial objects from the Northwest Coast such as a totem pole, coppers, masks, and feast dishes and blankets used in the Potlatch ceremony; as well as related objects from the Amur River cultures of Eastern Siberia from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It also includes material from the Eskimo, Plains, and Southwest cultures.
African objects on display are from North Africa, western Sudan, the Guinea coast, Nigeria, the Cameroon grasslands, and central, eastern, and southern Africa. The earliest works on display date from the 6th century BCE to the 3rd century CE and the latest date from the late 19th to the early 20th century. A variety of materials typify the versatility of the African cultures. Objects made of wood, stone, ceramics, ivory, gold, textiles, and glass beads are on display.
The Oceanic art exhibit, covering Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia, as well as the tribal cultures of Southeast Asia and Australia, displays such diverse forms as masks, jewelry, weapons, ceremonial and ritual sculptures, canoes, over-modeled skulls, daily utensils, textiles, and tapa cloths.
Yvonne Fleitman, Benjamin Weiss Curator, Art of the Americas
Dorit Shafir, Curator, Arts of Africa and Oceania