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Meet Renny Pritkin: New CJM Chief Curator

Renny Pritikin has been a leading figure in the Bay Area arts community for decades, as Co-director of the historic New Langton Arts, Chief Curator of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Director of the Nelson Gallery and Fine Arts Collection at the University of California, Davis. We interviewed him to see how he is approaching this next phase of his career.

What interested you about working here at The CJM?

My whole career has been about expanding the boundaries of what's permissible and allowed to enter into the world of contemporary art. I said the other day to the Board [of Directors] that it feels at this point like a cri de coeur, a “cry from the heart” for inclusion and expansion of what's possible. The earliest part of my career was spent working at New Langton Arts for experimental art to be taken seriously and then at Yerba Buena [Center for the Arts] it was for the identity movement, people of various heritages, gays and lesbians, political artists, experimental artists and amateur artists, and just to open the door. So it seems obvious that here my own ethnic heritage would be added to that mix. I’ve never literally addressed Jewish issues, my approach has been that inclusion is inherently a Jewish point of view.

Creative Community: Black Glitter Collective

The exhibition To Build and Be Built addresses the culture of the kibbutz—Israeli communal agrarian societies in which life, labor, and pretty much everything else is often shared. This series of interviews explores local collectives of contemporary artists and asks the question, is it better to make art together?

The collective and friends: Persia, Tori, San Cha, Keith, and Jessica Amaya
The Black Glitter Collective, with five core members is creating and producing art collectively and independently with one another. They are Persia, San Cha, Tori, Tyler Holmes, and Vainhein (pronounced “Vane Hane” as in "vanity" and "heinous"). So far Black Glitter Collective has created more art than income, so they all have day jobs. But it would be pejorative to say they are just friends hanging out. They each have separate projects that focus on different artistic directions. And they collaborate on shared projects. Black Glitter is involved in creating music, performance art, style, fashion, attitude, video production, graphic design, and building an active and engaged community.

Project Mah Jongg

Women playing mah jongg in the Catskills, c. 1960. Collection of Harvey Abrams.
The familiar exclamations of “crak, bam, dot” accompanied by the shuffling of tiles conjure up memories of lively games played in the suburban living rooms of many Jewish homes from the 1920s through the 1960s—the heyday of the Chinese game mah jongg in the United States. For young Jewish Americans, mah jongg often brings up fond recollections of mothers and grandmothers engrossed in the riveting and social pastime. But mah jongg is not just a nostalgic hobby. The game has experienced a renaissance in the last two decades, fueled by a renewed interest in cultural activities of the pre-internet age like poker and bowling. Cross-generational and timeless, mah jongg has the ability to bring people together to relax and connect, and the game has a rich history in the Jewish American community.

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism

Elaine and Alvin Lustig, Sunset Office, 1949. Collection of Elaine Lustig Cohen.
“A man’s house is his art,” Daniel S. Defenbacher, director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, proclaimed in 1947: “At least a house is the nearest to art that most men will ever come.”1 Writing about the Walker’s new Idea House, a full-scale, fully furnished residence intended to persuade Americans to adopt modern architecture and design for their domestic environments, Defenbacher staked out an agenda that was personal and artistic. Built two years after the end of World War II, Idea House featured innovative glass-walled facades, gleaming appliances, smooth plywood furniture, and built-in storage units that captured the nation’s fascination with new materials and technologies. Americans could afford these innovations through an unprecedented postwar economic boom that promised good design for all Americans, especially returning veterans and their families, who, through the recently passed GI Bill of Rights, were moving into new homes.

Access Programs at The CJM: Art and Alzheimer's

An example of a welcoming ritual using a piece of string to connect the group.
The power of art to engage individuals with Alzheimer’s is profound. There is a growing body of research that shows that art, music, and other creative activities have significant positive effects on the quality of life, self-expression, socialization, and overall cognitive functioning of those affected by the disease.

As demographic patterns of health and aging are rapidly changing, museums are playing a more significant role in health issues. There are approximately five million Americans who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Museums have been stepping up to the plate to serve this growing population, and for the last three years, The CJM has been serving individuals with memory loss through our Memory Arts CafĂ© program.