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In That Case: Havruta In Contemporary Art—Allison Smith and Christina Zetterlund

An ancient Talmudic study principle reinterpreted by artist Allison Smith in collaboration with craft and design historian Christina Zetterlund

July 20, 2017–July 8, 2018

Opening Reception: July 20, 2017; 5–8pm with talk at 6:30pm


(San Francisco, CA, June 1, 2017) Dialogue has always been an integral part of learning in traditional Jewish contexts. The Talmud states, “Just as in the case of iron, when one implement sharpens another, so too do two scholars sharpen each other.”

The Contemporary Jewish Museum repurposes the centuries-old practice of havruta—the study of religious texts by people in pairs—for the contemporary art community. An ongoing exhibition series, In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art, brings individual Bay Area artists together with a scholar, scientist, writer, or other professional of his or her choice for a ten-week fellowship in creativity. The resulting collaborations are presented in The Museum’s Sala Webb Education Center.

The current installation features the work of artist Allison Smith in collaboration with Christina Zetterlund, a craft and design historian and theoretician based at the Konstfack in Sweden.

Smith has created a number of projects that consider traditional craft and historical reenactments in the context of the United States. Smith first met Zetterlund during her recent residency in Stockholm and they discovered a shared interest in the politics of handcraft and its use in both progressive and conservative social movements. Through a series of emails, shared texts, Skype sessions, and in-person visits in Stockholm and San Francisco, their exchanges have explored the role of traditional craft in constructions of nationalism and processes of colonization, and have specifically delved into the writings and teachings of the Jewish Swedish educator, Otto Salomon (1849–1907; born in Gothenburg, Sweden), whose work focused on the concept of sljöd (pronounced sloyd), a term which can be defined as “craft” or manual “skill.”

The new work created for this exhibition, titled Models for a System, will be presented in an installation that plays with the conventions of period rooms and living history museums. 

The exhibition is on view July 20, 2017–July 8, 2018 with a public reception on July 20, 2017 from 5–8pm. At that reception, there will be a discussion at 6:30pm between Smith, Zettlerlund, and CJM Associate Curator Anastasia James on the subject of craft and identity. The reception and talk are free with admission of just $5 after 5pm.

Organization and Funding

In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art—Allison Smith and Christina Zetterlund is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. This exhibition is made possible with generous support from the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation. Additional support is provided by Rosanne and Al Levitt. In-Kind support is provided by Lim & Handtryck.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum thanks The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for its lead sponsorship of The Museum’s exhibition program.

In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art—Allison Smith and Christina Zetterlund opens to the public on July 20, 2017 in conjunction with two other exhibitions opening the same day, Kutiman: offgrid offline and The 613 by Archie Rand.

Allison Smith

Smith has exhibited her work nationally and internationally since 1995. She has produced over twenty-five solo exhibitions, installations, performances, and artist-led participatory projects for venues such as SFMoMA, Public Art Fund, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, and The Arts Club of Chicago, among many others. Smith has exhibited her work in group exhibitions at galleries and museums including MoMA P.S.1; Palais de Tokyo; the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art; MASS MoCA; The Andy Warhol Museum; and the Tang Museum. She was, until recently, Associate Professor and Chair of the Sculpture Program at California College of the Arts and is now Associate Professor of Art at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art in Pittsburgh.

The Jewish Tradition of Havruta

In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art draws inspiration from the traditional Jewish learning method of studying the Talmud in pairs, havruta. The Talmud itself is a book of scholarly exchange with writings outlining Jewish law by multiple rabbinic authors in two parts—the Mishnah, a transcription of the Oral Torah (c. 200 CE) and the Gemara, commentary on the laws (c. 500 CE). There are approximately 120 known authors of the Mishnah alone. Contrasted with the university model where students passively listen to lectures to absorb information, havruta demands active participation and engagement with the texts being studied. The root word haver—“friend” in Hebrew—emphasizes the communal nature of learning, and the havruta learning model reflects the Jewish affinity for asking questions and grappling with complex topics, together.

About The Contemporary Jewish Museum

With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, The Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase L’Chaim (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation. The Museum also thanks the Jim Joseph Foundation for its major support of innovative strategies for educating and engaging audiences in Jewish learning. Additional major support is provided by an Anonymous donor; Alyse and Nathan Mason Brill; Carbon Five; Gaia Fund; the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Millennium Partners, the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Osterweis Capital Management; The Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund; RayKo; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; and Wendy and Richard Yanowitch.

For more information about The Contemporary Jewish Museum, visit The Museum’s website at

General Information

The Museum is open daily (except Wednesday) 11am–5pm and Thursday, 11am–8pm. Museum admission is $14 for adults, $12 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID, and $5 on Thursdays after 5pm. Youth 18 and under always get in free. For general information on The Contemporary Jewish Museum, the public may visit The Museum’s website at or call 415.655.7800. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between Third & Fourth streets), San Francisco. 

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