Situated on the West Bank north of Jerusalem, The Palestine Museum has officially opened, only one key feature is missing: the exhibits.
Using white Bethlehem limestone to form angular volumes that rise up from the rugged site, the museum is designed by Dublin-based firm Heneghan Peng. Sitting on land gifted from the local Birzeit University, the $60 million project has had, much like its surroundings, endured a rocky journey. Initially conceived in 1997, political turbulence has stopped and stalled the museum’s progress, however, some two decades on, it is finally here. The only thing left to do now is to fill it.
Interestingly, one museum that did open in that timeframe (in 1999) was the Jewish Museum by Daniel Libeskind in Berlin. This, like Heneghan Peng’s, opened without any exhibits and in fact remained that way for some two years. Attracting much attention, many critics even called for the museum to remain empty such was the power of its spatial qualities.
The same however, has not yet been said of The Palestine Museum, though its emptiness could potentially be seen as some form of commentary on its locality. Nonetheless, exhibits are on the way and its inaugural exhibition Never Part is set to showcase artefacts of Palestinian refugees. Even this, though, has been delayed after a dispute between former director Jack Persekian and the museum’s board.
The building itself, despite residing in a rocky location, actually sits on terracing intended to reflect the stepped nature of the agricultural landscape, something the museum’s chair, Omar al-Qattan has described as “symbolically critical.”
al-Qattan also commented that Palestinians were “so in need of positive energy” that the museum—even in opening exhibition-less—was worth it.
Covering only 37,673 square feet, the building will hold a climate-controlled gallery space, classrooms, offices, and an amphitheater, along with the usual amenities including a cafeteria with outdoor seating and a gift shop. Further construction is also penned to be finished within the next ten years, adding 107,639 square feet which will accommodate more galleries.
For the moment, the museum’s primary exhibition space, as Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian reports, remains a windowless hall punctuated only by wheelbarrows, cement mixers, and prints of architectural drawings smeared in Arabic, answers to “What is Palestine?”
Come June 1, whether it is filled or not, the museum will be opened to the public and free of charge – so there can be no complaints of getting your money’s worth.