Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Ben Uri Gallery - see the collection at home

Regular readers will know that I am a devotee of the Ben Uri Gallery, the London Jewish Museum of Art, currently housed in Boundary Road, Swiss Cottage. I have written about the excellent current Dodo Burgner exhibition as well as the equally impressive Josef Herman exhibition from earlier this year.

The Ben Uri has a wonderful collection of over 1,300 pieces, but the severely cramped space in the gallery means that only a very small number of them can be displayed at any one time. The gallery has been looking for a new, more centrally located and larger home for some time. The search continues, but in the meantime, thanks to the new look website, you can browse through some of the collection's highlights without leaving home!

The new website has a search facility that allows searching by artist's name, leading browsers to a list of holdings by each artist and also to an image of the works listed. This is still work in progress, but its already possible to view about one third of the Ben Uri collection in this way. In addition to this, the website now features a regularly changing slideshow of 32 works from the collection and this is very prominent on the home page.

I spent some time browsing through this large sample from this unique collection, and although a large number of works are still to be included, I was already able to enjoy wide looking at the work of several of my favourite artists.  This includes examples of Whitechapel boy Mark Gertler's work (my favourite - The Rabbi and Rebbetzin from 1914) and good representation of Israeli artists including Moshe Castel (my favourite - Father and Son from 1928 - and by the way there is an excellent museum of his work in Maale Adumim near Jerusalem - well worth a visit), Nahum Gutman (my favourite - Safed) and more contemporary photographic work from Natan Dvir (The Shtetl is Burning, 1972).

The Ben Uri has featured a number of refugee artists in recent years and these too are well represented on the new website, including Martin Bloch (the lovely House in Varengeville Normandy from 1939) and Yankel Adler (Ein Jude from 1926). Each entry gives details of the medium, dimensions, date where known and inscription. Not only is this  a great way of making the collection more widely available, but its also a great tool for art historians, researchers and people who just happen to like Jewish art (or even just art!).

The site also gives details of exhibitions, past, present and future - including a range of images from the current Dodo Burgner show, the gallery's education programme and other useful information. I understand that there are to be further improvements to the site, including additional ways of searching the collection as well as plans to add more information about the gallery's previous exhibitions. Again, good news for researchers and art lovers generally.

The Ben Uri collection is rich, diverse and constantly being developed. Its most recent acquisition is Chaim Soutine's, La Soubrette or the Waiting Maid, purchased with Heritage Lottery Fund monies and grants and donations from other sources including the Victoria and Albert Museum. There are plans to exhibit the painting very soon, so check the new website for details!

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