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Contemporary Jewish Museum

Contemporary Jewish Museum

The Contemporary Jewish Museum was founded in 1984 in San Francisco, California. Its current mission is to make the diversity of the Jewish experience relevant for a twenty-first century audience through exhibitions and educational programs.

The museum has no permanent collection. It curates and hosts a broad array of exhibitions each year. Since reopening in its new building in 2008, exhibitions have included:
The 2015 Dorothy Saxe Invitational: Tzedakah Box
Bound to Be Held: A Book Show
Lamp of the Covenant: Dave Lane
Letters to Afar
Poland and Palestine: Two Lands and Two Skies
In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art: Helena Keeffe and Jessica Prentice
J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch
Arnold Newman: Masterclass
In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art: Lindsey White and Ron Lynch
Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life: Live from The CJM!
Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman
Project Mah Jongg
Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism
Arthur Szyk and Art of the Hagaddah
Forever Now!
Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations
Frog and Toad and the World of Arnold Lobel
To Build and Be Built: Kibbutz History
Work in Progress: Considering Utopia
Jason Lazarus: Live Archive
Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg
StoryCorps StoryBooth
Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art
Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel
The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats
California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present
Stanley Saitowitz: Judaica
The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936–1951
Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought
Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories
Houdini: Art and Magic
The Ping Pong Project
Jacques Lipchitz: Hagar in the Desert
Charlotte Salomon: Life? or Theatre?
Are We There Yet?: 5000 Years of Answering Questions with Questions
Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey
Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker
Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)
Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life
Our Struggle: Responding to Mein Kampf
As It Is Written: Project 304,805
There's a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak
Susan Hiller: The J.Street Project
Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater, 1919-1949
The Dorothy Saxe Invitational: New Works/Old Story: 80 Artists at the Passover Table
Jews on Vinyl
Dateline 09
Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered
John Zorn Presents the Aleph-Bet Sound Project
In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis
From The New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig

Daniel Libeskind designed the 63,000 square foot (5,900 square meter) museum, which occupies and extends the 1907 Jessie Street Power Substation, originally designed by Willis Polk. The building was completed in 2008. The museum cost $47.5 million to build.

The museum’s tilted, dark-blue stainless steel cube, constructed by A. Zahner Company, slices into the old substation’s brick, making visible the relationship between the new and the old. Libeskind’s design preserves the defining features of Polk’s old building, including its brick façade, trusses, and skylights. 36 diamond-shaped windows light the top floor of the metal cube, known as the Yud, which hosts sound and performance based exhibitions. The museum’s other section, a slanting rectangle known as the Chet, holds the narrow lobby, an education center, and part of an upstairs gallery.

Similar to Libeskind’s Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, the Contemporary Jewish Museum incorporates text into its design. Inspired by the phrase “L’Chaim,” meaning “To Life,” Libeskind let the Hebrew letters that spell “chai” —“chet” and “yud,” inspire the form of the building. Libeskind himself explains how he used the letters: “the chet provides an overall continuity for the exhibition and educational spaces, and the yud with its 36 windows, serves as special exhibition, performance and event space”. . “To Life”, also a traditional Jewish drinking toast, refers both “to the role the substation played in restoring energy to the city after the 1906 earthquake and the Museum's mission to be a lively center for engaging audiences with Jewish culture.”. The Hebrew word pardes, meaning “orchard,” is embedded in the wall of the lobby.

The building also houses a multi-purpose event space, an auditorium, Wise Sons Deli, and a museum store.

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