By Heddy Breuer Abramowitz
Having outgrown the starter apartment of its youth, the Israel Museum has re-opened after a three year makeover. The vision of Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s legendary mayor, it was built in 1965 before there was a collection to house. Teddy’s own “Field of Dreams” proved true, he built it and they came.
So many works of art, archaeological finds from the world over, Judaic artifacts, bequests and visitors jammed the galleries and storerooms of the museum that it simply overran itself. Now the museum has done a cohesive renovation, widened public spaces, pulled in temperature-filtered daylight, taken out the accumulated clutter of the early days to highlight its treasures.
Among the most striking additions is a newly installed Anish Kapoor sculpture, called “Turning the World Upside Down.” The piece was commissioned by the Israel Museum for the re-opening as a tribute to Teddy Kollek. Its highly reflective stainless steel hour-glass shape sits at the top level of the ascent to the main entrance of the museum galleries. Anish Kapoor, quoted in Yediyot Ahronot on September 9th, said that he was seeking a way to bring the sky down to the level of the earth. The convex/ concave reflections create inversions of earth and sky. Its outdoor setting provides opportunities to observe the changing Jerusalem sky through varying times of night and day during its two seasons of a temperate grey winter and a six month summer of endless blue skies. And, no doubt, it will be the subject of many a fun house mirror photo to show the folks back home.
Typical of Kapoor’s mature work, one can see it as part of a long line of artistic fascination with reflected surfaces, stretching from Jan Eyck’s “Arnolfino Wedding” (1434), through Chardin’s still lifes, M.C. Escher’s spheres, and even Jeff Koons’ balloon animal sculptures, to mention only a few. The appealing simplicity of such a clean shape still leaves room for thought. In Judaism, tradition refers to the “Jerusalem of Above, Jerusalem of Below” to distinguish between the gap between the spiritual heavens and the material day to day reality. Does the bringing of the sky downwards in this site-specific sculpture include an intention to bring the heavens to join the earthly Jerusalem?
A curatorial sense of whimsy places Claes Oldenbburg’s “The Apple Core” (1992) prominently nearby. The outsized core mimics the shape of Kapoor’s sculpture, yet approaches it through the prism of pop art. Where one is sheer elegance, the other examines the remains of lunch in monumental proportions.
It is the back story, however, that grabs Israeli viewers. Kapoor, born in Bombay, is the son of an Iraqi Jewish mother and a Punjabi father. The family moved to Israel during Kapoor’s childhood. During his teens, Kapoor was interested in art and applied to Israel’s premier art college, Bezalel. His aspirations were not shared by the acceptance committee of the day, forcing him, like many young talents in a small country, to pursue his dreams elsewhere. Fate brought him to London where his studies with some of the greats and a confluence of opportunities helped catapult him to achieve his international stature.
Kapoor, in the meantime, has been a repeat visitor to the Israel Museum. He was asked to make a sculpture for its Noguchi-designed Billy Rose Sculpture Garden, but funds were lacking for the purchase. The project never materialized. Subsequently, as the overhaul of the museum was in the works, under the directorship of James Snyder (formerly of the MOMA), a combination of efforts brought about the financial support of Richard Goldman of San Francisco, Lili Safra of Monaco and Charles Bronfman of NY for the commission of Kapoor’s $2.5million sculpture to honor Kollek.
Suzanne Landau, curator, points to Kapoor’s international standing as the main reason for giving the work pride of place in the newly re-opened museum. The irony here is that one wonders whether Kapoor would have been able to reach his achievements had his application to Bezalel been accepted. Would he even have been considered for this commission if that scenario played out? Without detracting from his accomplishments, it is fair to ask how many national museums in the world would choose the work of a foreigner as the keystone of its collection? Unfortunately, it smacks a bit of provincialism that the Israel Museum needs to turn outwards rather than bestow this honor on one of the artists working in the Israeli art milieu. But, as for Kapoor himself, one can hardly imagine a greater sense of satisfaction and closure than installing this piece at the pinnacle of the Israeli art world.
© 2010 Heddy Breuer Abramowits