The Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art in Tel Aviv has temporarily closed due to an ongoing censorship dispute between city officials and artists featured in a recent group exhibition.
The museum closed after 47 participants in a group exhibition demanded the removal of their art in a show of solidarity with David Reeb, whose work was removed from the exhibition. The exhibit was the first at the museum after a multi-year renovation.
The dispute began after the museum removed a painting by Reeb at the request of the city’s mayor, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who deemed it offensive. The Reeb painting in question, Jerusalem (1997), depicts two black and white mirror images of an Orthodox Jewish man standing in front of the Western Wall. Next to them are captions in Hebrew reading “Jerusalem of gold” and “Jerusalem of shit”. He appeared in “The Institution,” an exhibition of explicitly political works curated by the museum’s chief curator, Svetlana Reingold.
In a statement, the museum expressed “its sadness and disappointment” at the results of the mediation process. The institution said it was “working resolutely to promote the sustainability of the exhibit,” but ultimately was unsuccessful.
Jerusalem had not caused an outcry when it appeared in other places. Reeb said Hyperallergic that the mayor’s comments on the article were “insulting”, adding: “He just saw a political opportunity and took it.” Reeb works on issues of state oppression in Israel and has previously shown his art at the quinquennial Documenta and Tate Modern.
Tel Aviv Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen condemned the artwork days after the show opened on December 23, calling it “racist towards ultra-Orthodox Jews.” In response to growing pressure from Shama-Hacohen and reported threats to suspend the state-funded institution, the museum’s board voted to remove the work from display. In a gesture of solidarity, the majority of the 60 artists participating in the exhibition responded to the decision by covering their works with black fabric. The artists had demanded the complete removal of their works, but when the museum closed this week, they remained on display with blankets over them.
The activist appealed the decision in a Tel Aviv court during a hearing on December 29. Represented by the Israel Association for Civil Rights, Reeb and his lawyer argued that the decision to remove the painting violated the 1983 State Museums Law, which states that museum exhibits are protected from government interference. . The court sided with the museum and later ordered that no further changes be made to the exhibit until a decision was made.
“The Institution” was the museum’s first exhibit after a multimillion-dollar expansion that began in 2017. The project became so expensive that it forced the museum into unpopular financial maneuvers, including disposing of works from its permanent collection, to raise further funding.