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Kitsch Is Culture: Imprinted Drinkware Exhibit A Window To Israeli History

“A Toast To Israel!” features decorated glassware from Israel’s early decades.

Knick-knacks, tchotchkes, kitsch. If you work in promo, you’ve probably heard such words used to refer to promotional products and branded merchandise in a derogatory manner. But can so-called kitsch carry meaningful cultural significance? Yes, according to the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.

The multidisciplinary museum, which hosts exhibits focused on Israeli culture, is currently showcasing a display called a “A Toast To Israel!” Marking seven decades of the State of Israel, the exhibition features embellished drinkware produced in the Levantine nation from its early years through the mid-1970s.

According to the Eretz Israel Museum, the featured glasses were found in virtually every Israeli household. Most were commercial, affordable, mass-produced glassware intended for everyday use, decoration, or remembrance.

“Displayed alongside a variety of popular art products, promotional/advertising material, and consumer goods ("Israeliana"), as well as institutional material (postage stamps, coins, and medals), these glasses provide a dynamic framework reflecting the spirit of the time, lifestyle, historical events, cultural trends and ideas,” the museum said in an exhibit description.

Imprinted glasses showing regional maps. Photo by Hadar Saifun, appearing in ISRAEL 21c.

Interestingly, Eretz Israel Museum selected the glassware it did because of its symbolism and common use among everyday Israelis, not because of its craftsmanship or couture design. “These objects shed light on the emerging Israeli experience,” the museum said. “Fashioned in a new reality, their rich imagery and messages – whether explicit or implicit – aimed at consolidating social cohesion and solidarity.”

Photo by Hadar Saifun, appearing in ISRAEL 21c.

Most of the drinkware comes from private collections. “A Toast To Israel!” is on display through Dec. 29. If you’re heading to Tel Aviv, check it out. And consider: One generation’s tchotchkes just might become subsequent generations’ valuable cultural artifacts of a time gone by.