Never Looked Better [Museum Beth Hatefutsoth, Tel Aviv]

The exhibition Never Looked Better displays the photo collection of Leni and Herbert Sonnenfeld, who fled Nazi Germany and found refuge in the USA. The collection documents the Jewish early settlement in Palestine and Jewish communities around the world from the 1930s until the end of the 1980s and serves as a living testimony to the most significant events in 20th century Jewish history. The photos displayed at Beit Hatfutsot are accompanied by interpretation by contemporary renowned artists from Israel and abroad, among them: Yael Bartana, Michael Blum, Ilya Rabinovitch, Yochai Avrahami, Yossi & Itamar.

The Leni and Herbert Sonnenfeld collection comprises approximately 100,00 slides, prints, and photos that document the significant events in Jewish history from the 1930s through the 1980s.

Artists: Yael Bartana, Yochai Avrhami, Yossi Atia and Itamar Rose, Ilya Rabinovich, Michael Blum. Dates: 13.07 – 30.09.2016

The opening of a new exhibition space in Beit Hatfutsot is an opportunity to expose the Sonnenfeld collection to the wider audience and offer new readings of Jewish history from historical, anthropological and political perspectives. This is done through the work of contemporary artists who were specially invited to create new works responding to the Sonnenfeld collection and to the narratives that it invites.

The Sonnenfeld collection is not a lost collection that was suddenly exposed. The photographic aesthetics of the Sonnenfelds is not foreign to the Israeli or international publics. The images that were created helped shape the visual memory of Israel and hold a central place in the collective Israeli consciousness, particularly those images from 1933 through 1948. Herbert Sonnenfeld worked for Keren Hayesod, the Jewish National Fund, and the Jewish Agency, and his photos were published in magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Life, The Daily News, and The Jewish Week, and appeared in exhibitions around the world.

The exhibition will present new works alongside catalogued parts of the collection, and will propose new ways of reading the photographs. Viewers will thus be able to reexamine existing categories and collections while offering a different view of their photographic work overall and the way in which they worked in cooperation with the Zionist publicity apparatus through their work.

Michael Blum will present a calendar that incorporates photographs he chose from the exhibit. The calendar format is accepted around the world as a gift and as a promotional platform. Museums use it as a souvenir for exhibitions, companies use it as an advertising tool, and so forth. The accepted format is photographs appearing over each month. Blum retained this format and presents a series of twelve photographs, one for each month, that together create a story that is read continuously, page after page.

Yael Bartana reproduced photographs from the collection that portray workers, farmers and soldiers. She photographed young people dressed and accessorized accordingly, in an attempt to reproduce the creation of the image of the “New Jew”, the Zionist, as it emerges from the Sonnenfeld photographs. Bartana’s photographs are a new personification of images that were instilled in collective Israeli memory and consciousness.

The photographer Ilya Rabinovich focuses on spaces that represent power and authority, such as museums, hospitals and schools. For this exhibition, he chose to photograph the sites where the Knesset was located – i.e., the The Tel Aviv Opera House, and the Frumin House in Jerusalem – before it moved to its permanent home. The photographs of these sites from the Sonnenfeld collection inspired him.

Co-curated with Eyal Danon.