After serving as a military photographer and working as a press photographer in the 1960s, Avraham Hay (b. 1944) studied in London photography of archeology, exhibitions, and works of art. Since returning to Israel, for the past five decades, he has focused on documenting diverse aspects of the local art field. The vast archive that has built up in Hay’s studio encompasses five decades of artistic, curatorial and museological work in Israel. He recounts that in his drive to document things, he instigated several projects that are still ongoing, some of which he has exhibited in the past. These include, for example, photographs of general installation views of art exhibitions that he began photographing in the 1980s, before it was customary to do so in Israel.
The photographs currently on display at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, which show the process of construction of its new wing in 1998–1999, stemmed from a similar impulse to document developments in the Israeli art scene and its institutions. When the museum’s expansion work began, and the site and its surroundings started to change, Hay documented the transformation with an analog camera (using a color 6×7 film). The current exhibition presents a selection of these images.
Dalia Levin, who served as museum director from 1993 to 2014, recounts the story:
On Sukkot 1994 – a year after I was appointed director of the Herzliya Museum of Art – Jacob Alkow, a resident of Herzliya Pituah, invited me to be a guest in his sukkah. I didn’t know him, but as a new manager I wanted to make contacts within the local population, so I was happy to receive the invitation.
In the sukkah we talked about art, and I told him of my plans for the museum as a place that focuses on contemporary art and mediates between it and the general public. Mr. Alkow took me on a tour of his house, and I was astounded by the artworks that hung on the walls. Then he surprised me by saying that he intended to donate his art collection to the Herzliya Museum. My heart leapt into my mouth.
“But the museum isn’t big enough,” I pointed out. “It features temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists, so I cannot devote an entire room – almost half the museum’s area – to this wonderful collection.”
Mr. Alkow nodded understandingly and added, “In that case, I’m willing to finance the expansion of the museum – provided, of course, that the mayor agrees, and is interested.” The mayor at the time, Eli Landau, was indeed very enthusiastic, and at the meeting with Mr. Alkow, immediate agreement was reached on co-financing the design and construction of the extension. I pinched myself to make sure it was all real.
Architect Yacov Rechter, who was also a resident of Herzliya, had designed the museum as it was at the time, which had been built in 1975 to accommodate the local Yad Labanim (Fallen Soldiers’ memorial center). He was given the job of designing the new wing, as well – along with his son, Amnon Rechter, who is also an architect. Working with Yacov was a special experience. He was a noble humanist, very attentive and open-minded, and always found marvelous architectural solutions. I remember him explaining that because the museum lies at the heart of a residential neighborhood, it was important for him to keep the building modestly-sized, so as not to overwhelm its surroundings, and to include windows and openings that offered visual contact with the neighborhood. In addition, he sought to extend the museum’s use of exposed concrete and its distinctive arched roof in the new wing, as well, and to illuminate the large space with natural light.
Prior to the completion of the new wing, the museum shared an entrance with the memorial center, on the western side of the building. When the museum began focusing on contemporary art, which is often critical, there were occasions when some of the artworks that attacked social conventions may have been offensive to the sensibilities of the parents of fallen soldiers. The design of the new wing therefore kept the entrance to the memorial room, with its heroic concrete mural reliefs, as it was, but gave the art museum a new, separate, entrance of two large and imposing oak doors, like the gates of a grand hall.
In accordance with its new artistic focus, the museum was also renamed the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. The renovated building was expressly designed for the presentation of contemporary art, and allows for a variety of display modes – from rooms resembling an artist’s studio, through dark rooms for video-art screenings, to a large gallery that is a kind of illuminated white cube designed for installations. With the new wing, the area of the museum tripled overnight, and its area now totals 3,000 square meters (~ 32,300 sqare feet) – including exhibition galleries, a youth wing, offices, warehouses, and public spaces. Further changes that have been designed but are not yet built include redesigning the entrance to the memorial center, opening a cafeteria, and turning the amphitheatre into a closed auditorium.
In 1995, a fortuitous opportunity arose to renovate the museum’s old wing. A work by the late artist Gideon Gechtman had caused damage to the cladding of the museum ceiling (a kind of acoustic foam) – revealing the building’s asbestos ceiling, which had been constructed in the 1970s before people were aware of the risks inherent with the material. The Herzliya municipality orchestrated a quick and efficient operation to remove the asbestos, during which time we had to clear the museum of all its contents. When we returned to the building, the asbestos was gone, but so too were the vital systems for the museum’s operation – including air-conditioning, lighting systems, and security cameras. However, the timing was perfect, since it gave us a chance to create a continuous and contiguous connection between the old and the new wings: openings were made in the concrete walls between the two, and the flooring between them was made uniform – so it was impossible to tell where one ended and other began (with the possible exception of the ceilings, which are much higher in the new wing).
The impressive concrete wall at the entrance to the museum wing – twenty meters (65 feet) long – was supposed to be hidden behind a wall of plasterboard. However, during one of his site visits to the museum during construction, Rechter decided, in a flash of inspiration, to leave it exposed, as is, with all its cracks and flaws and scars. Thus, the wall alludes both to the memorial room on its other side, and to the museum as a repository of contemporary, experimental, and raw art that is emerging before our eyes – art that has not yet been refined by time, or processed by the history of art.
An interesting anecdote: out of sensitivity to the environment, it was decided not to uproot any of the old eucalyptus trees that stood around the museum compound. However, during the digging for the foundations, the roots of the tree at the front of the building were accidentally damaged, and the tree began to wither. The alarm was raised, the digging was halted, and an agronomist was summoned; a protective buffer was constructed, the roots were restored – and the rescued tree, in all its glory, continues to adorn the entrance to the museum to this day.
In January 2000, we celebrated the opening of the museum and the new wing, in the presence of Mayor Yael German. Although Mr. Alkow had died a few months earlier, he had lived to see the completion of the museum’s construction, and his eyes welled up with tears of joy at the sight. The collection that he bequeathed to the museum – comprising mainly works by Jewish artists, as well as by leading American artists of his time, and by some Israeli artists – continues to be regularly on show.
Throughout the museum’s renovation and expansion, photographer Avraham Hay documented the construction process. He would show up on a regular basis, set up his tripod, and take pictures from precisely the same viewpoints: the new entrance to the museum on its northern façade; the Youth Wing (later known by its Hebrew acronym MUZA) on its southern side; the open sculpture-courtyard; the staircase and large gallery at its eastern end. In this manner, his photographs allow one to trace the evolution of the building over time.