The Main Building
The Museum’s Main Building is part of the Tel Aviv-Yafo Civic Center which includes additional cultural institutions, such as the Beit Ariella Public Library, the Cameri Theater, and the Performing Arts Center (home of the Israeli Opera). It is also close to other important institutions, such as the Government Compound, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital), and the Court of Law.
The opening of the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion in 1959 — almost nineteen years after the founding of the Museum — marked the start of a new era. From a local urban museum it grew into one that views itself part of a global artistic and cultural scene. Over time, as the collection grew thanks to donations and acquisitions, so did the need to increase the exhibition space. Accordingly, and in response to lobbying efforts of the then Museum Director Dr. Haim Gamzu and Tel Aviv Mayor Chaim Levanon, the government decided to allocate ten dunams (2.5 acres) of land to the museum’s main building, and a competition for its design was announced.
Among the key considerations for selecting the competition winners was the judges’ view that “a museum is a repository of works of art, and should be a work of art in its own right.” They also indicated that the architecture of the building should “encourage philanthropists and collectors to donate or lend their paintings and sculptures” to the Museum, and that the building “must be of great aesthetic significance.” All this in addition to more pragmatic considerations, such as the need for flexibility, versatility, and simplicity.
The winners of the competition was were architect Dan Eitan (2019 Israel Prize laureate for Architecture) and architect Itzhak Yashar. They proposed a building in the Israeli Brutalist style. Brutalism, a central style of modern architecture worldwide and particularly in Israel, characterized much of public construction in this country between the 1950s and the 1970s.
The inauguration ceremony of the new Museum building in 1971 was attended by Prime Minister Golda Meir, Foreign Minister Abba Eban, Mayor Yehoshua Rabinowitz, and other dignitaries.
The Main Building is designed as a spiral — four galleries surrounding a tall central atrium. A ramp leads from the spacious entrance hall to the galleries, helping visitors orientate themselves within the building. The galleries are variations on the “white cube” concept: clean, neutral display spaces painted white, with no visual distractions, and an abundance of natural light from above. This minimalist space puts the focus entirely on the works on display. The design of the building reflects the changes undergone by Israeli architecture during those years, from the understated style that characterized the country’s early decades following independence to a more liberated architecture that does not limit itself merely to a useful and efficient space, but uses form and material to also create a distinctive and eloquent building.
Shortly after the inauguration of the building, the Museum presented its new logo, designed by Dan Reisinger. This logo echoed the design of the Main Building: four black rectangles surrounding a white space, creating a stylized version of the Hebrew letter mem (מ). This logo served the Museum for about four decades, when, following the inauguration of the Amir Building, it was replaced with a new logo, designed by Michal Sahar.
For forty years, the Main Building served most of the Museum’s needs: display space, library, conservation workshops, and operational and professional functions. As the Museum’s needs and collections grew, however, space became increasingly insufficient. These pressing needs necessitated changes and extensions that, over time, compromised the building’s original design.
In 2018, renovations of the Main Building began. These included, first and foremost, removing the additions that had amassed over the years and restoring the building to its original design, that of architects Eitan and Yashar. A new café was constructed facing the sculpture garden and stretching into it, the Museum Gift Shop was expanded, the reception and box-office area was upgraded, and a Visitor Center was established.
As part of the renovation, the Younes & Soraya Nazarian Family Experiential Center was established. It includes a family-oriented exhibition gallery, public spaces for resting and getting organized, and spacious workshops, and offers interactive sessions for children and adults.