Categories: Visual Arts

Evocative CJM exhibit urges contemplation of day vs. night

The intersection of space, time and beauty is the focus of a fascinating exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum — one that urges viewers to reconsider when day actually begins.

“Night Begins the Day: Rethinking Space, Time and Beauty” draws on the Jewish tradition of “erev,” or evening. Day begins at sundown, not when the sun rises.

There are 35 pieces in the exhibition, which includes photography, paintings, sculptures and installations by established and emerging artists.

“It’s a very quiet, contemplative show,” says associate curator Lily Siegel. “I want viewers to walk away with a new perspective, even if it’s confusion. I want them to walk away thinking about things.”

Highlights include three photograms by Oakland artist Vanessa Marsh. Using a complex process that involves photography, painting and paper cut outs, Marsh has created stunning works portraying velvety black mountains against a star-filled night sky.

Artist Masood Kamandy looks downward with a six-minute low aerial video of a suburban Southern California neighborhood. By digitally adjusting the light, Kamandy darkens everything but the swimming pools, which become eerily bright. Watching the slow moving images is mesmerizing; the bluish white pools become their own kind of constellation.

One of the most unusual pieces is “Dying Star Letters” by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. Paterson has been writing and sending condolence letters each time she hears about a stellar death, then framing the notes with their envelopes.

“It’s a recognition of mortality and that things live and die,” Siegel says.

The passage of time is also explored by Peter Dreher, an artist who has been making small paintings of the same empty water glass since the 1970s. At first glance, the glasses seem nearly identical; a closer look shows that different images are reflected depending on the time of day the painting was made.

At the end is a piece by artist Alicja Kwade. Eight pocket watches hang from chains suspended from the ceiling, creating a pool of empty space for the viewer to step into. The watches are connected to speakers that softly play the ticking sounds of each timepiece.

“I love presenting exhibitions that are questions,” Siegel says. “There’s the artwork and the viewer. The actual art happens in between.”

Night Begins the Day: Rethinking Space, Time and Beauty
Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum., 736 Mission St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays-Tuesdays, except until 8 p.m. Thursdays; closes Sept. 20
Tickets: $5 to $12
Contact: (415) 655-7800,

Cathy Bowman

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