Skip To Content

Back to Amy

Installation photo of You Know I'm No Good by Johnna Arnold.
The title of this exhibition is taken from a track by the same name on Amy Winehouse’s award-winning album, Back to Black (2006). In response to the intimate look at Winehouse allowed in A Family Portrait, The Museum invited three contemporary artists to display work about the singer. San Francisco artists Jason Jägel and Jennie Ottinger created new works for the exhibition and a selection of drawings by New York artist Rachel Harrison are also on view.
Installation photo of You Know I'm No Good by Johnna Arnold.
Jägel is known for his paintings that combine text and cartoon-like figures to create dreamlike narratives that pull the viewer across the image and back again. He has also created album art for many rap and R&B musicians. For You Know I’m No Good, he created a mural-sized painting for the gallery wall visible from Yerba Buena Lane inspired by Winehouse and her music.

Detail, installation photos of You Know I'm No Good by Johnna Arnold.
Ottinger’s paintings blur the line between childhood memory and fantasy, power and vulnerability, attraction and repulsion. Throughout her practice, she challenges the constructed rules of everyday social constructions—tennis, cheerleading, football, and most recently, the circus. For this exhibition, Ottinger created a wall installation of paper paintingsparts of a stop-motion animation that pictures Winehouse among such iconic singers as Nina Simone and the Ronettes, addressing the idea of legacy for female artists specifically.

Installation photo of You Know I'm No Good by Johnna Arnold.
In addition to commissioning new works for this exhibition, a selection of Harrison’s well-regarded drawings of Amy Winehouse are on view for the first time in Northern California. Harrison, who is best known for her sculptural works, presents Winehouse alongside important creative figures such as Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, and Martin Kippenberger.

Together, these three artists pay homage to Winehouse while simultaneously calling into question our society’s fanatic attraction to both genius and tragedy.

Amy, Illustrated

All images courtesy of artist (via Instagram: @victoriathorne).

Last week we got an Insta-crush on illustrator Victoria Thorne. As she made her way through Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait, she sketched and taggedfilling her moleskin with drawings and sharing with us on Instagram. Drawing everything from photos of young Amy to iconic dresses, we're blown away by her expressive, direct drawings. Victoria caught our eyeand we had to reach outMake sure to follow her on IG as @victoriathorne for her sketching travels. 

Here's an interviewvia drawingswith the talented artist. The interview came creatively (could you have guessed it?), in a lovely envelope with the q&a beautifully illustrated.

A GIF of opening the envelope.


1. Describe yourself in six words.

I watch for Grace (4)
Mom sister nana daughter wife friend loving redhead (1?)
storyteller (1)

2. Do you go everywhere with your sketchbook?
upper right hand corner: vt30JUL15JM
Yes, now I do, or with paper I can
draw on. (I didn't always. The best
compliment I ever received—it makes me so happy—was
finding that my kid's friends sometimes took newspapers
I threw away...because I ALWAYS just drew in the margins.)

3. What was your experience in Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait? How did you convey your experiences through your drawings?

It's not my
belief that Amy Winehouse should be
mythologized or put on a pedestal. She was
a brilliantly gifted artist. SHE SHARED
HER GIFT. For that, we should all be
grateful. She contributed to the world.
Hugely. She was also flawed, like the rest
of us. Gifted and flawed = the whole human
TO HAPPEN, in the end. (an incredibly complex issue)


Walking into the exhibit is a stunner.
It was somewhat quiet, but alive/ Absolutely
alive. I had no idea she would've listened
to all the music I loved best at her age—we
lived in Germany for 5 years, my friends on
our Army post all listened to that music. I
saw the documentary (in Palo Alto) a short
while ago. This ^ absolutely colored my view
of the entire exhibition. The exhibit is full
of love, basically. It seems to me that young
people sometimes immerse themselves in [things
that wind up hurting them] because they're
not finding the love they're looking for: self-
love, love from another, love for who they are.

3.c. (wow)
So: drawing in the exhibit. I guess the
deal is: this is the love her family and
friends (and multitudinous admirers) wish she
had FELT—maybe it would have kept her
alive, kept her at a safe enough distance
from the things that killed her.

So I drew. And most of the time was on
the blue + white Betsey Johnson dress. It felt
extremely important to do her justice.
Fragile, brilliant, broken, bold, sorrowful,
ambitious, aware. KNOWING. Amy is there.

