Sunday, June 15, 2008

Contemporary Jewish Museum

Contemporary Jewish MuseumYesterday I paid my 1st visit to the newly opened Contemporary Jewish Museum. I've been watching the construction for months, so I was curious to finally get a chance to check out the building, designed by celebrity architect Daniel Libeskind. There is a nice spacious open plaza in front, with running water & a few manicured grassy areas. The most striking feature of the building is of course the giant black cube sticking out at an angle from the side. A sign inside explains that the shape is based on a Hebrew letter, but it's not possible to see this unless you are looking down on the building from above. Perhaps it can be read from one of the office buildings or hotels nearby, but otherwise it just looks like a great big cube at a scary angle.

Building security didn't like the water bottle in my shoulder bag & made a point of walking me to the coat check a few yards away. The interior of the building feels very modern. There seem to be very few right angles. Sometimes even the walls have a slope. The ceilings are mostly exposed, so you can see ducts & pipes & such. There's a long gallery space on the 2nd floor that looks well-suited for contemporary art & installations. It's kind of dark up there at the moment for the current exhibition organized around the theme of Genesis. The exhibit includes a beautiful etching by Chagall & a fantastic drawing by Tiepolo.

There's also a fun exhibit of the work of illustrator William Steig. I recognize his drawing from the New Yorker magazine, but I had no idea that he wrote a children's book that was the basis for the Shrek movies. I think it's impressive that even his finished drawings maintain the freshness of his doodles & sketches. I liked that they used some early pages from the New Yorker to establish a context for his work. His Small Fry cartoons made me think of Peanuts, though the earliest of them easily predate Peanuts & L'il Folks by a decade. I wonder if this was a source for Peanuts. There's no mention of Steig in the index of the recent, controversial David Michaelis biography of Charles Schulz.

There were a lot of visitors yesterday, so I'd say that they are having a successful opening. Plus they have some worth-while exhibits going on. I came for the building & then stayed for the shows.

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