Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought

An Exhibition and The Dorothy Saxe Invitational

February 16–September 9, 2012


Terry Berlier, Reclaimed Time, 2011. Salvaged wood, 24 in. diam, 1 1/2 in. deep. Courtesy of the artist. Created for Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought; an Exhibition and the Dorothy Saxe Invitational.
Rodney Graham, Welsh Oaks #2, 1998. From a suite of 7 black and white photographs, 48 x 36 in. Private collection. Photo courtesy of Donald Young Gallery, Chicago. Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought; an Exhibition and the Dorothy Saxe Invitational. On View February 16–September 9, 2012. Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.


Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought is an exciting opportunity to explore the subject of the tree in Jewish tradition through the lens of contemporary artists who enable us to see the world in new ways and to encourage us to find fresh meaning in tradition. The tree is a universally potent symbol with particular significance in Judaism, especially now as global environmental concerns have begun to impact contemporary Jewish practice.

The title of the exhibition Do Not Destroy (Bal Tashchit in Hebrew), is taken from a commandment in the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:19) that forbids the wanton destruction of trees during wartime. During the rabbinical period, this concept was broadened to encompass humanity’s responsibility to shield all of nature from unnecessary harm. This ancient evidence of environmental protection, along with the rise of a distinctly Jewish environmental movement, inspired the CJM to explore a parallel initiative within contemporary art practice. By creating works of art with the tree as a central motif, artists reference the real world while envisioning an alternative.

Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought is a two-part exhibition. The first is the continuation of a long-running series at the Contemporary Jewish Museum—The Dorothy Saxe Invitational—in which artists from diverse backgrounds and working in a range of medium are invited to explore a Jewish ritual object. Over 50 contemporary artists from across the United States were invited to create new works of art from reclaimed wood and in response to themes inspired by the holiday of Tu B’Shevat. A minor Jewish holiday that celebrates the New Year of the tree is full of inspiration for artists. In fact, it is a holiday ripe with twenty-first century relevance, mystical curiosities, and ancient symbolism—including an all-vegan feast with four cups of wine progressing from white to red, with shades of pink in between. The invited artists have responded by creating an extraordinary variety of objects in a range of media including sculpture, installation, video, drawing, and painting.

Do Not Destroy also probes the role of the tree in contemporary art more broadly by presenting a selection of works by an international roster of artists for whom the tree has served as the subject of a discrete project like Rodney Graham, Charles Labelle , Yoko Ono, and Yuken Teruya, or ongoing investigation like Gabriela Albergaria, Zadok Ben David, April Gornik, Roxy Paine, and Rona Pondick.  Through their works, we are permitted entry into their makers’ visions of an idealized world—one of enchanted forests and whimsy where the natural beauty of the tree is evaluated, deconstructed, and monumentalized. Other artists posit trees as storytellers, keepers of secrets, witnesses of history, and proof of the impact of human behavior on the environment.

Taken together, both components of the exhibition offer an opportunity to commune with trees through video, photography, sculpture, and painting—to be awed by their scale, longevity, transformative powers, and their ability to encourage deeper thinking about history, the environment, and our place in the world. Through these works, we align ourselves with the ancient dictum of Do Not Destroy, a commandment to not only protect trees but to dream of a better world.


Press Release


Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art and Jewish Thought an Exhibition and The Dorothy Saxe Invitational was organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum and made possible by leadership gifts from the Jim Joseph Foundation, Dorothy Saxe Invitational Fund, and Dorothy R. Saxe. Presenting partners for this exhibition include the Columbia Foundation and an anonymous donor. Major support was provided by Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, Ruth and Alan Stein and Barbara and Howard Wollner. Additional support was generously provided by Marilyn Yolles Waldman and Murry Waldman, Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, and San Francisco Recreation & Parks.

Jim Joseph Foundationcolumbia_wybcbd israel_logosf_rec_park

Essential support for the publication has been provided by Fred Levin & Nancy Livingston, The Shenson Foundation, in memory of Ben and A. Jess Shenson.School and teacher programs for Do Not Destroy are supported by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and an anonymous donor.Koret and Taube Foundations are the lead supporters of the 2011/12 exhibition season.



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