4. How long have you been documenting your city experiences via sketchbook and Instagram as an extension of your work?

LONGTEMPS. A lot of my work in
the '90s was pen and ink, v. calligraphic.
I was always drawing. Clients included
the GAP (M. Drexler's time, which was fun),
the SFMoMA, newspapers and magazines. After
2001 I started taking pictures. A Lot. Esp.
while traveling. In the past few years, it
seemed like a good idea to draw again. 
2008-2012 were bloggish. Then came IG.

5: How long does it usually take you to sketch?
1:35pm. (via @bicoastalista)
This one took about 15 minutes. Or so. (I got distracted.)
Sometimes not so long,
sometimes forever.

I often lose track of time when drawing,
which is a very nice thing. Like heaven.

6. You use an interesting hashtag on Instagram#theimaginarytravelblogger. Tell us about that.

Even though I posted (for years)
photos and somewhat random clues
about our travels, it always seemed
to me that being a real travel
blogger was out of the question.
As in: I'll happily draw you a map, but
it's going to be open to interpretation.
So. Last month I realized I was sort 
of an imaginary travel blogger. Why not?

7. What else are you going to explore—and draw—today?
Drawing caption: 1 AUG 2015
(Via @ozwolf)
(L): Lately (probably to assuage
my guilt for being on IG
so much—) I've been doing
quick sketches of stuff I

(R): find while wandering
around Instagram. I've
also been trying to copy
book covers. Is there any-
thing better than a well-
designed book cover?



thanks for asking me
all these cool questions.
I hope to be back soon.
Love you, Jewseum.

                   Victoria Thorne
                       30 july 2015
              2 aug.

About the Artist

Victoria Thorne makes books and art and has four children whom she loves dearly. She was born in Hawaii and, growing up, traveled all over the U.S. and Europe with her amazing family. Her best friend is named Kevin. She is Ollie's nana. She believes that the power of people telling their stories and being heard can change the world: the more we truly know each other, the more we can all be friends. She also believes that the more we see of the world, the more we see that we are all one.

Interpreting the Infinite: Night Begins the Day

Installation view of the title wall for Night Begins the Day: Rethinking
Space, Time, and Beauty.
Photo by Gary Sexton Photography.
In the eighteenth century, the concept of the sublime became very influential among painters and poets due to an increasing interest in the aesthetics of science. Expanding global exploration made people astutely aware of the enormous scale and splendor of the still-being-surveyed earthly wilderness, and the staggering immensity of the universe was being revealed by astronomy. The result was a combination of awe and fear—awe at the majesty and beauty of creation, linked with the fear of human frailty, mortality, and insignificance in the light of the vastness of the cosmos. Furthermore, this response itself became a point of interest: how do we existentially resolve our psychology and spirituality with this new information?

There are corresponding considerations of these concerns in Judaism, for example in the concept of yir’ah, or the fear of God as something bigger than oneself, and observance of the Ten Days of Penitence (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) in which time between creation and death is metaphorically compressed into a ten-day period.

Daniel Crooks, A Garden of Parallel Paths, 2012. 
Single-channel high definition video, color, and sound, 16:09 min. 
Courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Australia. 

Night Begins the Day is an exhibition that reexamines not only time, but also the related notions of space and beauty. The title is taken from the biblical concept that the day begins at sunset, in darkness, instead of the more common definition of beginning at dawn. Throughout most of human history our experience of time has changed very little: duration has been measured in days, weeks, and months. Now, we can launch satellites that will literally travel forever, or send messages to the other side of the planet in an instant. Artworks in this exhibition consider this new compression and expansion of time as understood as a human construction. Simultaneously, our minds must grapple with the knowledge that the space of the universe is expanding infinitely and is ultimately incomprehensible and unknowable, while at the same time we explore quantum mechanics, the world of subatomic particles that make up the physical world. Some of the work in the exhibition examines how we wrestle with vastly different and mutable scales of spacial reality. In Night Begins the Day, beauty is approached as a medium or tool through which to contemplate ideas, such as space and time. Beauty becomes most apt and powerful when used to approach topics of unknowing, or illusion, or feelings of the Sublime. 

Total Perspective Vortex (2005) by computer scientist Robert Kooima epitomizes the wonder of the technological. In this interactive video piece, visitors use a joystick to travel through a scientifically accurate depiction of seven light year’s distance from our sun. A sense of the vastness and emptiness of enormous but essentially small amounts of space is made manifest in the participant’s mind. New understandings of time are represented in such work as Alicja Kwade’s installation of eight pocket watches hung in a constellation in which the uncoordinated and amplified ticking of the clocks points out the arbitrary and man-made nature of conventional time. A contemporary take on the traditional sublime is offered by photo-documentation of the Darvaza crater, a gigantic fire pit left behind by oil explorers in the 1960s that has been burning for half a century in the former Soviet Union, a sight both awe-inspiring and terrible, an example of unanticipated consequences of human actions.

