Herzliya Museum, founded on a collection of old paintings donated by Herzliya resident Eugene da Villa in the early 1960s, was originally located in an apartment on 15 Bar Ilan Street in the city – and Da Villa also served as the museum’s first director. The museum’s current residence, designed by another Herzliya resident, Yaakov Rechter, together with Moshe Zarhy and Micha Peri, was opened to the public in 1975. It was built as a combination between a military memorial building (Beit Yad Labanim) and a museum and cultural center, thereby indicating that life has the upper hand. The entrance to the museum was through Beit Yad Labanim. The modern museum building is characterized by formal and conceptual gravity and modesty, in the Brutalist style prevalent at the time (and is now slotted for conservation). At the time, the museum presented, alongside art works, archaeological finds from the Apollonia national park on the Herzliya shoreline.
In the 1980s, under the direction of Yoav Dagon, the museum’s activities on the local art scene were expanded, devoted mainly to sculpture. It was during this time that a large sculpture garden was erected around the museum’s building. From the 1990s, under Dalia Levin’s direction, the museum’s identity was redefined as a museum whose focus was on young, contemporary art, both Israeli and international.
In 2000, the museum was re-inaugurated after having been remodeled and enlarged by architects Yaakov Rechter and his son Amnon Rechter. An examination of the museology aspects was conducted also in dialogue with the curator Yona Fischer. The remodeling also included a separate entrance to the museum, setting it apart from the commemorative part of the building, thereby indicating the autonomy of the museum. Thanks to a generous donation by Jacob and Virginia Alkow, the size of the museum was doubled. The remodeling aimed to retain the unique style of the original building while adapting it to up-to-date museological requirements. The exposed-concrete walls typical of the Brutalist style are represented in the museum’s entrance hall as an architectural element which is also a statement of values. The circulation route between exhibition spaces of varying sizes allows for a conceptual narrative to be formed between exhibitions while offering an autonomous gallery for each.
Nowadays, the current director and chief curator of the museum, Dr. Aya Lurie, focuses on contemporary cultural and social issues, taking a wide view of artistic discourse and opening it up to dialogue with other fields. The museum’s annual program includes three cycles of exhibitions. Dozens of one-person and group exhibitions offer diverse perspectives on our world, expanding the discussion and launching new interpretive channels. Fascinating and challenging connections are formed between local and international artists, emphasizing art’s power to cross boundaries and encourage multicultural dialogue.
In addition to exhibitions in all artistic media, the museum stresses an exploration of its collections, history, and architecture, as well as its relationship to its urban vicinity. In 2017, the Mundi_Lab research group of the Technion’s Faculty of Architecture in Haifa (headed by Dr. David Behar-Perahia) removed the partitions between the memorial building and the museum as part of ongoing research that they presented at the museum. Subsequently, other artists were invited to present projects that explore the museum space and its connection to Beit Yad Labanim, in a bid to tackle the charged historical, national, and local contexts that it embodies. For instance, in September 2017 Assaf Evron presented, at the center of his exhibition “54 Basel Street” a photograph of a concrete mural relief situated at the entrance to the Beit Yad Labanim memorial building, created by Herzliya resident Shlomo Eliraz.
In recent years, the urban environment surrounding the museum has undergone profound changes, following urban renewal and spatial reorganization of the institutions in the city. This includes the municipality’s move to a building opposite the museum on Ben- Gurion Boulevard, and the opening up of the museum’s sculpture park to the street level. Thus, the municipality has become part of the area that includes the law courts, the Beit Yad Labanim military memorial building, and the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art’s activities comply with the Israeli Museum Law. It is a nonprofit public institution, whose aim is to engage in research and display, and in cultural, artistic and educational activities. The museum is a center of diverse cultural and educational enterprises, including guided tours of the exhibitions, artist talks, lectures, conferences, and many other events.