Curatorial Conversations from The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
Curators Francesco Spagnolo and Shir Kochavi present insights and connections emerging from the holdings of UC Berkeley's Magnes Collection, one of the largest Jewish museum collections in the world. During the Spring Semester, they will be reflecting on exhibitions presented by The Magnes over the last decade, highlighting how they will be revisited in the context of Time Capsules, a new exhibition opening to the public in the Fall.
On these Fridays: March 5 and 19, April 2, 16, and 30, May 14 | Noon-12:30 pm | On Zoom
Francesco Spagnolo is a multidisciplinary scholar focusing on Jewish studies, music, and digital media. At the University of California, Berkeley, he is the Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life and an Associate Adjunct Professor in the Department of Music. Among his publications are Italian Jewish Musical Traditions (Rome-Jerusalem, 2001) and The Jewish World: 100 Treasures of Art and Culture (New York, 2014).
Shir Gal Kochavi, Assistant Curator at The Magnes, is an art historian with extensive expertise in provenance research and the history of collecting. In 2017, she received her PhD from the University of Leeds, UK after completing a MA in The History of Business of Art and Collecting from the Institut d’Études Superieures des Arts, Paris (2008). Her professional experience includes assistant positions in art and antiques galleries, and leading the provenance research department at the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets in Israel.
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life was established in 2010 following the transfer of the Judah L. Magnes Museum to the University of California, Berkeley. Its remarkably diverse archive, library, and museum holdings include art, objects, texts, music, and historical documents about the Jews in the Global Diaspora and the American West. As one of the world's preeminent Jewish collections in a university setting, it provides highly innovative and accessible resources both to researchers and to the general public. The holdings of The Magnes continue to grow. Recent acquisition highlights include the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection and the Roman Vishniac Archive.
1.The Inventory Project (Fall 2012)
Friday, March 5, 2021, Noon-12:30 PM | Zoom registration link
An exhibition created in collaboration with Jeffrey Shandler (Rutgers University), a leading figure in the study of modern Jewish culture. The Inventory Project centered on Shandler’s research on the creation of "lists" and inventories as a "defining practice of modern Jewish culture, although seldom recognized as such," and offered an unconventional look at The Magnes Collection's multidimensional archive, library, and museum holdings.
Congregation Beth Israel Judea synagogue cornerstone (San Francisco, United States, 1905), WJHC 2001.2.1
M. Cohen, Master register for pledges and alms (Washington, DC, 1913), ink on paper with metal arrow marks, Judah L. Magnes Museum purchase, 2008.6
2. Sound Objects (Spring 2013)
Friday, March 19, 2021, Noon-12:30 PM | Zoom registration link
Sound Objects combined the study of Jewish material culture with the emerging field of Sound Studies and investigated the role of objects that emit sound during synagogue rituals. Some objects used in synagogue rituals are designed to produce specific sounds, such as the shofar horn blasted on the High Holy Days, and the noisemakers used on Purim, but many others — especially those dedicated to embellishing, storing, carrying, and reading the Torah scrolls — emit "ritual noises" even though sound-making is not their primary function. Select objects in the exhibition were also recorded digitally, and the resulting "playlist" accompanied the display on-site and online.
SOUND RECORDING: https://soundcloud.com/magnes/68-79-1
Torah finials with eleven three-beaded clappers (India, n.d.), silver, Judah L. Magnes Museum purchase, Bernard Kimmel Collection, 68.79.1
SOUND RECORDING: https://soundcloud.com/magnes/67-224
Torah finials with seven bells (United States, n.d.), parcel gilt silver, 67.224 b
3. Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley (Fall 2013)
Friday, April 2, 2021, Noon-12:30 PM | Zoom registration link
With Global India, curated in collaboration with Barbara Johnson (Ithaca College), The Magnes unveiled its extensive holdings documenting the history of the Jewish community in Kerala, South India, collected in the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition centered on the community’s deep connections with India’s society and cultures and with the global Jewish Diaspora, across the subcontinent, the Middle East, and Europe. Over one hundred individual items, many of which had never been cataloged (or displayed) before were presented.
