The titular institution in the documentary The Museum is the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The movie’s director is Ran Tal. And I’m glad that this is the first film I’m seeing of his and I want to see more.
There’s the easy route of seeing museums like a historical travelogue would. Tal, however, chooses not to do that. He instead looks at the space and its objects in relation to the people within the space.
In doing so it challenges stereotypes about the relationship between Jewish people and art. The stereotype places them as consumers of art, but they’re subjects and creators of it as well. Tal looks at those complex relationships.
The main question, of course, is how does a people with a history of oppression and imperialism look at art? How do they contextualize images of the people who oppressed them or the people they share land with?
Tal takes a look at the museum’s permanent collection, which includes Egyptian sculptures. This puts some of the museum’s workers at an impasse. They consider what the Torah says as opposed to what ‘history’ says about Egypt.
The museum has to grapple with all these issues while having to attract locals and tourists. Tal shows that balance within the institution that has its share of events and unveilings. It always has to revitalize its space.
Tal also takes a look at the employees, watching them do they work as they narrate their origins. They come from all over the world – Baku, Jerusalem, America, all of them coming home to tell their stories.
There’s a working class tint to Tal’s approach when he focuses on these human subjects. There’s a stereotype about art belonging to society’s upper echelons. He mostly dismantles that stereotype, showing that art is for the people.