The Tel Aviv Museum of Art this week celebrated the opening of its new international landmark, the Herta and Paul Amir Building. Designed by Preston Scott Cohen, the 195,000-square-foot building adds an unprecedented contemporary structure to the campus of the museum, which is Israel's principal institution of modern and contemporary art.
The visionary new building promises to impact the future of museum architecture and lift its country to new prominence in the world of contemporary art. Standing at the heart of Tel Aviv, an international city renowned for its vibrant young culture and emphasis on modern architecture, the museum is kicking off its opening with a site-specific exhibition of recent works by contemporary Israeli artist Anselm Keifer. The museum also holds a comprehensive collection of Israeli art, representing all major trends and artists and a selection of about 250 of these works, dating from 1906 to the present, will be on view during the inauguration of the building, presented in 18,500 square feet of galleries, in the country's largest permanent installation of Israeli art.
"We celebrate the opening of the Herta and Paul Amir Building as a confirmation that Tel Aviv is today a global city and will remain one far into the future," said Ron Huldai, mayor of the municipality of Tel Aviv. "Over the past decade, we have invested $250 million in our cultural and historical institutions in support of Tel Aviv's leading international role. Today, with representatives of the art world gathered here for the inauguration, the Herta and Paul Amir Building stands as the symbol of all we have accomplished and all we aspire to achieve."
The freestanding concrete-and-glass Herta and Paul Amir Building establishes a dialogue with the existing structures of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and with the renowned modern architecture of Tel Aviv, with its traditions of Mendelsohn, the Bauhaus, and the White City. Inside, the Amir Building is built around a spiraling, top-lit, 87-foot-high atrium known as the Lightfall, whose subtly twisting surfaces curve up and down through the structure. The building includes five levels—two above grade and three below—which twist from floor to floor to accommodate large, rectangular galleries within the compact, irregular site. The stairs and ramped promenades of the Lightfall serve as the surprising, continually unfolding vertical circulation through these floors, connecting the disparate angles of the galleries and allowing natural light to refract into the deepest recesses of the half-buried building.
"I am incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to work with the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on the Amir Building," said the architect Preston Scott Cohen. "The Museum's program set the challenge of providing several floors of large, neutral, rectangular galleries within a tight, idiosyncratic, triangular site. The solution we proposed was to 'square the triangle' by constructing the levels on different axes, which deviate significantly from floor to floor and are unified by the Lightfall. This decision enabled us to combine two seemingly irreconcilable paradigms of the contemporary art museum: the museum of neutral white boxes, which provides optimal, flexible space for the exhibition of art, and the museum of spectacle, which moves visitors and offers a remarkable social experience. In this way, the Amir Building's synthesis of radical and conventional geometries produces a new type of museum experience, one that is as rooted in the Baroque as it is in the Modern."
The campus of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is located adjacent to the Golda Meir Cultural & Art Center (with the New Israeli Opera and the Cameri Theater) and the Beit Ariela Municipal Library. The previous existing main building, a 175,000-square-foot structure by Dan Eytan and Yitzchak Yashar, opened in 1971 and was expanded with an 11,300-square-foot Sculpture Garden (opened 1996) and the 32,300-square-foot Gabrielle Rich Wing (Dan Eytan, 1999). Paul Amir, the Los Angeles-based real-estate developer and philanthropist, and his wife, Herta, provided the naming gift for the Museum's new building.