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Jewish Culture & IdeasContemporary Art

Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought: An Exhibition and The Dorothy Saxe Invitational

Feb 16, 2012–Sep 9, 2012

Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought explores 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.

about the exhibition

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.

image gallery
nomadic grove

We believe that the human environment—public space in particular—should be infused with ecological knowledge, resilient to changing social conditions, responsive to creative impulses, and filled with opportunities for benevolence, conviviality, and delight. We design to make that happen.

Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio, recognized for creating reconfigurable, reprogrammable spaces for changing urban conditions, was invited by The CJM to create a project on Jessie Square in front of The Museum. The CJM asked Rebar to consider the themes of the tree holiday of Tu B’Shevat in designing an installation that includes casual seating for lounging and audience seating for outdoor Museum programming related to the exhibition. In response, Rebar used recycled lumber to create a group of gem-shaped planters with brightly colored edges that can be moved into various configurations, both practical and playful.

Rebar describes Nomadic Grove as:

a meditation on rootedness in the relentlessly changing city. To sit, relaxed, looking up at a tree framing the sky is a simple and profound human experience, but one in surprisingly short supply in modern cities. Perhaps it is because trees resist the city's constant motion, the city's ruthlessness—they are specific in a world of impatient cosmopolitanism

To fill the planters, Rebar selected oak and olive trees that are adapted to the climates of both Israel and the Bay Area, representing the Mediterranean biome that is shared between the two regions and that resonate symbolically with the holiday of Tu B’Shevat.

Please sit, relax, meditate, and enjoy.



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.

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.

Image Credit

Header image: April Gornik, Light in the Woods, 2011. Oil on linen, 72 x 108 in. Syndey and Walda Bestoff Collection. Photo courtesy of the artist and Danese, New York.