Eight years after the initial competition, Preston Scott Cohen’s Herta and Paul Amir Building for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art has opened to the public – though not without problems. The launch of the new wing, built, as Cohen explains, “to introduce Israeli modern art to the international community”, has had to contend with serious public relations problems.
The museum’s intended survey of contemporary Indian art has been boycotted by a small group of invited Indian artists, who cited their “refusal to legitimise the illegal, racist and apartheid policies of the Israeli government against the people of Palestine and to become a part of ‘Brand Israel'”. Such sentiments, coupled with the mass marches against rent increases taking place in Tel Aviv as the Amir Wing opened its doors, have meant that the museum has had to deal with far more social and cultural scrutiny than the usual Bilbao-effect rhetoric.
Though the museum’s original, brutalist building – completed in 1971 by Dan Eytan – is in working order, an ever-expanding collection demanded more space. “The museum’s programme set the challenge of providing several floors of large, neutral, rectangular galleries within a tight, idiosyncratic, triangular site,” Cohen says. “The solution we proposed was to ‘square the triangle’ by constructing the levels on different axes, which deviate significantly from floor to floor.” Working in this way, Cohen was able to supply a lot more space – 18,500sq m – on a footprint of 4,500sq m.
The different levels are unified by Cohen’s “Lightfall”, an 87ft-high lightwell that allows light to tumble down through the space into the new galleries, providing a jazzy spectacle with a punch line that is not given away by the elegant facade.
Constructed from precast concrete panels of differing sizes, the facade exposes the complex geometries of the stacked volumes, and extends them to slightly exaggerate the structure. The most radical element of Cohen’s design – and it is really not that radical – is that he has brought the two branches of thinking in contemporary museum architecture, the utility of the white cube and the spectacle of the icon, together in one surprisingly modest showpiece.
Amit Geron Courtesy Tel Aviv Museum of Art