Nationalism, Zionism and Ethnic Mobilization of the Jews in 1900 and Beyond

By Michael Berkowitz | Go to book overview

TROUBLE AT THE BEZALEL:
CONFLICTING VISIONS OF ZIONISM AND ART

Inka Bertz
Jewish Museum, Berlin

The founding of the Bezalel Arts and Crafts School in Jerusalem in 1906 was one of Zionism's most ambitious projects in the field of culture. However, the early years of the school's existence were overshadowed by constant conflict over whether the school should train artists or craftsmen, over the creation of a new Jewish style for the Bezalel's products and over issues of administration between the institute's founder and director, the sculptor Boris Schatz on the one side, and the Bezalel Association's Board in Berlin, headed by Otto Warburg, on the other.

The history of Bezalel has been described in the Israel Museum's exhibition catalogue of 1983, Ilona Oltuski's Frankfurt doctoral thesis of 1988, and by Margaret Olin.1 The conflict to be analyzed here has mostly been described as a confrontation between an idealistic artist and cultural Zionist on the one side and the Berlin technocrats without understanding for artistic issues on the other.2 A re-reading of the source-material preserved in the Central Zionist Archives (CZA) and the Municipal Archives in Jerusalem (MAJ) will lead to a new interpretation and present us in a nutshell with reflections of larger issues.

On the surface, the tedious exchange of letters between Jerusalem and Berlin reads like the deterioration of contradicting conceptions of the nature and the goals of the new institution, issues that seem not to have been clarified suffciently beforehand. But on a deeper

____________________
1
Gideon Ofrat-Friedlander, “The Periods of Bezalel, ” in Bezalel 1906–1929, ed. Nurit Shilo-Cohen (Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1983); Ilona Oltuski, Kunst und Ideologie des Bezalel in Jerusalem. Ein Versuch zur jüdischen Identitätsfindung (Frankfurt/Main: Kunstgeschichtliches Inst. d. Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Univ. [diss.], 1988); Margaret Olin, The Nation without Art. Examining Modern Discourses on Jewish Art (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), pp. 35–54.
2
Arthur Ruppin, Briefe, Tagebücher, Erinnerungen (Königstein/Ts.: Juedischer VerlagAthenaeum, 1985), pp. 231–232, indicates an opposite bias.

-247-

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