This month the Contemporary Jewish Museum opens a new, special exhibition that highlights the significance of trees in Judaism, and sparks a layered dialogue with viewers about our natural world. The three-part exhibition, entitled Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought, brings together paintings, installation, photography, and video from both locally, and internationally, recognized artists. The exhibition also features works on loan from the MOMA in New York.

Inspiration for this exhibition sparked from the commandment in Deuteronomy “Bal Tashchit” (do not destroy) which forbids the destruction of trees during wartime. However, trees are not only an important symbol in Jewish faith, but an important symbol in many others. Symbolically, trees are noted in literature as being icons of paradise, regeneration, shelter, bounty, and longevity – all reoccurring themes of humanity that make this a universal subject with reach.

To keep this article somewhat short and sweet, there is a lot of context and subcontext within this exhibition that will keep the viewer, and any environmentally active individual, engaged. For instance, I noted a couple of works, one sculpture and one video, that examine tree grafting (the practice of taking a limb from one tree and transplanting it onto another). A contemporary topic like this opens the exhibition up from a theological education to a scientific one, lending to a wonderfully well-rounded, visual essay of the subject.

Artistically speaking, from the time you turn the corner and encounter Zadok Ben-David’s installation “Blackfield” (a miniature forest of painted stainless steel flowers and plants), the duality of strength vs. fragility is cultivated. With works like this, it becomes mesmerizing to the point where you might return to them more than once for a second look. I was also delightfully surprised to find work here from some of my favorite artists, including works from Yoko Ono, Claire Sherman, David Tomb, Lisa Congdon, and Gale Antokal. Note that these are my favorites, but there is so much more here.

Going through this exhibition, however, I felt that Part Two, the Dorothy Saxe Invitational, was the highlight. While the museum curated Part One held impressive works of grander and scale, Part Two felt more like a fresh exploration of the subject. Perhaps its because artists were invited to create the works for the exhibit, but there was a sense of intimacy here in this room especially. When asked what works they enjoyed most, the museum staff was excited by the inclusion of carved furniture works by the San Francisco based art collective “Woodshop”, saying that, “there are so few collectives left in San Francisco”.

If you find yourself in downtown San Francisco, Do Not Destroy at the Contemporary Jewish Museum is worth a look. This special exhibition will be on display from February 16th-May 28th, 2012.

- written and photographed by Megan Wolfe

For more information on this exhibit visit: http://www.thecjm.org/

In addition to writing for Warholian, Megan Wolfe is also an artist working out of San Francisco. Visit her site here for more on her work: http://meganwolfeart.com/

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