Like art, religion has been an attempt to find meaning and value in life, despite the suffering that flesh is heir to. The strongest evidence of life is creation and the most immediate form of creativity is art.
—Karen Armstrong, British author and former nun (born 1944)
This quotation is one of several on the wall at the start of the exhibit, Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art, which opens on June 28 and runs through Oct. 27, 2013, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Beyond Belief is San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art’s first partnership with another museum since they closed their doors for two and a half years at the beginning of June while undergoing an expansion.
“A museum is more than a building,” said Neal Benezra, the director of SFMOMA. “It’s a collection and a community.
Janet Bishop, SFMOMA’s curator of painting and sculpture said she loved seeing some of SFMOMA’s works in a different setting and working with the curators at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, who she said she learned a lot from.
The joint exhibit has 10 sections, starting with “Genesis,” then touching on subjects such as death, divine architecture, God’s invisible presence, and ending with “Loss and Redemption.” The final piece in the show comes from SFMOMA’s collection – Mark Rothko’s No. 14, 1960. Rothko, raised an observant Jew, acknowledged the spiritual element in his painting, and according to the wall text at the show, wrote in his journal, “Only religion, as the instigator of the arts, can produce a truly ultimate art.” (On Monday, Sep. 23, Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan will give a talk at the museum on Jewish mysticism and Rothko.)
The show’s more than 60 works include sculptures, photos, paintings installation, and drawings, and span the years from 1911 to 2011. Artists included range from Paul Klee to Philip Guston to Jackson Pollack to Brice Marden and Agnes Martin. Contemporary artist, including Teresita Fernández and Kiki Smith are also represented.
The show features biblical stories translated to works of art as in Bruce Conner‘s Burning Bush and Alfred Jensen‘s Expulsion from Eden. Mother of God, by Robert Rauschenberg, who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, is on display as well as art influenced by Muslim and Buddhist traditions such as Tasbih by Zarina and Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain.