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Israeli museums reopen with a bang after COVID-19

Jun 3, 2020

Former Culture Minister Miri Regev promised May 3 that museums, galleries and heritage sites would reopen May 17. But with the multitude of health restrictions in place and confusion over state financial support, many of the museums kept their doors closed. This week, however, the country’s major art hubs are opening one after the other, offering museum-goers a breath of fresh air.

Museums in Israel had to close in early March over the coronavirus outbreak. For 2½ months, art centers, museums and galleries tried to reinvent themselves, offering digital experiences of all sorts. Most of the exhibits that open this week touch one way or another on the coronavirus crisis and its effects on Israeli society.

The “State of Extremes” exhibit at the Design Museum Holon is such an example. The curators of the exhibit explain that it describes not a landscape of extreme objects, but a condition — “that of a world that has changed, and with it, design and design practice.” Mor Laron, a member of the production team at the museum, told Al-Monitor, “The exhibit is very interesting and very relevant to the current situation, to where we stand now, post-corona crisis.” This new collection offers visitors a multidimensional experience, where statues of different materials, art installations, paintings, photos and video clips dialogue with each other, expressing the new extreme world in which we currently live.

The museum hosts in its garden another interesting initiative, this time more explicit. The “Face:Safe” exhibition — which was curated by Rafi Vazana, deputy director at the Holon municipality in charge of culture — features a collection of photos by local artists. Vazana said that in the new coronavirus reality, when face protection has become a must, “masks have ignited the imagination of designers, fashion houses and creative people around the world.” In the introduction to the collection, Vazana said that the Israeli artists participating in the exhibition offer their own interpretation of an imaginary reality, where masks are not only a protection but an expression of something much bigger, more daring. Production designer Shimon Castiel created the “Primavera mask” that offers scents of flowers and spring. Israeli-Brazilian Franklin Tavares offers his own avant-gardist interpretation to the mask, inspired by the world of dance and composed of silicone and metal strings. Fashion student Chen Brakha created masks that should be worn as a fashion accessory, while offering a touch of humor, “something that is no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” she wrote alongside her creations.

Israel’s biggest art center — the Tel Aviv Art Museum — reopens this week with exhibits that were planned long ago. But even here, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the new online world it created are perceptible. For the reopening June 1, the museum collaborated with the Israeli-owned New York gallery ZAZ10TS. Dozens of video artworks by Israeli artists were simultaneously screened on walls across Times Square in New York and on the walls of the main building of the Tel Aviv museum. Tickets for the event included a new voice-guided app that offered a social distance option for visitors.

Then there are also museums that are still battling to reopen. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, for instance, is not yet open. Those who wish to visit the museum’s archaeological treasures, must content themselves with a virtual visit of the site, until further notice. The museum’s director, professor Ido Bruno, explained recently that he does not know when the huge complex will reopen its doors. A record of 75,000 visitors visited the museum in February, but the museum closed March 15. “From a peak in visitors we reached a low record of nothing,” Bruno said. Without major financial support from the state he cannot tell if and how the museum will bounce back.

Quite a mission awaiting newly appointed Culture Minister Hili Tropper.

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