Torah Ark of the Tekkumbhagam (Mattancherry) synagogue (Kochi, Kerala, India, 17th-18th centuries), wood (teak), paint, shellac, and gold leaf (cartouche: tin and brass veneer), gift of Jewish Community of Ernakulam, India, Bernard Kimmel collection, 67.0.3
Ketubbah (marriage contract), (Kochi, Kerala, India, 1887), watercolor, ink, and gold leaf on parchment, gift of Shabdai Samuel Koder, 75.31
4. Gourmet Ghettos: Modern Food Rituals (Fall 2014)
Friday, April 16, 2021, Noon-12:30 PM | Zoom registration link
Curated in collaboration with India Mandelkern, then a graduate student in History, Gourmet Ghettos explored the broader linkages between food, ritual, identity, and activism that inform Jewish life by highlighting over 150 objects from around the world, including cookware, tableware, kitchen textiles, books, manuscripts, paintings, and drawings. The exhibition examined Jewish food rituals as meaningful frameworks with which to contextualize today’s food movement, investigating a phenomenon that is deeply embedded in Berkeley’s history, a city with its own “gourmet ghetto” and powerful tradition of social justice.
Popup New Year's greeting card (Germany, ca. 1910), gift of Solomon L. Gluck, LIB 73.35.3
Passover Seder plate engraved in honor of the 70th birthday of Louis Schlesinger (Racibórz, Poland, 1857), silver, gift of Marianne Rawack Brannon, 75.245
5. I-Tal-Yah: An Island of Divine Dew. Italian Crossroads in Jewish Culture (Fall 2016)
Friday, April 30, 2021, Noon-12:30 PM | Zoom registration link
All major Jewish museum collections include important artifacts from Italy, and The Magnes is no exception. A crossroad of world cultures, Italy has been for over two millennia a haven, in the heartland of Christianity, for Italian, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi Jews. The Italian-Jewish symbiosis flourished with the Modern Era, in the Renaissance ghettos, continuing through the 19th-century Emancipation, and up to the present. On the occasion of the five-hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Venice Ghetto (1516), I-Tal-Yah presented a selection of manuscripts, books, ritual objects, textiles, photographs, and postcards collected in the course of five decades.
M. David Passigli, Ketubbah (marriage contract), (Siena, Italy, 1816), painted parchment, Judah L. Magnes Museum purchase, Siegfried S. Strauss Collection, 184.108.40.206
Spice container in artichoke shape (Italy, 18th cent.), Judah L. Magnes Museum purchase, 79.47.1
6. Pièces de résistance: Echoes of Judaea Capta From Ancient Coins to Modern Art (Fall 2018)
Friday, May 14, 2021, Noon-12:30 PM | Zoom registration link
Notions of resistance, alongside fears and realities of oppression, resound throughout Jewish history. As a minority, Jews express their political aspirations, ideals of heroism, and yearnings for retaliation and redemption in their rituals, art, and everyday life. Centering on research by Rebecca Levitan, a graduate student in History of Art, on coins in The Magnes Collection, Pièces de Résistance explored how the Jewish revolts against Hellenism and the Roman occupation of Palestine (Judaea Capta) echo from antiquity into the present, highlighting collection items ranging from ancient coins and their replicas to ritual objects for Purim and Hanukkah. The exhibition also prominently featured art by Marc Chagall, Lazar Krestin, and Arthur Szyk that offer a modern visual representation of Jewish might in the face of persecution.
Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), Bar Kochba (Paris, France, 1927), Watercolor, colored pencil and gouache on paper, Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection, 2017.5.1.30
Ori Sherman, The Story of Hannukah (USA, 1985), Work on paper, gift of Robert Friend, 2011.2