|Address:||Museum of Art, Ein Harod 18965 Israel|
The Museum of Art Ein Harod is situated in Israel in a kibbutz, in the very community which founded it 60 years ago.
The museum’s history is quite amazing. The founding settlers of the kibbutz were anarchists. Nevertheless, they built a museum--the quintessential institution of a settled society—as well as other, kindred, permanent institutions, such as an open theatre, a regional museum of flora and fauna, a music center, and a library and archive. Furthermore, they did this when the community was made up of only a few hundred souls.
Even more surprising, when it opened in 1948 the Ein Harod museum was the first building in Israel to be built specifically as a museum of art. Israel, not yet a nation, was grappling with the task of building itself up from almost nothing and simultaneously absorbing hundreds of thousands of new immigrants, many of whom arrived destitute and ill. By comparison, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem was only built in 1965—until then an art school served as the venue for its collections. The Tel Aviv Museum is still more recent: it was only built in the 1970s, and the private residence of the city’s late mayor had served as the city’s museum. Even today, Ein Harod is still the third largest museum in the country in floor space and has one of the country’s largest collections. Such a scale of thinking and on such a subject in such a small and remote place is remarkable for the time!
The explanation is found in the fact that its founders did not consider that museums belong only to large urban centers. They felt that center was not a matter of location but of intellect, a result of alertness and intensive thought and action. This attitude quite fitted the leadership role of the kibbutz at that time because in Ein Harod--which we should note was the first and, for a long time, the largest, kibbutz in the country--lived many of the young nation's political, social and educational leaders.
They did not want their dedication to physical work to create the kulak or muzhik mentality, to create ignorant, boorish peasants whose minds concentrated only on the most immediate material needs of existence, a type well known to them from Eastern Europe.
The founders of the kibbutz and its museum rejected the notion that living outside of a big urban center limited the scope of the intellect. They were conscious--urgently--of the need to provide tools to deal with time and change, to project their thought into the future while dealing with the past and the present, even during a period of massive disruption. They built the relevant institutions, both tangible and intangible.
The museum, so architecturally appealing, reflects the dreams, ideals and paradoxes of its founders and their times in its unique way. One enters the building through an understated faחade to find a series of spaces filled with light, very precise in proportions, generous yet also intimate. The layout lends itself to displaying quite different kinds of exhibitions simultaneously without generating s sense of disharmony.
So I think back to those radicals, the first settlers who started Ein Harod in 1921. In the beginning the kibbutz encompassed people with quite different social outlooks, Marxist and anti-Marxist and other social outlooks. They did not partake of a unified version of socialism, but they were very clear in their shared concern that the bureaucracy of the labor party not be isolated from the workers. They came up with solutions-- for instance, proposing a system of progressive taxation in the country and equalization of prices and services. As they were, in fact, a minority, matters developed otherwise.
Actually, they didn't even believe in being attached to their own immediate space, to a specific piece of land. They saw their mission as constantly moving to whatever place was in need, to wherever the ever-changing situation in the country required them. They formed what is called a gadood avoda in Hebrew-- a work battalion--and toiled in Jerusalem, in Sdom by the Dead Sea, in the desert--wherever they were called.
In recent times--and especially today--many contemporary artists and philosophers on art feel it is important to destroy the authority of art institutions, particularly museums. I think they are right in their refusal to admit the supremacy of the art bureaucracy to adjudicate the parameters of art and evaluate it. But the institution of the art museum nevertheless has an essential role to fulfill in society, bureaucracy aside. These criticisms serve, however, to make us rethink the roll of the museum as a social institution serving the community.
I can't end at this point without referring to deep changes the kibbutz has gone through over the years, and to the recurring question--if and how the museum is still relevant to its immediate surrounding.
The context in which the kibbutz exists is quite different today, and--in the broad sense--the trend in the kibbutz now is toward privatization, the consequences of which are not by any means completely evident. But I can't go into details and discuss the changes the kibbutz is going through. I assume that the members of the kibbutz today would not make the same decision to build a museum if the project was presented to them now as an actual, real decision to be made.
Nevertheless, the present members of the kibbutz have inherited the museum, and it seems that its activity and well-being are quite important to them and part of the fabric of their lives.
The activity in the museum springs from the context of the kibbutz, although it is not bound to specific needs of the inhabitants, as they define it. On the immediate level, the context is always there because our guests for exhibitions and symposiums lodge at the kibbutz, eat in the communal dining room and have contact with kibbutz members. This context is expanded because our museum also seeks artists and themes that deal with community concerns, social issues and recent history. The process through which the artists passes in his work of creativity is of interest as much as the art objects that are created. At Ein Harod, we work with artists over many years in a mutually illuminating process.
As I see it, the museum is there to give alternative perspectives, not to affect reality in any immediate measurable way, or to answer to concrete needs of kibbutz members. I think this is the main role of a cultural institution. In its role as a conservator, a museum can reactivate the past and, through its dialogues with active artists, it presents the multiplicity of the present from which the future is evolving. The role of the museum is Janus-like, looking both backward and forward.
The role of the museum of Ein Harod is a broad one because, whatever comes, its existence carries forward the flexibility and multiple options granted to it by its founders.