An astonishing new cultural institution for the Middle East has now opened to the public. Situated on a hilltop near Ramallah in the West Bank, the $24m Palestinian Museum was opened officially in a gala inauguration ceremony on May 18. Over 700 guests mingled on a broad pavilion in the afternoon sun, while musicians played a classical Arab repertoire in the terraced gardens below. As night fell, dancers performed in a small amphitheatre, and a lightshow was projected onto the museum’s white limestone façade.
Yet the museum opened without any artefacts in its galleries or artworks on its walls.
The empty halls quickly came to define the Palestinian Museum in the international press. “Palestinian Museum Prepares to Open, Minus Exhibitions,” declared a pre-emptory report in the New York Times (May 16). The absence of artefacts has featured in the headlines or opening sentences of every media report since.