Israeli modern art museum doubles size

November 1, 2011 - 12:45 PM
Mideast Israel Museum

This photo taken on Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, shows the new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, in Tel Aviv, Israel. Israel's main modern art museum is set to unveil a striking new wing Wednesday that provides a permanent home for hundreds of works by Israeli artists, a space lacking until now. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel's main modern art museum is unveiling a striking new wing Wednesday that provides a permanent home for hundreds of works by Israeli artists, a space lacking until now.

The $55 million addition, which doubles the Tel Aviv Museum of Art's previous space, will present dozens of rotating exhibits every year but still will not suffice to permanently showcase one of the world's largest collections of Israeli art, mostly held in storage.

"Today Israeli artists are known around the world... They have exposure and a reputation around the world. Therefore Israeli art needs to be presented properly here as well," said Shuli Kislev, the museum's acting director. "They now have a home."

Fresh, airy and modern, the wing is set in a five-floor, 195,000-square-foot (18,500-square-meter) triangular structure with a concrete exterior.

The centerpiece is an 87-foot-tall (27-meter-tall) atrium, where the walls of the 10 new galleries subtly bend and groove, creating a spiraling effect over different levels. A glass ceiling sends light splashing down.

"The mingling of architecture with the spaces of curatorial freedom is what the building is all about," said Preston Scott Cohen, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, architect behind the project. "It's a marrying of two very different attitudes," said Cohen, who also chairs the department of architecture at Harvard University.

Cohen said the space offers curators a flexibility when planning exhibitions, rather than being limited by a particular architectural element, like the circular, winding walkways of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, for example.

Tel Aviv is Israel's cultural hub with the art museum a main attraction. It houses works by more than a dozen masters, including Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh and Amadeo Modigliani.

The new wing's permanent exhibit of Israeli art presents three galleries with 150 works from such renowned Israeli artists as Reuven Rubin and Igael Tumarkin, with certain pieces rotating in and out. The works range from painting to sculpture and were created over the last century.

For the inauguration, the wing's other galleries will show photographs and design installations. The new space will also feature an exhibit by German painter-sculptor Anselm Kieffer.

The museum's distinctive design did attract some criticism.

Yaarah Bar-On, a deputy director of Jerusalem' Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, said the galleries displaying the Israeli art were missing dividing walls, which would limit how many paintings could be displayed.

She also said the buildings surrounding the new wing were architecturally distinct from it, creating a sense of "a bunch of things that don't go together."

Cohen said the white panels of wall around the atrium evoke Tel Aviv's traditional Bauhaus style, whereas the heavy concrete that cascades and winds throughout the building and its exterior points to the city's Brutalist architecture from the mid-20th century.