In 1971, Seymour Fromer (1922-2009), founder of The Magnes, led an expedition to Cairo, Egypt. The Karaite Canon highlights a selection from the over fifty manuscripts he brought to California, along with ritual objects belonging to Cairo’s Karaite community. At the time, the aim of The Magnes was to salvage unique documents during a period of great turmoil in the Middle East.
The Magnes has a fifty-year history of presenting exhibitions that break new ground in Jewish Studies research, build upon the collaboration between curators and UC Berkeley faculty and students, expand Judaica connoisseurship, introduce under-recognized Jewish artists of the 20th century, and take risks with experimental projects by contemporary artists. Many of its exhibitions drawn on selections from its extensive collections, or commissioned works that use the collections as inspiration.
This page is a growing archive of the exhibition history of the institution since its founding in 1962. The description of each exhibition is augmented by texts and label texts, images, press releases, links to press coverage and artists and contributors websites.
Visitors to the website who have been involved with any of the exhibitions created by the former Judah L. Magnes Museum and wish to contribute additional materials are encouraged to do so, reaching out to our staff through our contact information page.
Since its inception in 1962, the former Judah L. Magnes Museum distinguished itself by directing its collecting efforts outside the focus on European Jewish culture and history that was prevalent among American Jewish museums at the time. During the 1970s and 1980s, its founders, Seymour and Rebecca Fromer, actively corralled an informal team of activist collectors and supporters. Together, they were able to bring to Berkeley art and material culture from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent.
This exhibition presents a selection from the over one hundred “show-card” posters printed by the Firschein Press, a small business operated by East European Jewish immigrants, that served local Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Brooklyn for the better half of the 20th century. Oscar Firschein brought the posters to California once the Press ceased its activities. He and his wife, Theda, donated them to The Magnes in 2017.
This exhibition will be continuing in the fall.
Acquired by The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in 2017 thanks to an unprecedented gift from Taube Philanthropies, the most significant collection of works by Arthur Szyk (Łódź, Poland, 1894 – New Canaan, Connecticut, 1951) is now available to the world in a public institution for the first time as the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection.
Created from the early-modern period and into the present, shiviti manuscripts are found in Hebrew prayer books, ritual textiles, and on the walls of synagogues and homes throughout the Jewish diaspora. Wrestling with ways to externalize the presence of God in Jewish life, these documents center upon the graphic representation of God's ineffable four-letter Hebrew name, the Tetragrammaton, and associate it with words and imageries that evoke mystical powers, protective energy, and angels, as well as key places and characters in Biblical and Jewish history.
The holdings of The Magnes include a set of original and working copies of sketches and storyboard drawings created by Mentor Huebner for the 1971 feature film, Fiddler on the Roof, along with a small selection of set photographs. The film, directed by Norman Jewison, starred Chaim Topol in the title role, and was based on the stories by Sholem Aleichem (born Shalom Rabinovitz, 1859–1916), a founder of modern Yiddish literature.
The work of Roman Vishniac (1897-1990), a Russian-born photographer most notable for documenting eastern-European Jewish life in the years immediately preceding the Holocaust, has been celebrated in exhibitions and publications since the 1940s. Following the photographer's death, his daughter, Mara Vishniac Kohn, became the executor of Roman Vishniac’s estate. In 2007, the Roman Vishniac Archive was established at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Its collections comprise over thirty thousand objects spanning more than six decades, and include more than nine thousand unprinted negatives, recently discovered vintage photographic prints, film footage, and personal correspondence.
Never before the creation of the State of Israel did Jews of so many origins live together, and in such a stimulating environment, as they did in the land they soon started calling in Hebrew i-tal-yah, an “Island of Divine Dew”.
The Jewish World: 100 Treasures of Art and Culture, which is being published by Skirà-Rizzoli in the Fall of 2014, is the first comprehensive catalog featuring the holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.
The World Over: A Magazine for Boys and Girls, published from 1940 until 1979 by the Board of Jewish Education in New York, was edited by Ezekiel Schloss, who also designed its cover art.
One of the most iconic works of art in The Magnes Collection, returns on display before being loaned internationally on the occasion of the Lutheran Reformation in Wittenberg, Germany (Spring-Summer 2017).
Among the most important components of The Magnes' pictorial holdings is a collection of nearly one thousand posters acquired worldwide since the 1960s. This diverse and fascinating group of works has been acquired via a broad network of paper and print collectors, purchased in museum stores, or simply taken off walls in the streets of cities around the world. Collectively, these materials represent an invaluable source of historical information.
The Bible is a constant in Jewish life, in all the varied forms it has taken around the world and across history. Biblical texts stand at the center of the Jewish experience—Jews keep biblical time, cultivate biblical bodies, and build and imagine biblical spaces.
A lecture exploring connections and continuities from Moses to Felix Mendelssohn, and from philosophy to music, in the realms of inner and private life, community, and the wider public sphere.
The Book of Jonah is the only prophetic book of the Hebrew Bible read in its entirety in the synagogue. Recited during the Afternoon Service on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jonah’s story addresses the relationship between man and God, destiny and free will, prayer and salvation.
What should we remember, what should we forget, and who decides?
The Future of Memory: Jewish Culture in the Digital Age is a new project of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life that includes an installation, exhibition, and digital research lab in which museum professionals, scholars, students, and the public, discuss the meaning of memory and the many facets of digital history.
In 1984, The Magnes acquired a portfolio of botanical drawings by Shmuel (Samuel) Lerner, a Ukraine-born amateur artist from California. While Lerner’s biography and many details surrounding this work remain obscure, today his drawings open for us a unique window into the landscape, the history and the languages of Israel in the period immediately following the establishment of the State.
A new exhibition exploring eating, identity and activism in Jewish life and beyond.
During the Spring Semester 2013, faculty, curators and students interviewed current and Emeriti UC Berkeley faculty, and researched the University Archives of The Bancroft Library. This work unearthed hundreds of primary sources documenting the lives of a group of intellectuals who came to Berkeley as refugees from European fascism. These individuals contributed much to the academic life of our University, becoming world-renowned leaders in all fields of scholarship.
In 2014, The Magnes acquired twelve works by the New York Times-featured Ukrainian artist, Matvey Vaisberg, including the portraits of eight Russian Jewish authors.
Several of the authors portrayed by Vaisberg were Yiddish writers murdered by the Soviet regime on August 12, 1952: Itzik Feffer (1900-1952), Leib Kvitko (1890-1952), Peretz Markish (1895-1952), and David Hofstein (1889-1952). Other portraits include prominent writers such as Sh. Aleichem (1859-1916), O. Mandelstam (1891-1938), B. Pasternak (1890-1960), and J. Brodsky (1940-1996).