Here at Inhabitat we’re generally quite taken by artwork that makes use of recycled materials, so we were excited to learn that the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is hosting a new exhibit that focuses on the environment. The three-part exhibit, Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought, explores the role of the tree in Jewish tradition through the lens of contemporary art using a variety of different media, including reclaimed wood.
Trees occupy a very powerful place in Jewish literature and art, serving as a symbol of shelter, regrowth, and earth’s bounty. The title of the exhibit, Do Not Destroy (Bal Tashchit in Hebrew), comes from a commandment in the Torah forbidding the “wanton destruction of trees during wartime,” according to the museum wall text.
Part 1 of the exhibit looks at the role of the tree in contemporary art. More than 50 participating contemporary artists were asked to incorporate reclaimed wood into their work in some way. For example, San Francisco designer Yves Behar created the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, out of a piece of bay laurel driftwood found on the beach at Bolinas in nearby Marin County.
“Our awareness of nature needs to be first, like the first letter Aleph,” says Behar in a press release.
Part 2 of “Do Not Destroy” is an international survey of trees in contemporary art, and it features 20 works by international artists examining the tree, both conceptually and formally. Curator Dana Solomon says the exhibit is an opportunity to “commune with trees through video, photography, sculpture and painting – to be awed by their scale, their longevity, and their ability to encourage deeper thinking about history, the environment, and our place in it.” The exhibit runs through May 28.