Exploring: The Artists' Trail

Art lovers: here's your guide to discover Israel's art treasures.


Within Israel's capital city you'll find Israeli art with biblical themes as well as contemporary abstract art glowing with bright Mediterranean and desert colors.

At The Israel Museum (Ruppin Blvd., Givat Ram, 02-670-8811), half a million treasures of fine art, archaeology, and Judaica illuminate the history of world culture from one million years ago through today. Two new exhibits celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary: a comprehensive survey of contemporary Israeli creativity over the past ten years (April 15-August 30, 2008); and, at the museum's Shrine of the Book, the first 28 chapters of the Book of Isaiah-the best-preserved and most complete Dead Sea Scroll document ever found (May 13-August 15, 2008).

The Ticho House, the former home of the Ticho family (the eye doctor Albert Ticho and his cousin, the renowned Israeli artist Anna Ticho), is a lovely offsite venue of the Israel Museum (9 Harav Kook St., 02-624-5068). Anna's prizewinning paintings and Albert's collection of rare Hanukkah menorahs are on permanent display, and a new temporary exhibit (March 7-May 14, 2008) features works by contemporary Israeli photographers and video artists exploring the emotional depths of architectural spaces devoid of human inhabitants. Visitors can also dine at the serene garden restaurant and listen to music (jazz on Tuesday nights, Jewish soul music on Saturday nights).

Hadassah Hospital's synagogue (Henrietta Szold Rd., Ein Karem, 02-677-6271) is home to the world-renowned Chagall Windows-twelve magnificent stained-glass windows depicting the twelve tribes of Israel. Chagall's assistant, Charles Marq, developed a special pigment process that enabled the artist to use as many as three colors on a single uninterrupted pane; Chagall himself worked pro bono from 1960 to 1962. In bringing "my modest gift to the Jewish people," Chagall said, "I felt my father and mother were looking over my shoulder and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago."

You'll walk by beautiful 400-year-old olive trees to enter the Museum on the Seam (4 Chel Handasa St., Jerusalem, 02-628-1278), a private, by-appointment-only art museum established in 1999 in a Jerusalem home on the pre-1967 border between Israel and Jordan. Here the designer and curator Raphie Etgar has assembled contemporary art by internationally known figures (Yoko Ono, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, etc.) that promotes respect for others, liberty, and peaceful coexistence.

Tel Aviv

Enhance your experience of Tel Aviv's fine art museums by visiting the many galleries on trendy Gordon Street; within Neve Zedek, Tel Aviv's oldest neighborhood; and along the restored cobblestone streets of picturesque Old Jaffa.

The permanent collection of the international cultural center Tel Aviv Museum of Art (27 Shaul Hamelech Blvd., 03-607-7020) serves as a platform for freethinking cultural and artistic exchanges on the major figures in Modernism, including Picasso, Miro, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani, and Kandinsky. Don't miss Klimt's 1916 masterpiece "Friedericke Maria Beer," Kandinsky's "Untitled Improvisation V, 1914," and the permanent collection of 15th- and 16th-century Italian Renaissance and Dutch portraits. A leading advocate of Israel's artistic legacy, the museum also traces the development of Israeli art from the 1920s (which marked the beginning of the Modernist style of painting in Israel) to the present and features rotating exhibitions of Israeli and international art.

In a building constructed 250 years ago to welcome Jewish pilgrims upon their arrival at the Jaffa port before they continued on to Jerusalem, the Ilana Goor Museum (4 Mazal Dagim St., Old Jaffa, 03-683-7676) showcases paintings, sculptures, furniture, and jewelry (some of it crafted by Ilana Goor, the artist/designer who makes the renovated building her home and studio). Make an appointment to walk through the museum's theme rooms (Persian rugs, African artifacts, medieval knights) and meet the artist, who's typically adorned with one-of-a-kind bracelets halfway up her arm, eye-catching necklaces, and sterling silver rings.

At the Herzlia Museum of Art (4 Habanim St., Herzlia, near Tel Aviv, 09-955-1011) works by some of Israel's most prominent artists (Boaz Arad, Guy Goldstein, and Zoya Cherkarsky) are often juxtaposed with controversial works by emerging Israeli and international artists. Original, surprising temporary exhibits feature the latest trends in contemporary art-painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, and especially video art and digital media.

Influenced by Henri Rousseau, Israel's esteemed artist Reuven Rubin (1893-1974) painted holy sites in Jerusalem and Safed, as well Jaffa and Tel Aviv landscapes in the Eretz Yisraeli style. At the Rubin Museum / Reuven House (14 Bialik St., 03-525-5961), his former residence, visitors can view his paintings, watch an audiovisual slideshow on his life, and see the preserved studio where he worked-while taking in temporary exhibits of modern Israeli artists.

