Frugal time allotment is the perennial problem with most tours. I have 1.5 hours to savour the entire Israel Museum, its largest cultural institution which houses encyclopaedic collections of works from pre-history to the present day in archaeology, the fine arts and Jewish art and life. I take a panoramic
glance at the spacious grounds and sleek buildings that flow into each other, and realize that I will taste but a fleeting sample of this immense collection.
I allow 30 minutes for the Shrine of the Book and adjacent model of Jerusalem in the
Second Temple Period. The Shrine of the Book houses the famous
Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered 1947-56 in 11 caves around
Wadi Qumran as well as archaeological artifacts and rare medieval manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible.
Frederick Kiesler and
Armand Bartos shaped it like the top of one of the Qumran jars. The fragility of the scrolls makes it impossible to display all on a continuous basis so rotation is used, and after a scroll has been exhibited for 3-6 months, it's removed and placed temporarily in a special storeroom to "rest" from exposure.
I learn of the Judean Desert sect from whence they came, and I view sectarian texts and the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence, from the eight most complete scrolls ever discovered that surround a full-scale facsimile of the preserved
Great Isaiah Scroll. Despite a guard shouting, "No Pictures!" everyone sneaks a few.
The outdoor model of Jerusalem is detailed in 1:50 scale, covering nearly one acre, and recreating the topography and architecture of ancient Jerusalem at its peak in 66 CE, shortly before Roman destruction. It's a helpful overview before anyone heads to the congested Old City.
From a museum vantage point on a hill, symbols of modern Jewish statehood - the
Knesset (Jewish parliament), National Library and the Supreme Court are not far off. An hour remains for me to tramp the 20-acre campus with its three wings and collection of 500,000 objects gathered since opening in 1965.
I roam first through the
Billy Rose Art Garden, designed by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. It's composed with a unique blend of Zen principles, Mediterranean setting, and Western art, and it's considered one of the world's great sculpture gardens. I agree; it's impressive. I peruse sculptures created by Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso as well as those commissioned from artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Mark Dion, James Turrell, and Micha Ullman.
My camera and feet launch into overdrive. I have never encountered such a large scale sculpture garden divided into wide, crescent-shaped sections arching upward and supported by high walls made of rough fieldstone. As in a Japanese Zen garden, the ground is covered in gravel, and paths are lined with local plants and trees that connect the different sections. Myriad materials were incorporated into the design: stones of different kinds and sizes, exposed concrete and water. Walls enclose smaller spaces and rectilinear terraces of the garden echo the shapes of the Museum's buildings.
Amused, I observe someone on a bench eating lunch near Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Apple Core, a huge sculpture of just that, made from cast aluminium coated with resin and painted with polyurethane enamel. Auguste Rodin's Adam, quite muscular, gazes down no doubt in embarrassment having been tempted by Eve to eat the aforementioned fruit. In Pablo Picasso's Profile, made from sandblasted cast concrete, I detect puckered lips and the usual flaring nostrils. Henry Moore's bronze Three-piece Sculpture: Vertebrae, reminds me of a family enjoying a leisurely picnic. Arman's Homage to the Garment District, concrete embedded with sewing machines, jolts me into realizing I must move on.
There's little time left for the galleries, but I perform a quick walk through. The Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing houses the most extensive holdings of biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world which blur as I trot by.
The Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life presents the religious and secular culture of Jewish communities worldwide from the Middle Ages to the present day. It features five sections: The Rhythm of Life; The Synagogue Route (including synagogue interiors from three continents); The Cycle of the Jewish Year; Costume and Jewelry; and Illuminating the Script, highlights from the Museum's collection of illuminated manuscripts. Another blur.
The Edmond and Lily Safra Fine Arts Wing encompasses works of art from across the ages and around the globe: Old Masters; Modern Art; Contemporary Art; Israeli Art; the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; Asian Art; Photography; Design and Architecture; and Prints and Drawings. I'm stopped momentarily by a huge sculpture of a naked aborigine.
The Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education houses exhibition galleries, art studios, classrooms, a library for illustrated children's books, a recycling room, an archaeological tell, and more, and I notice many children here noisily enjoying the day.
A recent $100 million museum renovation includes the commission of an
Anish Kapoor sculpture, a 16-foot-tall polished-steel hourglass called "Turning the World Upside Down, Jerusalem," reminding me of a similar sculpture in Chicago.
Alfred Mansfeld, the
Bauhaus-trained architect behind the museum, was born in St. Petersburg in 1912. He came to Germany as a child, trained as an architect in Berlin and Paris and moved to Palestine in 1935. While teaching in Haifa, he maintained an active architectural practice and invented his own language of modernism for the region, of which the Israel Museum is the finest example. Here, there is an incredible accent on light, from long, dazzling hallways to buildings with tall ceilings that celebrate the sky.
No time left for the gift shop, I silently vow to return again with a much larger allotment of that precious commodity.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
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Turner Prize winner
creates elegant sculptures that combine simple materials, geometric shape, and organic form. After first establishing his reputation in the 1980s with biomorphic sculptures in limestone and other natural materials, Kapoor began to explore the theme of "the void" in large-scale stone works, some with defined insides and outsides and others that clearly delineate empty spaces. In 2006, he installed Sky Mirror at Rockefeller Center, a 23-ton, three-story stainless steel sculpture that reflected the New York skyline. He described the massive work as a "non-object" because its reflective surface allowed it to disappear.