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Jewish Culture & IdeasContemporary Art

Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art: Highlights from SFMOMA’s Collection

Jun 28, 2013–Oct 27, 2013

Beyond Belief is an expansive exhibition exploring the spiritual dimensions of modern art, especially as seen through the lens of Jewish theological concepts. The exhibition features forty-eight internationally-known artists whose work—painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation art—are all drawn from SFMOMA’s outstanding collection. Ranging from a 1914 abstraction by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian to a luminous 1960 abstraction by Mark Rothko and oversized prayer beads by contemporary artist Zarina, Beyond Belief provides an engaging alternative that prioritizes spirituality in the reading of art.

about the exhibition

Co-organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art is an expansive exhibition conceived as a journey into the connections between spirituality and modern and contemporary art. Spanning the years from 1911 to 2011, the exhibition features more than sixty works on loan to the CJM from SFMOMA’s internationally acclaimed collection—ranging from popular favorites to some that have not been seen by the public for many years—and includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, video, and installation. The artists represent a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and interests: early twentieth-century visionaries such as Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian; such mid-century innovators as Alberto Giacometti, Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko; leading postwar artists including Bruce Conner,  Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, and Nam June Paik; and a diverse group of contemporary artists, among them Teresita Fernández, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Zarina.

Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art is the first in a series of collaborative museum exhibitions that SFMOMA has developed as part of its extensive off-site programming during the two-and-a-half year construction phase of its major expansion project. The exhibition is curated by Karen Tsujimoto, curator; Jeanne Gerrity, curatorial associate; and Daniel Schifrin, writer-in-residence, at the CJM; and Janet Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture; Corey Keller, curator of photography; Caitlin Haskell, assistant curator of painting and sculpture; and Peter Samis, associate curator of interpretation, at SFMOMA.

gallery photos

Beyond Belief is divided into ten sections, organized under headings that examine widely held spiritual ideas, many of which closely parallel or are rooted in Jewish religious thought—such as the Bible’s original creation story and the bias against literal depictions of God. The exhibition begins, aptly, with Genesis and wends its way through different sections that reveal how artists have addressed diverse spiritual ideas, such as the invisible presence of God, death, redemption, mystical writing, and the understanding of God as a divine architect.

A digital exhibition allowed the public to explore and interact with many of the works and exhibition themes online at beyondbelief.thecjm.org, which included artist interviews, additional background information on select works, interactive elements, and more.

Sharing Sculpture

How did 7,000 lbs of steel make their way from the sculpture garden of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to The Contemporary Jewish Museum?

singing with fire

The CJM served a feast for all the senses in Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month, inspired by the exhibition Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art. One of the featured performances came from the Lick Wilmerding High School Vocal Ensemble. Here they are practicing alongside one of the highlights of the exhibition, Fire, by the artist Teresita Fernández.


Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art is jointly organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The Koret Foundation, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, and the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund are the lead supporters of the exhibition. Osterweis Capital Management is the major sponsor. The Yerba Buena Community Benefit District; John and Marcia Goldman Foundation; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, Simcha Foundation; Nellie and Max Levchin; Randee and Joe Seiger; and Lydia and Douglas Shorenstein are supporting sponsors of the exhibition. The Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation, Phyllis Cook, Dorothy R. Saxe, Betty and Jack Schafer, Roselyne Chroman Swig, Marilyn Yolles Waldman and Murry Waldman, and Barbara and Howard Wollner are participating sponsors.

Public Programs and New Media Initiatives at The CJM are made possible with lead support from The Jim Joseph Foundation. Major support has been provided by the Leavitt Family and supporting sponsorship comes from The Toole Family Charitable Foundation, David B. Gold Foundation, In Memory of Benjamin Alpert, and Alyse Mason Brill and Nathan Brill.

Lead support for Family Programs at The Contemporary Jewish Museum is provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Presenting partners include The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and Target. Major support comes from Bank of America. Additional support is provided by Valerie and Norman Snart, in honor of Waldo and Helen Blumberg.

School and Teacher Programs at the CJM are made possible by PG&E.

Leadership support comes from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation with additional generous support from Carmen Castro-Franceschi and Paul Franceschi, First Republic Bank, the Morris Stulsaft Foundation, and the Ullendorf Memorial Foundation.

Image Credit

Visitors as seen through Teresita Fernández's piece Fire (2005). Silk yarn, steel armature, and epoxy. 96 in. x 144 in. Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase. © Teresita Fernández. From the exhibition Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art, on view  Jun 28–Oct 27, 2013 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Photo by Gary Sexton Photography.