Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Romy Golan

Committee Members

Marta Gutman

Nebahat Avcıoğlu

Dalia Manor

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Modern Art and Architecture


Israeli art, exhibition history, modernism, internationalism, Zionism, Israel-Palestine


This dissertation analyzes the role Israeli art exhibitions played in nation-building from 1939 to 1965. During this formative period, Israeli artists, curators, and government officials established new art institutions in the country and participated in a growing roster of international exhibitions overseas. Together, the art and architecture of these exhibitions helped to produce a concept of both modern Israeli art and Israel itself as a modern nation. As much as the project of Zionism rested on the creation of a homogenous Hebrew culture, the formation of “Israeli art” in these exhibitions relied on postwar European claims for visual art as a transcultural form—an art beyond borders but not without borders. The dissertation outlines the interrelation between contemporary debates in international modern art and architecture and the national visual identity of the state of Israel. It does so by situating Israeli art exhibitions among three competing discourses: narratives of national independence; Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regionalisms; and claims of European universalism. The dissertation charts how concepts of Israeli art and culture were refined through exhibitions abroad while conflict at home grew over the identity of the nation and how it could be represented. It focuses equally on exhibitions in Israel and abroad to examine how the international circulation of Israeli art impacted its reception inside the country. Chapters 2 and 3 detail Israeli participation in the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and the 1952 Venice Biennale, respectively, while chapters 1 and 4 examine two exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, one in 1948 to commemorate the declaration of the State of Israel, and one in 1957, which controversially displayed a painting by Naftali Bezem depicting state violence against Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel. The dissertation concludes with a chapter on the establishment of Israel’s national museum in Jerusalem in 1965. At the Israel Museum, UNESCO’s internationalist aesthetics were adapted for the Israeli context while Israeli art itself was marginalized in the museum. The dissertation reframes the national project of defining Israeli art and architecture through international cultural movements and regional political pressures. Moreover, by examining the close relationship between international modernism and the promotion of Israel as a national project, it demonstrates how national narratives continued to shape the international art world after World War II.

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