An enchanting place, the Nahum Gutman Museum (21 Rokach St., Neve Tzedek, 03-516-1970) opened in 1998 within the reconstructed 120-year-old Writer's House (a center for Jewish intellectuals from 1907 to 1914, before Tel Aviv was established). Paintings, sculpture, mosaics, drawings, illustrations, and engravings by one of the most popular artists in Israel's history are on display thanks to the artist's son, Professor Henri Gutman, who wrote: "The most difficult moment in my father's art was parting with it."

Established just three years ago, the young and innovative Raw Art Gallery (3 Shvil Ha Meretz St., Bldg 8, 4th floor, Tel Aviv, 03-683-2559) showcases the works of cutting-edge contemporary Israeli artists such as Shirley Kanyon and Adam Sher.

Haifa and Environs

After the Second World War Felix Tikotin (1893-1986), a Holland-born architect and art collector, traveled to Japan, fell in love with Japanese culture, and became a dealer and collector of Japanese art. The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art (89 Hanassi Ave., Haifa, 04-838-3554), built in a Japanese style, showcases his donations of some 7,000 works of Japanese art mainly from the 14th-19th centuries. To deepen your knowledge, you can also take in a lecture or film on the language, culture, or Japanese flower-arranging.

As you stroll in the picturesque Ein Hod Artists Village on the western slopes of Mt. Carmel (04-984-1126) with its vaulted stone houses, fragrant gardens, and Mediterranean views, you can visit galleries, workshops, guesthouses, three restaurants, and, notably, the comprehensive Janco-Dada Museum. Founded in 1983 by a group of friends and admirers of Marcel Janco (a contemporary of Picasso and the only Dadaist living in Israel), the museum is dedicated to Janco's seventy years of artistic creativity; also, an entrance gallery features works of young artists/special projects and a lower gallery exhibits contemporary and avant-garde art.

The retired Greek-Italian banker and international art collector Harry Recanatti has built museums around the world to showcase his art, including two architecturally stunning Ralli Museums (named after one of his banks) in Caesarea (Rothschild Blvd., Highway #4, 04-626-1013). Ralli I, surrounded by courtyards, sculptures, and shaded verandas at the center of a sprawling ten-acre park, houses contemporary Latin American art and a gallery devoted to the works of Salvador Dali. The new Ralli II, built last year in the same park, specializes in classical art of the 16th to 18th century; visitors are also welcome to stroll in the medieval-style courtyard.

Off the Beaten Track

During the city of Nazareth's golden age under Ottoman rule, local Lebanese and Italian artists used a mixture of ash, animal hair, and egg whites to paint magnificent ceiling murals in the homes of the well-to-do. The personalized motifs of each mural draw on the owner's social position, interests, and religion. At Beit Em Manor (19 St., Nazareth, 04-645-5434) visitors can view richly decorated frescoes depicting Venetian grandeur and local scenes such as the Hijaz railway. To view other houses call 04-601-1072.

The sunlit galleries of the Mishkan Le Omanut Kibbutz Ein Harod/ Museum of Art in Ein Harod (near Afula, 06-648-5701) showcase works by renowned Jewish artists Camille Pissarro, Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, and Ben Shahn, as well as leading Israeli artists.

Within the rolling hills of the Western Galilee lies the Open Museum -Tefen (Tefen Industrial Park Western Galilee, 04-987-2977). The 29-acre sculpture garden features large- and small-scale works by Israeli artists; indoor galleries with changing sculpture and painting exhibitions; and a car collection tracing the development of the auto industry since the turn of the 20th century.

The trained locksmith Nissim Levy emigrated from Iraq in 1941. In Israel he worked in agriculture until retiring at age 58, when he began turning pieces of scrap iron into quirky, whimsical sculptures. His creations are on display and for sale at his in-house workshop, Gallery shel Saba / Grandpa's Gallery (5 Emek Haella, Moshav Tsafririm, 02-991-1212)-and don't miss the homemade ethnic dishes prepared by Levy's friendly wife Tziona, a native of Bucharia.

If you're traveling with young visitors (ages 4-12), be sure to visit the Israel Children's Museum (Peres Park, Mifratz Shlomo St., Holon), a sprawling complex complete with a large park and rowboats gliding on a manmade pond. Here, children are encouraged to touch the exhibits and stimulate their imaginations through the colors, shapes, and textures of art. The city of Holon itself is an open-air museum featuring more than fifty environmental sculptures in different neighborhoods, many of them (like the colorful chess chairs and "stylized people" benches) just the right height for kids to enjoy.

And a brand-new museum-the Israeli Museum of Caricature and Comics (61 Weizman Street, Holon)-just opened last December, a testament to the great inroads Israel has made in these artistic realms over recent years. Permanent exhibits showcase the work of six caricaturist pioneers prior to the establishment of the State; caricatures, comics, and animation from the times of the pharaohs until today; and contemporary Israeli comic strips. Other highlights include rotating exhibits, a comics archive, festivals, a caricature contest, and "Golden Pencil" prizes for lifetime achievement in the field.

To learn more about Israel's museums and artists, visit the Israel Art Guide online.

Gail Barzilay, a freelance writer, is a frequent traveler to Israel.