Israel Museum gets $100 million facelift

By Ben Lynfield, July 22, 2010
Kapoor’s sculpture, which stands on the museum campus

Kapoor’s sculpture, which stands on the museum campus

The Israel Museum is to re-open next week following a $100 million refurbishment.

While Israelis have been able to take pride in having a world-class national museum since 1965, it had a reputation for being relatively visitor-unfriendly. There was a steep hike to the entrance and people got lost trying to find exhibits or trying to leave.

Museum officials say the goal of the renovation - which was completed on time, within 30 months, and on budget - was to make the collections more accessible, physically and conceptually.

"You want to give a narrative people can absorb and understand, whether they know a little or a lot," said director James Snyder, who joined the museum 13 years ago following more than two decades at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Revamping the museum has been the main project of his tenure.

In the case of the museum's archeological wing, that has meant a halving of the 8,000 objects that were previously
on display.

"Our experience has shown if the case is filled with too many objects, people can't recognise them," said Rachel Sarfati, curator of the Jewish art and life department. "Less is more."

While archeological finds used to be arranged chronologically, now they are grouped thematically under categories such as ancient worship, warfare and hunting.

The museum now features a much easier walk to the exhibits and enables access to all the main galleries from one building. It has the same feel as the old, but without the confusion. Three new buildings that blend with the existing campus have been added, and there is now twice as much exhibit space.

Having more space has enabled the museum to give a home to an 18th century synagogue from Surinam, Tzedek v'Shalom. It is a neoclassical wooden building with dark furniture and brass chandeliers, inspired by the great Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam.

The museum has also commissioned a sculpture by Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, which now stands at the highest point of the campus. The hourglass-shaped work, called "Turning the World Upside Down, Jerusalem," inverts the reflection of Jerusalem's skyline on its surface.

Twenty families worldwide gave $5 million or $10 million each for the project. The Israeli government added $17.5 million and families in Israel gave $5 million.

Last updated: 3:49pm, July 22 2010