Vanessa Marsh, Mountains 4 from the series Falling, 2014.
Chromogenic photogram, edition 3/3 unique prints +1 A/P, 30 x 60 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco.
Exhibiting approximately 25 artists, scientists, and creative thinkers—including Peter Alexander, Lisa K. Blatt, Peter Dreher, Moira Dryer, Institute for Figuring, Masood Kamandy, Robert Kooima, Michael Light, Josiah McElheny, and Fred Tomaselli, among others—Night Begins The Day allows that even though our knowledge continues to change and grow, there are still moments when it is all just too much to comprehend. Instead of offering answers, the exhibition presents alternative ways of modeling one’s existence in a world of ever-shifting utter beauty and measureless time.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full illustrated catalog including essays by Chief Curator Renny Pritikin and Associate Curator Lily Siegel, and new writing by essayist Dodie Bellamy and Nathaniel Deutsch, director of the Institute for Humanities Research and co-director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz. 
Available online and in The CJM store. 

Design(ing) The Museum

Installation view of J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch. Photo by Johnna Arnold.
As part of San Francisco Design Week (SFDW), former CJM Design Studio designer (and founder) Brad Aldridge gave a design talk in The Museum on designing The Museum—everything from identity graphics to exhibitions. For The CJM Blog, we asked him to elaborate on his design philosophy, on collaborating with others, and more.

1. What was your approach to creating the identity for exhibitions at The CJM? How did this differ depending on the scale, scope, and content of exhibitions?
The first thing to capture as a designer in a museum is the idea that whole place is a big giant storybook. It’s a lot of different voices trying to guide visitors to have a great journey of discovery, learning, and—on an even more pure level—have a great edifying time. So, as designer, I have to always remember that exhibition content is really leading this process, and every design decision needs to connect back to that material.

If I had to boil down the process, it may be something like answering these questions:

  • What’s the curator or artist trying to do in this exhibition? 
  • What’s the work? —Are they works of art? Found objects? Ephemera from somewhere particular? 
  • What’s the voice of the Museum look like in this exhibit? —Is the artist doing the talking, the curator, or some omnipresent “Great Museum” narrator? 
  • How much “Design” is in the design? —Does the design need to be invisible, or is it a partner to the works on display?
With some answers here, I can start digging deep into what goes on display by finding visual references that surround this material. For an exhibit about photographer Arnold Newman, for example, I got a hold of every book he ever published and did a thorough study of the typography used in the books. (Ultimately, we chose to go with a typeface that was more inspired by the magazines his work was published in.)

I’m working mainly with the curators throughout this process—I like sharing work as it’s getting developed and revealing the visual paths I’m making. This creates a really unique partnership. As I start interpreting curators’ point of view, the exhibit may start to shift around and the design starts to help define or solve problems in space or the layout of works of art. All along the way, there’s the usual budget, timeline, and resources conversation. That’s always a big part of a design process—despite how boring it sounds.

Once you get to the other side of this—with solid visual evidence to support a design direction and the approval of your curator—it does turn into production: the actual sitting down and designing of each item needed in the gallery: wall text, labels, cases, murals, printed matter, apps, etc.

Photo courtesy of Brad Aldrige.

2. How does internal exhibition design both differ and relate to The CJM's external graphic identity?
Early on at The CJM, we tried to make the exhibition design—like the title treatment—match all the external marketing materials, such as advertisements. It seemed like a good idea to have this continuity as guests transitioned from the outside to inside the museum. But in practice, this was a really difficult task: you have the gallery designed specifically for space where a person is standing—say, 4 feet away from a wall. When you take that graphic and put it in a newspaper advertisement or in an Instagram post, it doesn’t work as well—it doesn’t read the same way. Also, when we had different “branded” exhibits on The Museum’s marketing materials, it actually diluted The CJM as a whole: every campaign looked so different, we never built up trust or recognition in our visual brand.

We decided to make a simple rule about how design should work at The CJM. Design exists for two audiences: 1) Those in the gallery and 2) Those outside the gallery. So, what that means is that The CJM’s brand is continuous and aligned at all points up until you walk into one of our galleries. The gallery is then a more intimate and immersive experience that changes with each exhibiton—never is there overlap. 

