Friends of Art Museums of Israel put on a big show for 70th anniversary

Damien Hirst, Gilbert & George and Tracey Emin are among those who have figured in the British Friends of the Art Museums of Israel story


The British Friends of the Art Museums of Israel have dealt with some big names down the years.

Damien Hirst donated 40 original pieces for Bfami to sell to benefit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in appreciation of the museum having been the first to recognise his work.

A major mixed media work by Gilbert & George was acquired for Israel through the Friends, and guests at its fundraisers have included sculptor Henry Moore, the Tate’s Sir Nicholas Serota and Margaret Thatcher, when she was Education Minister.

Now the group — established in 1947 by prominent art lovers to initially support the Tel Aviv Museum of Art — is pulling out all the stops for its 70th anniversary dinner later this month at which Israeli designer, artist and architect Ron Arad will be guest of honour.

Mr Arad is among contributors to the dinner auction, which will also include works by artists such as Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin and Michael Craig-Martin. The lots will be previewed at Christie’s from January 15-17.

Friends director Danna Heller stressed the charity’s backing for smaller regional Israeli institutions. “The Israel Museum has Friends’ organisations in 17 countries but Bfami is the only one that supports the wider network of museums in the country.” 

Candida Gertler established Bfami’s annual Women in Arts lunch in 2001. “I thought women contributed so incredibly to the art world both in London and all over the world,” she recalled.

“By inviting these women to speak, we could add another conduit to supporting the museums. Israeli artist Michal Rovner gave an incredible presentation about her work for Yad Vashem. Grayson Perry was just fantastic, coming as his alter ego Claire.”  This year’s lunch will be in June with American artist Jenny Holzer, best known for her illuminated electronic displays, as guest speaker.

There is also a thriving Young Friends committee. “We see them as our future,” Ms Heller said. “Their events regularly attract over 300 young people, and not just Jews, who are interested in the art world and want to support Israel.”

Its current chair is dynamic and enthusiastic art world professional Fiona McGovern, who last year organised a summer party for 350, hosted young international supporters in London and organised a number of visits at home and abroad.

“At our parties, you have investment bankers mixing with young gallerists,” she said.  “There is still a lot of potential to grow and raise more funds for the museums.”
Much of the money raised by Bfami is spent on educational projects run by the museums that benefit a cross-section of Israeli society, from soldiers to interfaith groups.

Its role is valued by James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum, who noted: ‘Bfami’s good work helped enable the building of our museum and has enriched many of the education and acquisition programmes that, over time, have given our museum its world-class standing.

“We cannot express enough gratitude for this generosity.”

The charity has raised more than £20 million over the past 15 years.


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