CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM – A Grand Opening!

New facility allows museum to expand exhibitions and programs

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

The Contemporary Jewish Museum is a magnificent gift to the City of San Francisco. The CJM is brimming with life and light, secured in ancient wisdom and rising from grounds that have been shaken and burned but flourish through determination. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the new facility – located at 736 Mission Street in downtown San Francisco’s Yerba Buena cultural district – is an adaptive re-use of the landmark 1907 Jessie Street Power Substation with an extension clad in vibrant blue steel panels. Mr. Libeskind’s design for the new 63,000-square-foot building preserves the character-defining features of the substation and introduces bold contemporary spaces dedicated to galleries, performances, and education programs. The new CJM building embodies the Museum’s mission to be a lively center for engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds and greatly increases the Museum’s space for exhibitions and innovative programs in the visual, performing, and media arts.

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CJM, View from Mission Street. Photo, Bruce Damonte.

Founded in 1984, the CJM has established a history of presenting exhibitions and education programs that explore contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. Embracing a range of disciplines and media, the CJM’s new enhanced exhibition program will include contemporary art projects, historic objects, film and music, scholarly interpretations, and diverse cultural perspectives that offer new entry points to experiencing Jewish culture. At the heart of the new facility is a large education center, which will allow the Museum to provide ongoing education programs in conjunction with its exhibitions for children, youth, adults, and seniors.

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THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM – DANIEL LIBESKIND, Architect

Under the creative direction of architect Daniel Libeskind, the CJM’s new home revives the long-abandoned Jessie Street Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Power Substation building and reflects the Museum’s programmatic vision. Designed by Willis Polk in 1907, the substation played a key role in restoring energy to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Characteristic of Mr. Libeskind’s designs for his building commissions, the structural addition to the original substation is resonant with symbolism. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase “L’Chaim” (To Life), the architect based the extension’s conceptual organizing principles on the two symbolic Hebrew letters of “chai,” the “chet” and the “yud”. In partnership with San Francisco-based WRNS Studio, Libeskind created a dynamic contemporary design intimately connected to the museum-going experience. In addition, the historic conservation of a landmark San Francisco building, which will be accessible to the public for the first time in its more than 100-year history, is meant to be a symbol of the revitalization of both the Yerba Buena district and Jewish tradition and culture.

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CJM, Inside & Out – Facade of the former Jessie Street Power Substation

The CJM’s new facility represents one of the last pieces of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s plan to revitalize the Yerba Buena district, which is located in downtown San Francisco’s South of Market Street (SoMa) neighborhood. Around 1994- 1995, a time when the area was undergoing significant transformation, the Agency granted the Museum use of the Jessie Street Power Substation. A popular destination for locals and tourists alike, the district has become one of the densest museum areas in the country with 12 cultural institutions located within a 16 block radius. The neighborhood will be further enhanced with the development of Jessie Square, a new public plaza situated in front of the new CJM. Envisioned to be an extension of the popular Yerba Buena Gardens located across the street, Jessie Square will be a landscaped community gathering place.

Daniel Libeskind’s design for the Contemporary Jewish Museum combines the history of an early 20th-century San Francisco landmark building with the dynamism of contemporary architecture. An adaptive reuse of the 1907 Willis Polk-designed Jessie Street Power Substation, the finished museum, with its integration of architectural styles, emanates a powerful connection between tradition and innovation. As a whole, and through carefully considered design choices, the building clearly reflects the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s mission to celebrate Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas within the context of 21st-century perspectives.

On Exhibit

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 multi-media 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; 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.

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IN THE BEGINNING – by Schlapperitzi and Tiepolo

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MATTHEW RITCHIE. Interactive digital animation, acrylic and marker on wall.

FROM THE NEW YORKER TO SHREK: THE ART OF WILLIAM STEIG. The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) will be the only West Coast venue for From The New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig, a monumental tribute to William Steig (hailed as the “King of cartoons”) organized by The Jewish Museum, New York. When the Contemporary Jewish Museum opens its new Daniel Libeskind designed building on June 8, this exhibition will inaugurate the CJM’s 2,500-square-foot Roselyne and Richard Swig/Swig and Dinner Families Gallery, located on the first floor. The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to view an extensive collection of original drawings by William Steig, many of which are on display for the first time. Known for his brilliant cartoons for The New Yorker and his award-winning children’s books, William Steig (1907–2003) was an American original whose achievements remain unparalleled. He first gained fame through his artwork for The New Yorker where he ushered in a new era by radically transforming the way cartoons were created at the magazine. In the 73 years that Steig worked for The New Yorker, more than 120 of his covers and over 1,600 of his drawings were published.

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WILLIAM STEIG – UNTITLED (turkey with fortune teller) and ARE WE EARLY.

Beginning in his sixties, Steig became a successful writer and illustrator of children’s literature, creating such award-winning titles as Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969) and Doctor De Soto (1982). His 1990 picture book Shrek! —which means “fear” in Yiddish—inspired the Academy Award-winning feature film Shrek (2001) and its two sequels—Shrek 2 (2004) and Shrek the Third (2007)—as well as an upcoming Broadway musical. Steig’s desire to draw freely and whimsically is evident in much of his art, and his intense love of color is apparent in his rich illustrations for children.

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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