To Build & Be Built: Kibbutz History
Work in Progress: Considering Utopia
(San Francisco, CA, August 26, 2013) Tanned, confident, and physically fit—the kibbutznik became the symbol of contemporary Israeli culture in the early part of the twentieth century. Israel’s kibbutzim, collective farms rooted in socialist and agrarian communal ideals, helped create the infrastructure and culture of the State of Israel, produced a disproportionate number of political and military leaders from the 1920s through the 1960s, and came to define the pioneer generation of Israelis.
Two new exhibitions at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) explore the influence and history of the kibbutz on art and Jewish life. To Build & Be Built: Kibbutz History traces the growth and development of these unique communities through photographic images, ephemera, sound, moving images, and interpretive text. Work in Progress: Considering Utopia presents new work by three contemporary Jewish artists—Oded Hirsch, Ohad Meromi, and Elisheva Biernoff—that offer new meditations on the idea of utopia.
“The utopian ideal has exerted a strong pull on humankind’s imagination for centuries and there have been countless attempts to create intentional communities that promote cooperation, harmony, and happiness,” says Lori Starr, The CJM Executive Director. “The kibbutz movement is a powerful recent example and one that offers a fascinating opportunity to explore how we think about ideal societies, both in the context of Judaism and on a universal level. We’re thrilled to be working with three important Jewish artists to ignite discussion about the ongoing human ‘work in progress’ to create a perfect place.”
To Build & Be Built: Kibbutz History
October 3, 2013 through July 1, 2014
To Build & Be Built: Kibbutz History sets the stage for visitors’ understanding of the kibbutz—one of the most interesting social experiments of the twentieth century and a concept rooted in Jewish teaching. Through approximately thirty photographic images and selected ephemera drawn from important archives and museum collections, as well as sound, moving images, and interpretive text, this intimate exhibition presents a concise overview of the history of the kibbutz movement in Israel, from the early settlements of 1909 to the present day. It also looks at the transformation of the kibbutz as Israel has become increasingly urban and modernized, and the movement’s influence on American and Bay Area Jewish life.
The birth of the kibbutz was a combination of ideology and practical need. The earliest waves of European Jewish pioneers responded to the harsh climate and primitive living conditions of their new home by banding together to create working groups that pooled earnings. With strong Zionist and socialist beliefs, the mostly young pioneers championed the idea that in a Jewish homeland, they would be free of the social and economic restrictions they faced in Europe and so shaped the structure of the kibbutz around communal life and property and a deep connection to the land. Among the movement’s radical social innovations was a policy of raising children not with their parents, but together in their own dormitories.
In 1948, during the Israeli War of Independence, the role of kibbutzim in defining and defending territory became especially clear. With the creation of the State of Israel, the kibbutz inspired Jewish youth movements and summer camps around the world to encourage teens to travel to Israel and work the land.
With the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, the influence of the kibbutz in Israeli life began to diminish. Government policies and their alignment with the capitalist West contributed to this decline, as well as disenchantment with collective child rearing and the new comforts of modern technology.
Starting in the 1980s, many kibbutzim were privatized due to various economic pressures, and kibbutzniks began to rethink their purpose. Today, a significant number of kibbutzim have evolved to become models of urban farming and eco-learning, with summer camps for youth and hotel accommodations for guests. Cities in Israel have seen the creation of “Urban Kibbutzim” that focus on serving the communities in which they are based. The kibbutz’s do-it-yourself ethics and care of the land endure and continue to inspire community planners, youth groups, environmental activists, and artists in Israel and the United States.
Work in Progress: Considering Utopia
October 3, 2013 through January 20, 2014
Community and cooperation are significant concepts to the three artists featured in Work in Progress: Considering Utopia, a contemporary art exhibition that encourages visitors to think about what utopia can mean today.
