Trees are the focus of a three-part exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. “Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought,” inspired by the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat (the New Year for the Trees), is on view through May 28.

Part One is The Dorothy Saxe Invitational. More than 50 artists from across the U.S. were invited, each asked to incorporate reclaimed wood into their work in some fashion. Among the participating artists are Harriete Estel Berman of San Mateo and Beth Grossman of Brisbane and Stanford professors Terry Berlier and Gail Wight.

Part Two is an international survey of trees in contemporary art. Artists include April Gornik, Rodney Graham and Yoko Ono.

Part Three is a Jessie Square Commission by Rebar, a San Francisco-based environmental design firm. An installation in the square in front of the museum features gem-shaped planters in bright colors made from recycled lumber. Trees grow from them, and visitors have placed thoughts on paper strips among the branches.

Contemporary Jewish Museum
February 16, 2012 through May 28, 2012
736 Mission Street (between 3rd & 4th Streets), San Francisco, CA 94103
Hours: Daily 11am – 5pm, Thursdays 1–8pm, Closed Wednesdays
Tel: 415.655.7800
email: [email protected]

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Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought

Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought is an exciting opportunity to explore the subject of the tree in Jewish tradition through the lens of contemporary artists who enable us to see the world in new ways and to encourage us to find fresh meaning in tradition. The tree is a universally potent symbol with particular significance in Judaism, especially now as global environmental concerns have begun to impact contemporary Jewish practice.

The title of the exhibition Do Not Destroy (Bal Tashchit in Hebrew), is taken from a commandment in the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:19) that forbids the wanton destruction of trees during wartime. During the rabbinical period, this concept was broadened to encompass humanity’s responsibility to shield all of nature from unnecessary harm. This ancient evidence of environmental protection, along with the rise of a distinctly Jewish environmental movement, inspired the CJM to explore a parallel initiative within contemporary art practice. By creating works of art with the tree as a central motif, artists reference the real world while envisioning an alternative.

Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought is a two-part exhibition. The first is the continuation of a long-running series at the Contemporary Jewish Museum—the Dorothy Saxe Invitational—in which artists from diverse backgrounds and working in a range of medium are invited to explore a Jewish ritual object. Over 50 contemporary artists from across the United States were invited to create new works of art from reclaimed wood and in response to themes inspired by the holiday of Tu B’Shevat. A minor Jewish holiday that celebrates the New Year of the tree is full of inspiration for artists. In fact, it is a holiday ripe with twenty-first century relevance, mystical curiosities, and ancient symbolism—including an all-vegan feast with four cups of wine progressing from white to red, with shades of pink in between. The invited artists have responded by creating an extraordinary variety of objects in a range of media including sculpture, installation, video, drawing, and painting.

Do Not Destroy also probes the role of the tree in contemporary art more broadly by presenting a selection of works by an international roster of artists for whom the tree has served as the subject of a discrete project like Rodney Graham, Charles Labelle , Yoko Ono, and Yuken Teruya, or ongoing investigation like Gabriela Albergaria, Zadok Ben David, April Gornik, Roxy Paine, and Rona Pondick.  Through their works, we are permitted entry into their makers’ visions of an idealized world—one of enchanted forests and whimsy where the natural beauty of the tree is evaluated, deconstructed, and monumentalized. Other artists posit trees as storytellers, keepers of secrets, witnesses of history, and proof of the impact of human behavior on the environment.

Taken together, both components of the exhibition offer an opportunity to commune with trees through video, photography, sculpture, and painting—to be awed by their scale, longevity, transformative powers, and their ability to encourage deeper thinking about history, the environment, and our place in the world. Through these works, we align ourselves with the ancient dictum of Do Not Destroy, a commandment to not only protect trees but to dream of a better world.

VIEW The Dorothy Saxe Invitational art works on sale.

PURCHASE the exhibition catalog.