Nissan Perez

Arnold's involvement with Israel and with the Israel Museum in particular goes back many decades. When I arrived in the museum, he already was one of the pillars of the establishment, and the structure I was to become part of. In this respect, I was most fortunate. Meeting Arnold Newman, a legend in his time, was certaily one of the high moments of my career and a signifivcent event in my life, especially since he became a mentor, an adviser, a friend, and above all family, as him and Gus always offered their warmth and hospitality.

The Israel Museum opened its doors in May 1965, an event Arnold Newman was covering for LOOK magazine. In fact, from that day on, Arnold had one idea in mind (and we all know that when Arnold had an idea he would never let go!): such a modern institution had to have photography as part of its art collection. At the time this certainly was a revolutionary concept, and thanks to Arnold's efforts, and beyond all his persistence, it became one of the first art museums to have an independent photography department. So, having half convinced Teddy Kollek of the importance, he became informally the museum's first curator at large.

As the first curator, Arnold was already actively collecting photographs for the yet to be departnment and collection. Well, maybe calling it collecting, as he used to say is too politically correct. In fact he was swapping photograohs with colleagues, begging, stealing, at times buying with meagre funds and storing all this under his bed. He approached all his frends and asked them to donate to the future department, and doing so he certainly was most successful. One of the little anecdotes Arnold liked to tell was that at some point in the process of collecting he received a call from Ansel Adams with a baffling reproach: "Arnold, I thought you liked my work, but apperently you don't. Why didn't you ask me for prints for YOUR museum?" While soliciting for photographs, Arnold forgot one of his dearest fiends! Yet as a result of this conversation the collection was blessed with some extraordinary Adams prints.

Finally came the very moment Arnold was dreaminf of. The museum finally committed to establishing a photography department. This was thirty years ago almost to the day. Ona a spring night in april 1977, at 1 am, in the half darkened lobby of the Jerusalem Theatre around a small table sat Mayor Teddy Kollek (with whom the Newman family had a long standing relationship which started when Augusta Newman was helping him smuggle arms into Israel), Arnold Newman, Gérard Lévy, and then chief curator Martin Weyl, in what looked like a conspiracy. The purpose of the meeting was drafting the final document confirming the establishment of an independent photography department at the Israel Museum. That very night the paper was signed and I still remember Arnold sigh of relief and satisfaction as this was the realization of one of his dreams. That called for another cigar (smoking was still legal at the time!).

From that evening on, and for many years Arnold became the president of the group Friends of the Photography Department, a small number of dedicated people involved in the field of photography who saw as a must to support and promote the newly formed department. And since no one can resist Arnold, he naturally was the engine behind all.

His frequent trips to Israel made him one of the regulars at most events, and also gave him the opportunity of following closely the progress of the photography department. As he often said: "It is not my role to interfere, and you should have total freedom, but….." and he would give us a piece of his mind.

I even had the privilege to be his occasional assistant while he was shooting in Jerusalem. Once he even assigned to me the most important task: crouch behind Shimon Peres and pull down on jacket so that the shoulders will stay straight.

When the photography department was formally opened in April 1978 Arnold Newman was the natural choice for the inaugual exhibition. 90 of his works constituted one of the two shows, the second being "Forming a Collection" featuring the images Arnold had the wisdom and vision of collecting over the years for the future department.

Besides his continuous support and friendship, over the years, the Israel Museum was also most fortunate to be the beneficiary of Arnold's generosity as he donated an important group of his photographs for our permanent collection, and this still continues since he also bequested us with another group of important images.

It is thanks to devoted friends like Arnold and the group of people who gathered around him that we were able to form a world class collection which carries his touch and signature.

We miss you, Arnold. We are deeply indebted to you and grateful for what your help and support for so many years and for what you achieved. You will always live in our hearts.

Nissan N. Perez
Senior Curator, Department of Photography
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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