Oded Hirsch and Ohad Meromi, whose work is being shown in a West Coast art museum for the first time, are both New York-based Israeli artists with personal connections to kibbutzim and a common interest in channeling the collective energy and participatory nature of the kibbutz model in their work, while also reflecting on declining idealism. San Francisco-based artist Elisheva Biernoff’s interest lies in the importance of human action in the ongoing quest for utopia. This is reflected in the commissioned work she has created specifically for this exhibition that invites visitor participation.
Oded Hirsch (born 1976, Kibbutz Afikim, Israel) has received significant critical acclaim for his contemplative video vignettes filmed on the kibbutz in the Jordan Valley where the artist grew up. In these works, process is more important than outcome, and collective action prevails over tangible results. Verdant land and expansive water provide the backdrop for the communal actions of kibbutzniks, as they work together to build a bridge in Tochka (2011) or hoist the artist’s wheelchair-bound father up to a watchtower in the Sea of Galilee in 50 Blue (2009). In addition to these two videos, the exhibition also features five of Hirsch’s vibrant photographs, including three works from the new series The Tractor (2013), inspired by the 1930 Soviet film Earth, which addressed collective landownership in the Ukraine.
Ohad Meromi (born 1967, Kibbutz Mizra, Israel) utilizes a broad spectrum of media to create dynamic, interactive environments and explore social relationships. Architectural elements, set design components, sculptural figures, and other components form a tableau that creates a feeling of communal energy and encourages participation and open-ended discussion. Meromi contributes an ambitious, new installation titled 1967 (the year of the artist’s birth) that offers a nuanced interpretation of utopia through the prisms of past and future. The installation is centered around a theatrical stage inspired by the chadar ochel (dining hall) of the kibbutz, a gathering place for community. Visitors are encouraged to walk on, through, and around the installation. A broad range of influences—from Russian constructivism to recent Israeli history—inform the experience. Further participation will occur throughout the run of the exhibition, when visitors will be invited to take part in activations.
Local artist Elisheva Biernoff (born 1980) has been commissioned to create a work specifically for the exhibition. The Tools Are in Your Hands is a magnetic wall painting of an Edenic pastoral scene. Visitors choose from hundreds of magnets to build their own utopian vistas on the wall. Another new Biernoff work, Approaching Utopia, will be visible through the window facing Yerba Buena Lane, offering a glimpse into the exhibition to an audience outside the Museum’s walls. In this mural, an allegorical figure of utopia is surrounded by flags representing both historical and contemporary activist movements—the Earth Day flag, the Woman’s Suffrage flag, and more.
Elisheva Biernoff was born in 1980 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and currently lives and works in San Francisco. She received her BA from Yale University in 2002 and her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2009. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco; San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery; and Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, CA. She was a 2012 finalist for the SFMOMA SECA Award.
Oded Hirsch was born in 1976 on Kibbutz Afikim, Israel, and currently lives and works in Queens, New York. He graduated from the Neri Bloomfield School of Design in Haifa, Israel, in 2006, and received his MFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 2008. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams; the Soap Factory, Minneapolis; the Queens Museum of Art, New York; Jewish Museum, Munich; and the 2012 Liverpool Biennial, United Kingdom. He is the recent recipient of a Jerome Foundation Film Grant, Six Points Fellowship, and New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.
Ohad Meromi was born in 1967 on Kibbutz Mizra, Israel, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He received his BFA from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem in 1992, and his MFA from Columbia University in New York in 2003. He has had solo exhibitions at Art in General, New York; PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; The Tel Aviv Museum of Art; The Jewish Museum, New York; and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Sculpture Center, New York; Magasin 3, Stockholm; the Carrara International Sculpture Biennial, Italy; the Lyon Biennial, France; and the Public Art Fund, New York. Meromi received the Foundation for Contemporary Art’s Grants to Artists award in 2008.
Work in Progress: Considering Utopia and To Build & Be Built: Kibbutz History are organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Major sponsorship for these exhibitions is provided by Gaia Fund. Supporting sponsorship has been provided by The Lucius N. Littauer Foundation.
