Oct 3, 2013–Jan 20, 2014
Presenting new work by three artists, Work in Progress: Considering Utopia encourages visitors to consider the concept of utopia both in a Jewish context and from a contemporary perspective that emphasizes community and participation. Two videos and five photographs by Oded Hirsch feature members of the artist’s kibbutz engaging in communal activities. Ohad Meromi’s striking sculptural installation inspired by the Chadar Ochel [dining hall] of the kibbutz encourages discussions about the meaning of utopia today, and Elisheva Biernoff’s interactive magnet painting allows visitors to construct their own utopian vista.
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 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 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, visible through the window facing Yerba Buena Lane, offers 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 the exhibitions is provided by Gaia Fund. Supporting sponsorship has been provided by The Lucius N. Littauer Foundation. Additional support provided by Eta and Sass Somekh.