AU’s Center for Israel Studies “is always seeking ways to reach out to the university and greater community,” says Russell Stone, sociology professor and the center’s director. “Being able to mount a show at the American University Museum gives us a great opportunity to do that.”
Personal Landscapes: Contemporary Art from Israel was on display at the museum last spring as the result of a generous gift from the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation. Part of the center’s yearlong celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday, the exhibit featured the work of 15 young Israeli artists working in a wide variety of visual media. “It’s a way of looking at the 60th anniversary of Israel through the lens of its artists,” says Jack Rasmussen, the show’s curator and director of the museum. “It will be an interesting show for Israel to see.”
The show also presented a unique opportunity for the D.C. community. “These are artists who have won awards and exhibited in some of the best museums and galleries in Israel,” says Tamar Mayer, director of cultural affairs at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. “It’s a very strong, diverse, and accomplished group, and it’s very exciting to have them here in D.C.”
Finding Israel in Its Art
The show’s pieces were tied together by the literal and figurative idea of landscapes, both physical and ideological. “A lot of the work takes symbols of Israel—the olive tree, bomb shelters, pre-fab government buildings in Gaza, backyards and alleys of Tel Aviv—and looks beyond their surface at what’s behind these images,” Rasmussen explains. “These artists are taking a hard, critical look at their world from an individual, human point of view.”
To prepare for the show, Stone and Rasmussen traveled to Israel in search of the pieces that would become Personal Landscapes. Led by Dalia Levin, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Herzliya, Israel, the pair visited dozens of private galleries, museums, and government-subsidized artists’ studios in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa to find the approximately 50 pieces that will compose the exhibit.
Since its founding in 1997, the Center for Israel Studies has been committed to presenting the multifaceted contributions Israel has made to the world at large. “Most people know Israel based on war and conflict, but it’s a full-fledged society making strides in science, business, and art,” explains Adina Kanefield, the center’s deputy director. “The center looks to introduce the university community to the many facets of Israel studies—it’s about broadening horizons.”