Israel museums hide art to protect it from rockets

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Tel Aviv's Art Museum, one of Israel's premier museums, has moved 200 of its most precious works of art to a rocket-proof vault in case of a missile attack.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TEL AVIV, Israel — The wine-red walls of the Brueghel exhibition hall at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art are now bare, like the crime scene of a daring art heist.

Tel Aviv’s leading art museum, spooked by rocket attacks on Israel’s cultural capital, moved nearly 200 works Friday into a rocket-proof safe the size of an auditorium — including some 100 works painted by relatives of Flemish Renaissance master Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

“Even if there’s a very small possibility (of damage), we don’t play around. We don’t take chances,” said Doron J. Lurie, the senior curator and chief conservator. “We’ve guarded them like our own kids.”

One other Israeli art museum followed suit, hauling some of its most prized artworks into fortified vaults deep underground to protect them from the current round of Israel-Palestinian fighting. For nearly a week, the Israeli military has waged air strikes against Gaza, while Palestinian militants have barraged Israel with rocket fire.

In the southern city of Ashdod, which has suffered more frequent rocket barrages because of its proximity to Gaza, the curator of the Ashdod Art Museum — Monart Center took down 15 works of leading contemporary Israeli artist Tsibi Geva. On Sunday, he stashed them in a vault four floors underground designed to withstand rocket fire and biological weapons.

“It’s chutzpah to take a chance on them,” said curator Yuval Biton, using the Yiddish word for “audacious.” It was the first time the Ashdod museum had hid its art in the vault since it opened in 2003.

Israel has seen its fair share of incoming fire over the past decade: Hezbollah launched rockets that rained down during the 2006 Lebanon war, and rockets from Gaza have repeatedly been fired into Israel’s south.

Despite concerns about the risks, top masterworks are frequently exhibited in Israeli museums on loan from world institutions and collectors.

Only a few rockets have whistled over the skies of Tel Aviv during the current conflict, and the city is considered safer than other Israeli towns along the Gaza border. So the Tel Aviv museum let southern Israelis visit the museum for free — and reduced admission for everyone else to account for the 200 or so missing spots on the museum walls. The Israel Museum and Eretz Israel Museum also offered free and discounted entry.