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Jewish HistoryJewish Culture & IdeasContemporary Art

In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis

Jun 8, 2008–Jan 6, 2009

The exhibition pairs seven new artist commissions, including works by Matthew Ritchie, Ben Rubin, and Shirley Shor, with a range of historically important works by Marc Chagall, William Blake, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and others in order to explore our changing understanding of the story of creation as depicted in Genesis Chapter 1.

about the exhibition

In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis explores the continuing relevance of the story of creation in Genesis Chapter I. For this exhibition, The Museum commissioned new installations by seven significant contemporary artists: Alan Berliner, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Ben Rubin, Matthew Ritchie, Kay Rosen, Shirley Shor, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. These works, ranging from multimedia and sound installations to computer animations, projections, and wall drawings, are presented in a unique dialogue with a compelling array of historical works, some rarely seen in public, and never before seen together. 

Featured works include: illuminated manuscripts from the Medieval and Renaissance periods; 18th and 19th-century drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and William Blake; and modern and contemporary works by Auguste Rodin, Marc Chagall, Barnett Newman, Jacob Lawrence, Ann Hamilton, and Tom Marioni. The exhibition is uniquely designed to create a lively dialogue between the new installations by the contemporary artists and the historical representations of the story of creation. Illustrating the connections between science and faith, particularly in relation to the idea of creation, In the Beginning will also feature a video of the reading of Genesis Chapter I by the crew of the Apollo 8 spacecraft on December 24, 1968 as a fuzzy earth looms on the screen. At the time, this broadcast was the most watched program on television. 

In the Beginning is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) under the direction of
co-curators Director Connie Wolf, Deputy Director Fred Wasserman, and Assistant Curator Dara Solomon.

image gallery
Genesis Now

Continuing the theme of ongoing commentary, The CJM developed a documentary in which twelve to fifteen scientists, writers, filmmakers, theologians, and others responded to the text of Genesis, Chapter I. Directed by renowned Bay Area filmmaker, Pamela Rorke Levy, this documentary provides viewers with an understanding of the ongoing quest to understand creation, the origins of the universe, and new beginnings.


In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis is generously supported by The Shenson Foundation in memory of Ben and A. Jess Shenson; Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation; and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, celebrating Israel's 60th Anniversary. Funding for the video, Genesis Now, comes from the John Templeton Foundation with additional in-kind support from Pam Rorke Levy.

Image Credit

Header image: Matthew Ritchie, Day One, 2008. Interactive digital animation (installation detail), acrylic and marker on wall. Commissioned for In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis, on view Jun 8, 2008–Jan 6, 2009 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Image courtesy of the artist and Andrea Rosen Gallery. © Matthew Ritchie.