Oded Hirsch and Lori Starr in Conversation
Thursday, Oct 3 | 8pm
Advance tickets $10 Members; $12 General; $15 at the door
Program takes place at the Oshman Family JCC, Palo Alto
Israeli artist Oded Hirsch whose work is featured in the exhibition Work in Progress: Considering Utopia will be in conversation with The CJM Executive Director Lori Starr.
Presented in partnership with Israeli Cultural Connection (ICC).
Ohad Meromi and Lori Starr in Conversation
Friday, Oct 4 | 1–2:30pm
Free with Museum admission
Join contemporary artist Ohad Meromi, born in 1967 on Kibbutz Mizra, and The CJM Executive Director Lori Starr for a discussion about moments of Israeli history and the artist’s life that are woven throughout his installation, 1967. Meromi created this site-specific artwork—inspired by the chadar ochel (dining hall) and nexus of kibbutz community—for the exhibition Work in Progress: Considering Utopia.
Site Specific Performances in Ohad Meromi’s sculpture 1967
Thursdays, Oct 10, Nov 7, Dec 5, Jan 16 | 6:30–7:15pm
Free with Museum admission
In partnership with the Center for New Music, The CJM offers four site-specific performances in conjunction with the exhibition Work In Progress: Considering Utopia. Each performance features an improvising duo of one musician and one dancer. The performances will happen within the gallery and “activate” Ohad Meromi’s sculpture 1967. Highly acclaimed local dance artists Christine Bonansea, Shinichi Iova-Koga, Dohee Lee, and Justin Morrison will be paired with members of the Rova Saxophone Quartet and guitarist Jacob Felix Heule for these one-of-a-kind activations of the Museum's gallery.
Thursday, Oct 10, 2013
Jacob Felix Heule + Christine Bonansea
Thursday, Nov 7, 2013
Steve Adams + Shinichi Iova-Koga
Thursday, Dec 5, 2013
Jon Raskin + Justin Morrison
Thursday, Jan 16, 2014
Larry Ochs + Dohee Lee
Tuesday, Nov 5 | 2–4pm
Free as part of Free First Tuesdays
Set in a futuristic dystopia, Metropolis (1927) takes place in 2026 “when the populace is divided between workers who must live in the dark underground and the rich who enjoy a futuristic city of splendor.” Directed by Fritz Lang and considered a crowning achievement of German expressionist film (124 min). Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Work in Progress: Considering Utopia.
Tuesday, Dec 3 | 2–4pm
Free as part of Free First Tuesdays
Pastel unitards are the uniform of the idyllic society set in the year 2274. Living in a city within an enclosed dome, there is little or no work for humans to perform and inhabitants are free to pursue all of the pleasures of life. Starring Michael York, Farah Fawcett, Peter Ustinov. (1976, 120 min). Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Work in Progress: Considering Utopia.
About The Contemporary Jewish Museum
With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, The Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase “L’Chaim” (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.
Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation. The Museum also thanks the Jim Joseph Foundation for its major support of innovative strategies for educating and engaging audiences in Jewish learning. Additional major support is provided by an Anonymous Donor; Alyse and Nathan Mason Brill; The Covenant Foundation; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Gaia Fund; Denise Garone and Stuart A. Kogod; The John & Marcia Goldman Foundation; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Nellie and Max Levchin; the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Osterweis Capital Management; Alison Gelb Pincus and Mark Pincus; The Skirball Foundation; Ruth and Alan Stein; Roselyne Chroman Swig; Target; and Anita and Ronald Wornick.
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CJM General Information
The Museum is open daily (except Wednesday) 11am–5pm and Thursday, 1–8pm. Museum admission is $12 for adults; $10 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID; and $5 on Thursdays after 5pm. Youth 18 and under are always free. For general information on the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the public may visit the Museum’s web site at thecjm.org or call 415.655.7800. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between Third & Fourth Streets), San Francisco.