It’s about voice, too. Imagine it this way: You see an advertisement for The CJM and it’s a very set grouping of typefaces, images, and color. You come to The Museum, and those same fonts and colors are used as you enter, on the ticket you buy, on the wayfinding signage, on the guide you get, and so on. This is the voice of the institution, “The Museum.” But, then you walk to the gallery and it’s a different look—a different voice. I think this is where, as a visitor, you quickly understand: “Oh, here’s the voice of the artist or the curator.” This approach may not always work, but it will most of the time. If The CJM got a “Star Wars” exhibit, it would be imperative to leverage the strength of that very recognizable brand. 

I think for The CJM this can be a helpful differentiator in the San Francisco landscape. The consistency helps build up The CJM’s voice. You can see this so successfully executed by our friends in New York: The Jewish Museum New YorkThe Whitney, and MoMA

Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.
3. Can you tell us about the design process for an exhibition? What type of iterations do you do in terms of layout, typography, etc—and how is the final decision made?
Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman had an interesting course of development because it’s an exhibit with a lot of constraints. The gallery it’s in is a very beautiful room—the interior of the CJM’s shimmering blue Yud Gallery—so any exhibit in there is competing against the architecture. It’s also a rental space, so the exhibit must be movable and storable. Additionally, the exhibit lacks a lot of physical materials—it’s mostly video, audio, and text, with two items from Mr. Hellman. 

I first had to really wrap my head around what to grab onto as a visual reference. After some conversations with our Chief Preparator we struck on the idea of “road cases,” the kinds of boxes that store and transport music instruments for traveling shows. It made a great amount of visual sense to connect the physical space to these visual signifiers for the music industry and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (HSB).

But the graphic identity was a little harder to grasp. The HSB Festival had a strong identity of its own, and I didn’t want to compete with that. The exhibit was about Mr. Hellman first and the festival second. With the idea of the road cases, I went down the path of thinking about live music shows—and ended up thinking about vintage folk, country, bluegrass, and rock poster design. I kept finding photos and reproductions of old country bands, printed black and white with maybe a spot color, with big giant wooden type, hand printed to promote a show at the county fair or at a record store or something. Remembering the work of Hatch Show Print, I realized I could use old block type letters to build a foundation of the visual point of view of the exhibit. After gathering boards of materials and sharing with the Chief Curator, Renny Pritikin, I was able to start pushing forward developing a look and feel for the show’s title, wall text, and an iPad kiosk app we designed.

I did dozens of variations, all directly referencing music posters. I ended up buying some old books of wooden letters and assembled my own typeface from these old printing reference materials. I was able to also find an old banjo engraving, and this ended up being a great focal point.

Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.

Ultimately, the final installation has the feeling of a show that’s just dropped into The CJM, just like a folk group coming into down for the weekend. Even the large title—which is removable for when the room is rented—is made to look like hand painted letters on canvas or paper (it’s really wallpaper material!). 

4. An interesting challenge is keeping a balance between an exhibition’s visual identity and the artwork itself. What is your design philosophy related to this?
In the Museum the art has to be the leader of everything. So, sometimes graphics may be more necessary, sometimes less: ultimately it’s about how to tell the story of the artwork.

For Bound to Be Held: A Book Show, we don’t have a lot of graphic work in the gallery, but we have a pretty awesome title wall and mural installation on Yerba Buena Lane. These were developed to introduce the exhibit and start to lead people into the show’s theme of literally elevating books, making them really important. I worked with Josh Greene on the gallery installation, but the graphics are intentionally minimal inside the gallery—the wall text and labels are all meant to fade away. 

Model for the mural installation in Yerba Buena Lane for Bound to Be Held: A Book Show. Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.

However, for a recently closed exhibit, Poland and Palestine: Two Lands and Two Skies, there were a lot of graphics. That was simply because each photograph in the exhibit had a lot of content that needed to be presented to fully tell the stories about the people in the photos. 
Graphic concepts for Poland and Palestine: Two Lands and Two Skies.
Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.
5. Exhibition design involves a lot of collaboration—with curators, the exhibition team, and in some cases, the artists themselves. What does the process of working with these different parties entail? 
Experts are really important at getting great work done. A curator comes up with the show idea and maybe even gets an artist in to work the idea through. Then the exhibitions team figures out how the exhibit will install, how it will look, and even the logistic details—like how will the art get delivered and how will the museum keep it safe.  

As the designer, it’s my responsibility to understand everyone’s roles and be able to change the way I communicate to people in different levels during the installation and design of an exhibit. So, that may mean I’m talking with the curators, but I may take some ideas from that discussion and have an off-the-cuff chat with the fabricators or art handlers. If I can better understand their schedule or their concerns over certain parts of the process, I may be able to improve or alter my design to help them out, or vice versa. 

