The New Hebrews

A Century of Art in Israel

20 May to 5 September 2005

Poster of the exhibition “The New Hebrews. A Century of Art in Israel”

Poster of the exhibition “The New Hebrews. A Century of Art in Israel”

In May 1965 the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel established formal diplomatic relations. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of these ties The Israel Museum, Jerusalem and the Berliner Festspiele in the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, are staging an exhibition entitled The New Hebrews – A Century of Art in Israel.

The New Hebrews – A Century of Art in Israel tells the story of modern Israeli culture from its emergence around a century ago up to the present day. The exhibition presents visions of a new cultural entity that, in spite of its links with the Jewish distant past, is by no means identical with traditional traits of the Jewish Diaspora. It begins in the early 20th century well before 1948, when the State of Israel was founded.

At this time increasing numbers of Jews from different countries and continents emigrated to Palestine, which initially was still part of the Ottoman Empire and later became a British mandated territory. They soon felt a need for a cultural home of their own.

The exhibition begins with the opening of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem in 1906. It was here that the ground was laid to create a new Israeli identity by blending cultural traditions of very different origins.

The Qumran scrolls, which were found in caves near of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956, serve as a bridge to the Jewish past, enabling a link to be established between the biblical forefathers and modern-day Israelis. The discovery of the scrolls was an event of global significance and had a major impact on the fashioning of the new Israeli culture. The scrolls gave legitimacy to Israeli identity and generated a sense of continuity. One of the main scrolls, the Temple Scroll, is currently undergoing restoration for the exhibition in Berlin, where it will be shown in Europe for the first time ever. This nationally and internationally significant object will be shown in a length of over three metres.

The transformation of Diaspora Jews into Israelis was brought about by a reorganisation of values that give modern Israeli culture its characteristic traits. The New Hebrews serves as a gateway to understanding the cultural wealth Israel now offers in the fields of art, architecture, film, photography and design.

The exhibition traces the broad range of formative stylistic influences and models, especially from Europe and the Orient. It also examines how the appropriation and transformation of heterogeneous sources gradually gave birth to a culture that is now able to hold its own in an increasingly globalised world. Immigrants from Germany and Russia played a major part in the development of this culture, which even today remains receptive to innovative hybrid models and designs. Of special relevance to German visitors will be examples of the role played by artistic traditions that originated in Germany, such as the youth movement and the Bauhaus.

The exhibition is devoted primarily to visual culture with a special emphasis on art, architecture, film, photography and design. Works of modern and contemporary art comprise the majority of the objects on view.

The section on architecture concentrates on the range of styles. The extensive and lasting influence of the Bauhaus on the founding architecture of Tel Aviv is shown, along with intriguing examples of town planning and how Arab building customs were incorporated into local construction.

The exhibition is arranged both thematically and chronologically. It follows the course of history, while emphasising recurrent issues of special importance for Israeli culture, such as the relationship between the Orient and the Occident, the commemoration of the Shoah in the first, second and third generations of Israelis, relations between Diaspora Jews and Israelis, as well as with the Arabs.

The exhibition has been conceived by Doreet LeVitte Harten, who is the curator responsible for the project. Her co-curator is Yigal Zalmona, Chief Curator-at-Large of The Israel Museum. Expert advisers are providing support and cultural scientists, museum curators and historians are collaborating in the project.

The exhibition will contribute to a better understanding of Israel as a country and to a clearer appreciation of its historical justification, its cultural achievements and its desire for peace and security.

Organizer: Berliner Festspiele and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Made possible by the Federal Government Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs
With the kind support of the Federal Foreign Office, the Embassy of the State of Israel, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Association of Friends of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Patronage: Moshe Katzav, president of the state of Israel, Horst Köhler, president of the Federal Republic of Germany
Curators: Doreet LeVitte-Harten, Berlin; Ygal Zalmona, Jerusalem