Museum Hopping In The Holy Land


If you visit the Israel Museum this winter or spring, you may think it’s going into competition with another Jerusalem landmark, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for pictures of Jesus. Start counting at the museum and you will get well into the three figures.

The museum’s exhibition, “Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art,” looks at how prominent artists working from the second half of the 19th century until today depict Jesus. The works showcase the evolving attitudes of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli artists toward a figure whose place in Jewish history has been negotiated and reinterpreted over more than two millennia.

There are 150 works by 40 artists, including Reuven Rubin, Marc Chagall and Sigalit Landau. They come from the museum’s collections and from private and public collections in Israel and abroad, including the National Museum in Warsaw and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

According to the Israel Museum’s director, James S. Snyder, the exhibition extends his institution’s “ongoing commitment to Israeli art and puts forth critical scholarship that provides insight into the Jewish people’s complex and multi-dimensional relationship with the subject of Jesus.” He added: “Demonstrating the fundamental power of visual expression, these works transcend time, place, culture and even religion, revealing the universal impulse to define one’s own identity by appropriating symbols from collective world history.”

The exhibition — which runs until late April — provides food for thought. For example, it shows how some artists have used the likeness of Jesus to express their own feelings about private and collective sacrifice and grief, as well as to embody their own struggle against the establishment. Other artists seized a Zionist motif and used Jesus as a metaphor for the rebirth of the Jewish people in the Promised Land.

If you head to the Israel Museum, be sure to also visit two new photographic exhibitions running there until late April. In “Ron Amir: Doing Time in Holot,” Tel Aviv-based Amir presents large-format images and video documenting the lives of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers currently held in Israel’s Holot Detention Center. The other exhibition is a collection of photographs by Yaakov Shofar, depicting members of the Israeli Black Panthers, a group of second-generation Jewish immigrants living in Jerusalem in the 1970s and 1980s. The museum says that these exhibitions showcase the “documentary impulse of two Israeli photographers to capture the nation’s shifting social landscape.”

You may well have visited the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem, but unless you have been there in the last three months you won’t know that it has introduced new English-language guided tours. They include a weekly tour on Sundays that takes visitors around the permanent exhibition and focuses on the history of Jerusalem, and a weekly Friday tour of the Citadel moat and other nearby areas.

One of Tel Aviv’s leading museums has a new exhibit on a remote Israeli desert landmark that you may well have hiked around — without ever considering who lives there. Mitzpe Ramon is the area of the stunning 25-mile-long natural Ramon Crater. The Land of Israel Museum’s new exhibition explores the “magnificent contrast between the handful of modernistic blocks and the desolate and silent space that envelops it.”

The exhibition — closing date still undetermined — looks at this unusual town’s history, the stories of its inhabitants over the years, architecture and landscape, and relations with the local Bedouins.

The Design Museum Holon, near Tel Aviv, has a flair for taking everyday objects and delving in to their importance. Its new exhibition, “Eyeglasses,” looks at how the design of spectacles has “challenged the boundaries of innovative thinking among designers, inventors, and manufacturers around the world.” It assesses the importance of spectacles from a cultural point of view, as items of both fashion and medical importance. “Eyeglasses” runs through April 29.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art takes on a topic that is often shunned by curators, namely forgeries. In the exhibition “Fake?” (running through Feb. 25), it examines forgeries in the fields of art, fashion, history, literature, religion and archaeology. It includes three works by the notorious Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren.

Ironically, these forgeries are now precious museum pieces — and the Tel Aviv museum was loaned “major” van Meegeren forgeries by three Dutch museums. No doubt heavily insured.