Israel Museum to unveil its new look after a major expansion and renovation

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JERUSALEM -- The Israel Museum -- home of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the world’s largest trove of Biblical and Holy Land archeology and a broad collection of fine art and Judaica -- will dedicate a $100-million expansion and renovation project Sunday and unveil its new look to the public on Monday.

Three years in the works and many more in planning, the project, designed by James Carpenter Design Associates of New York and Efrat-Kowalsky Architects of Tel Aviv, gives the 45-year-old museum 80,000 square feet of new entry facilities and 200,000 square feet of enlarged and reconfigured galleries in a 585,000-square-foot complex.

Beyond providing more room for the 500,000-piece collection and better accommodations for the public, the project enhances the museum’s original design by Israeli Modernist architect Alfred Mansfeld and associate Dora Gad, which had been compromised over time. A complete reinstallation of the museum’s collections is meant to clarify and enrich visitors’ experience of a vast swath of cultural history.

“The basic concept was to celebrate, invigorate and preserve the essence of Mansfeld’s powerful vision of the place,” said James S. Snyder, the museum’s director since 1996. Carpenter’s translucent structures have adhered to Mansfeld’s aesthetic and grid system, he said, while Efrat-Kowalsky’s “magical re-engineering” has converted lots of existing space into galleries. Taking a moment to brag about getting the project done on time and on budget, Snyder added that achieving “a transforming renewal for only $100 million is not the norm in the museum world.”


A few days before the dedication, the “on-time” claim raised questions. The galleries, cleanly appointed and warmly inviting, were nearly ready for their close-up. But outdoor spaces were littered with lumber, electrical cords, tools, piles of rocks and potted plants yet to be stuck in the ground. Ever an optimist, Snyder grinned and said that a construction crew would be on the job 24 hours a day.

The Israel Museum, situated on a 20-acre site in West Jerusalem near the Knesset, or Parliament, and the Supreme Court, got its start as a 50,000-square-foot complex, conceived as a Modernist interpretation of a Mediterranean hilltop village. Even before the latest addition, it had evolved into Israel’s largest and most active cultural institution, as Snyder likes to say.

When the new edition opens, visitors will find much to explore in addition to Carpenter’s glass buildings, shaded by louver-like panels of extruded terra cotta. Among hundreds of recent art acquisitions are the “Beth Shean Venus,” a 2nd century Roman sculpture found in 1993 in the Jordan Valley; an 18th century synagogue made for a Jewish community in Suriname; and “Turning the World Upside Down, Jerusalem,” a gleaming steel sculpture by Indian artist Anish Kapoor. The 16-foot-tall piece, in the shape of a giant hourglass, sits outside on a lofty plaza, attracting visitors to the top of the site while reversing views of the surrounding city and landscape.

--Suzanne Muchnic

Top: Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s sculpture titled, ‘Turning the World Upside Down, Jerusalem,’' at the Israel Museum. Bottom: The remodeled Holy Land gallery. Credit: Tim Hursley / Courtesy of the Israel Museum