Plan your visit to The CJM!
JKA Photography

Contemporary ArtJewish Culture & Ideas

Ned Kahn: Negev Wheel

Jul 28, 2016–Jan 8, 2017

Ned Kahn was commissioned to create a singular large sculpture with a smaller complementary untitled piece for The Contemporary Jewish Museum. Spanning twenty feet in diameter, Negev Wheel is an immense, slowly spinning disc filled with sand from the Negev desert in Israel; the piece presents an ever-changing, mesmerizing image of tumbling change. The sand from that region is made of a mixture of sands from a great many geographic sources, representing complexity within unity and constant evolution within permanence.


Dr. Elana Stein Hain of the Shalom Hartman Institute points out that Genesis begins with chaos that is made into order. The world is a never-ending cycle of chaos followed by order falling into chaos, repeating forever. Dr. Stein Hain points out other paired states that can be considered in the same way: meaning and meaninglessness, stagnation and generation, weakness and strength. In his work Negev Wheel, Bay Area artist Ned Kahn explores these metaphors by reenacting the historical drama of tumbling desert sand, contained inside a circular spinning wheel. If a grain of sand is the vulnerable individual, a mountain of sand can have tremendous aggregate power. Thus in the context of The Contemporary Jewish Museum, Kahn’s work raises essential Jewish questions about building a reality of meaning, community, and generation.

The great American twentieth century artist Robert Smithson wrote often about liminal space—blank and meaningless—the kind of place we often think of as barren, functionless, and unclaimed. Dr. Stein Hain also suggests that such places are often at the periphery of things, like beaches or deserts, places where chaos, potential, and ordered creation cross paths.

Kahn says of the project that:

For Negev Wheel I’ll be using sand from the desert in Israel, which is a complex mixture of sands blown by the wind for centuries from all over the region. The idea is to take a piece of the desert, frame it in a circular enclosure, subject it to elemental forces (rotation and gravity), and then let it express its nature.

This is a complexity within unity and constant evolution within permanence. In the context of a Jewish museum, the work is a poetic reminder of a culture’s survival and evolution through the changes and turmoil of history.

about ned kahn

Ned Kahn (b. 1960, Connecticut) is an environmental artist and sculptor who creates installation works that explore, mimic, and play with forces and phenomena found in nature. Kahn’s artworks, at the intersection of art and science, invite audiences to immerse themselves into natural elements such as tornadoes, fog, clouds, and wind currents—or turbulences, as he calls them. A Bay Area resident for over twenty years, his hybrid work, as a synthesis of nature, art, and technology, makes the invisible forces of nature suddenly visible to the viewers’ eyes.

Holding a BA in Environmental Studies from the University of Connecticut, he has realized dozens of public art commissions all over the world, both permanent and temporary, in science and art museums as well as public and private construction projects. Kahn has received numerous awards for his work, including a 2003 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Grant, and the 2009 Americans for the Arts Public Art Award.


Ned Kahn: Negev Wheel is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Major sponsorship is provided by the Koret Foundation. Supporting sponsorship is been provided by Roselyne Chroman Swig and Marilyn and Murry Waldman.

Image Credit

Header image: Ned Kahn, Negev Wheel, 2016. Sand, steel, and motor, 20 ft diameter. Image courtesy of Ned Kahn Studios.