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  • Aug 21, 2020

Asian Art Museum in Israel Robbed

Exterior view of the Wilfrid Israel Museum of Asian Art

The Wilfrid Israel Museum of Asian Art and Studies, located in the northern kibbutz of Hazorea, was robbed on August 18, less than a week after it reopened following Covid-19 induced closures. While the losses in financial terms are yet to be confirmed, 27 antique works of art were stolen and 10 others were damaged.

Authorities were contacted in the morning of August 19 when the theft was discovered by museum director Nurit Asher Fenig. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Fenig reported that the museum’s alarms were deactivated and the security cameras were turned away from the crime scene in the permanent exhibition room. Local police suspect perpetrators were familiar with the museum’s layout. While investigations are ongoing, details including the identity of the perpetrators and their exact time of entry are still unknown.

Many of the stolen items were from the collection of the late businessman and philanthropist Wilfrid Israel, whose donation of Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Cambodian antiques in 1943 to the kibbutz of Hazorea in Mandate Palestine led to the opening of the museum in 1951. Among the pieces stolen are a second century or third century stone sculpture of a Bodhisattva from India, a Chinese Tang dynasty sculpture of a tomb guard, and a bronze-gilded sculpture of the head of the Buddha from 14th or 15th-century Thailand. 

While thefts at larger art institutions in Israel are uncommon, Fenig said that smaller museums have “very limited” resources to prevent such crimes, according to The Art Newspaper. The heist at the Wilfrid Israel Museum of Asian Art and Studies follows thefts at Tel Aviv’s Hezi Cohen Gallery in 2017 and in 2018, at the Mishkan Museum of Art in the Ein Harod kibbutz. 

The Wilfrid Israel Museum of Asian Art and Studies is the first museum in Israel to primarily showcase East Asian art. Today, the institution exhibits both antique and contemporary artworks from Asia. While its permanent collection, which houses around 1,000 works of art, is now closed to the public, special exhibitions including Maya Smira’s solo video exhibition “Dancing Stillness,” Meydad Eliyahu’s sculptural installation exhibition “Threshold,” and a group exhibition “A Contemporary Glance at Indian Miniature” are on view. 

Fion Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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