Half of the job of being a designer is being able to sell your clients that your ideas are good; the secret part is that you should also know how to sell the people that build the stuff that your ideas are good. 
L: The CJM Exhibitions Department working closely with artist Josh Greene. Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.
R: Exhibitions installing the title wall for Bound to Be Held: A Book Show. 
Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.
6. One of the interesting things to consider with exhibition design is space—and here at The CJM, exhibition spaces range from traditional "white cube" galleries to the lobby, and even to a long, narrow case. How do you navigate these spatially?
The CJM is a beautiful building, and everyone working on the exhibitions has to think through the complexities of the architecture. The building has a very strong voice, but we want to give the artists a stronger voice.

Our Chief Preparator, Josh Pieper, and I would coach artists a lot in how to think through the space. We encountered many challenging constraints of the architecture and became experts at making the art speak louder than the building. Dave Lane’s installation Lamp of the Covenant masterfully weaves in and out of the historic sections of the Grand Lobby. Péter Forgács’ recent exhibit [Letters to Afar] also utilized the difficult slanted walls probably better than the Museum has ever seen with big projections cast up onto the large, vertical surfaces.
Like many other museums, we would utilize models and 3D renderings of the galleries to really test out how art would sit in space. We would frequently produce paper mock-ups of works of art or graphics and tape them into place. I remember once we even made a cardboard duplicate of a work of art to see how the lighting would work on the piece. Actually getting into the space and trying to test out an idea was often the greatest thing we could do: ideas that sounded great on paper would quickly be proven to be just disastrous when we’d step into the gallery and try it out.

7. The Design Studio was just awarded the Communications Arts Design Competition award for Environmental Graphics displayed in J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch. Tell us about the design thinking behind the exhibition.
I'm very excited about the honor of being recognized by Communication Arts. The CJM team was really trying to figure out the answer to this: "What would it be like to walk into the Mr. Lunch books?" The design started from Mr. Seibold's text, each book was very oriented to travel; so it was immediately apparent that the gallery would have some kind of destination. The gallery crystalized, though, as J. Otto Seibold had a funny idea about visitors going through a metal detector—which is already a requirement to enter the CJM.  From there, we settled on a boat, a plane, and a giant metal detector—later turned into a "customs" queue.  

About the Author 

Brad Aldridge is a designer, artist, and magician interested in making surprising and indelible visual experiences. He's spent time working in newspapers, museums, and now resides as a lead designer at Butchershop, a SF-based design and branding company.

The "Particular" Significance of Design

Installation view of The Library of Particular Significance. Photo by Johnna Arnold.

Artist Josh Greene's two-part exhibition Bound to Be Held: A Book Show celebrates the relationship between a reader and a book. One part of the exhibition, The Library of Particular Significance (LPS), focuses on instigating social interaction by recasting the gallery as a lending-library of donated "significant" books—a space for dwelling, reading, and connecting.

A series of related public programs called In The Library of Particular Significance enlivens the space with read-ins, book discussions, and literary happenings led by special guests. This Friday from 12:30-1pm, Michael Carabetta
Creative Director at Chronicle Bookswill be speaking on the secrets of book design. Get to know Carabetta before his talk, including which book he donated to The LPS and why.

1. In six words, tell us what you do.
Creative Director at Chronicle Books.

2. What book did you donate to The Library of Particular Significance (LPS)?
Watching Words Move by Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar.

Photo via

3. Describe what makes the book “particularly significant” to you?
This book is particularly significant because in its first guise, as a promotional booklet for the then young firm of Brownjohn, Chermayeff & Geismar, it opened my eyes to the world of graphic design. Years later, as a seasoned designer, I advocated for its republication as a hardcover book, something Chronicle Books agreed to do.

4. What is your opinion on how the book (as an object) has changed with the rise of tablets, e-readers, etc? 
If anything, I believe the advent of e-books has made people appreciate the physical book more. There is no substitute for the tactile experience of holding a bookthe sensation imparted by the paper, printing, and binding, not to mention its design.

5. Tell us about your ideal reading setting.
The ideal reading setting would be by the hearth with a crackling fire, but I take what I can get, namely, the half-hour commute on the Golden Gate ferry.

6. What are you reading now? 
Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. Mitchell was a New Yorker staff writer from 1938 until he died in 1996. This is a collection of his pieces written for The New Yorker.

Michael Carabetta is Creative Director of Chronicle Books, a San Francisco-based publisher. His work has received recognition in the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) 50 Books/50 Covers shows, and in Graphis Books I and II. His projects have appeared in a variety of design publications including Communication Arts, Critique, and I.D. magazines, and have received awards from the San Francisco Ad Club, New York Art Directors Club, and the Western Art Directors Club.