AIDA Completes Fifth Cycle of Its Critical Travel Program for
American Museum Curators 

PALM BEACH, FL - September 29, 2016 - The Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA) is pleased to announce that its fifth “class” of curators has completed another of its immersive trips to Israel. These trips, which are critical to AIDA’s mission, began in 2011. They are designed to expose American decorative arts and design curators from a wide range of institutions with varying missions and budgets to the arts, history, and culture of Israel.  

The members of this year’s “class” were Mel Buchanan, RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design, New Orleans Museum of Art; Jennifer Komar Olivarez, then Interim Dept. Head, Decorative Arts, Textiles and Sculpture, Minneapolis Institute of Art; Marisa J. Pascucci, Curator of Collections, Boca Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Sarah Schleuning, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Diane Wright, Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia. Jane Adlin, former curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, who has served as an advisor to AIDA since its founding in 2003, joined the group to evaluate the impact that AIDA has had on Israel’s decorative arts and design and to suggest recommendations for its travel program.
When AIDA initiated the travel program, it joined forces with Artis, which already was bringing contemporary American curators to Israel to help integrate Israeli visual arts into the contemporary art world.  During this collaboration, curators Emily Zilber (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, AIDA “class” of 2011); “class” of 2012: Matilda McQuaid (Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum) and Cindi Strauss (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston); and “class” of 2013: Ulysses Dietz (Newark Museum)  and Diane Charbonneau (The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) spent a few additional days in Israel focusing solely on its decorative arts scene after a weeklong general immersion in Israeli art through Artis. In 2014, AIDA decided to organize trips that focused primarily on contemporary crafts, design, and architecture. Inaugurating this concept in 2015, AIDA invited curators Elisabeth Agro (Philadelphia Museum of Art); Susan Braunstein (Jewish Museum, New York); Annie Carlano (The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina), Stefano Catalani (formerly of the Bellevue Arts Museum, Washington) and Jutta Page (Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio) to participate.

This year’s eight-day trip included studio visits to some of Israel’s leading designers and makers including furniture and lighting designer Ayala Serfaty ; sculptor Dafna Kaffeman known for her glass and fiber assemblages; Russian émigré textile artist Sasha Stoyanov ; multidisciplinary artist Gil Yefman ; and conceptual jewelry artist Gregory Larin , as well as the internationally recognized photographer Ilit Azoulay . Participants viewed the graduate exhibitions and met with faculty and students of Israel’s two leading schools for art and design: Jerusalem’s Bezalel School of Arts and Design and Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan. In addition, they visited South Tel Aviv’s Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center , which is increasingly being recognized for its programming in functional clay.

They also met colleagues and viewed relevant installations at the recently renovated Israel Museum, Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv Museum, and the Ron Arad – designed Holon Museum located in a city south of Tel Aviv. At the Holon Museum, they were treated to a series of presentations by designers Maya ben David, Dov Ganchrow, Iota Project, Metalace, and Studio Bet-Melacha. Other highlights of the trip included a visit to Northern Israel’s Museum of Art Ein Harod—said to have been an inspiration to the internationally renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano; the Umm El-Fahem Art Gallery that features the work of Arab artists; and the Holon Technical Institute. Equally well received was a meeting with multimedia installation artist Uri Tzaig who, as director of the “Same Sky/Same Land” project, mentors each year a group of highly talented decorative arts artists who receive scholarships so that they can focus on exploring new and different directions in their work.    

Interspersed among these professional meetings, the group toured Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, spending time in the Jaffa flea market, the Old City, East Jerusalem, and Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, popularly known as “The Shuk.” An afternoon spent at the Israeli Philharmonic seeing a performance of the German opera Fidelio provided a completely different but equally memorable experience.

Everyone who has participated in these trips has raved about them and unanimously attributes their success to AIDA’s director, Aviva Ben-Sira.  Opinions about how to measure the overall success of this program, however, differ. It is a well-established fact that most museums—especially the larger ones—do not act quickly: their exhibition schedules are set years in advance and they have limited acquisition and travel funds. Most of the curators who participated in the program say that they now are more mindful of Israeli design whether or not they visited the studios of those whose work they acquire. Acquisitions are happening:  the participants continue to follow makers and designers identified during these trips for potential commissions and programs. More importantly, as they plan ahead, these curators look to include Israeli artists in larger exhibitions reflecting institutional directions where they can contextualize the work within international developments.

In 2011, Doug Anderson, AIDA’s co-founder, outlined several goals for these trips when he wrote the following to its supporters:

Obviously, having a museum curator visit gives an artist the opportunity to talk with a professional about his/her work and where it fits in the greater art world.  Sometimes this can develop into a love affair, sometimes a therapy session, sometimes a crit. But hosting a museum curator in your studio is a big deal for an artist.... Not so obviously, for a museum curator this kind of trip can be just what the doctor ordered. Curators go into this painfully underpaid field because of their love of art and artists. Often they are saddled with administrative work that keeps them from doing the parts of their job they love…. AIDA’s Board of Trustees understands that curators are the backbone of the museum industry…. We know that there are a variety of ways to accomplish our mission and that teaching the teachers is one of them.
There are wonderful stories of how these trips are “teaching the teachers.”  In 2015, for example, High Museum curator Sarah Schleuning co-organized a major exhibition of the work of the Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen, who is known for uniting traditional handcraft with cutting-edge technology, including 3-D printing. This year, while visiting the Holon Institute of Technology, Schleuning was thrilled to discover that its 3-D printing shop was involved in the execution of van Herpen’s designs, as well as others in the High’s collection.

Unexpected results also are occurring. During the 2015 trip, Mint Museum curator Annie Carlano approached Jutta Page, her colleague from Toledo, about a potential collaboration. The resulting exhibition, Fired Up: Women in Glass, which will open this fall at the Mint, uses Toledo’s holdings to evaluate the contribution of women to contemporary glass.


AIDA’s mission is to foster the development of contemporary decorative artists from Israel by connecting them to an international audience of galleries, institutions and collectors. Since the organization’s founding in 2003, AIDA has helped careers of a generation of artists from Israel. Underlying all of AIDA’s activities is the goal of promoting a positive face of contemporary Israel not often seen.

For further information, contact: Doug Anderson, , or
visit the website of the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts .