In my estimation a museum is successful if it has a defined mission, presenting interesting and thought provoking special exhibitions, and has a good permanent collection following this mission with a variety of works, more than a “one each” of the latest and greatest. Jerusalem has two such museums though very different in focus. The Israel Museum is a very well respected museum and has a very large collection that spans the ancient art of Israel and the Jewish diaspora, as well as a fine collection of art of the 20th and 21st centuries. There is always something new and inspiring to see. In addition to a James Turrell exhibit (an artist who is a master of using actual light, illusion, and color), the two exhibits we explored were “The Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe” and “Face to Face: the Oldest Masks in the World.”
The masks are incredibly well preserved and are about 9000 years old. They have been dated based on other materials found in the area where they were excavated.
The second museum we visited has a unique focus. It’s called Museum on the Seam: A socio-political contemporary art museum. It’s housed in a former army outpost on the former border (seam) between Israel and Jordan. It was built in 1932 by the Barmki family and stands near the Mandelbaum Gate, the only entry into what was until 1967 the divided city of Jerusalem. The museum was founded by Raphie Etgar, whose goal was (and is) to show art that addresses human rights and civic engagement. The show we saw was “And the Trees Went Forth to Seek a Queen”: our relationship to leaders both public officials and charismatic religious and social leaders.
As we were leaving the museum, we met the director/curator Raphie Etgar who gave us the sad news that the benefactor (a German non-Jewish family) who has been the sole support of this museum has decided to no longer fund it. He had just received this news himself and we could tell he was still in shock. It looks like the museum will have to close at the end of this year. Very sad, especially at such a difficult time in peacemaking in this part of the world. The last image in the blog is a photo of us in his office talking about this sad situation and how they might continue their valuable work. We discovered that this museum is responsible for the “Coexist” exhibit that traveled the world and you are likely to have seen the bumper stickers even in our small town of Mendocino. Check out the museum’s website to learn more.