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Spring Exhibition Preview from Executive Director Lori Starr

Julius Shulman, Kaufmann House designed by Richard Neutra (Palm Springs, CA), 1947. Gelatin silver print. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute. Copyright © J. Paul Getty Trust.

Spring is a time of renewal. Here at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) we renew our passion for making the diversity of Jewish life relevant for a twenty-first century audience through our exhibitions and programs. In our beautiful jewel of a building—a former power station that broadcasts big ideas—we’ll be celebrating Passover with free admission all eight days of the holiday—as we reflect on the age old story told in the Haggadah of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.  Freedom is hard won and never guaranteed even in a democracy. Our exhibition of all forty-eight original pages of the most famous Haggadah in the world—The Szyk Haggadah, is a reminder. The glorious retelling of the story through magnificent, complex illuminations and hand-painted calligraphy also sounds a warning to the world of 1940 when Szyk’s masterpiece was first published about the growing threat of Nazism to the world. Did the world hear? At this time of year let’s open our ears and eyes to celebrate hard won freedoms but also to keep endeavoring to repair the world where so many people are still threatened and enslaved.

A Herpetologist Takes On Frog and Toad

Our current exhibition, Frog and Toad and the World of Arnold Lobel inspired us to visit The California Academy of Sciences to observe real-life frogs and toads. We were fortunate to sit down and chat with David Blackburn, Assistant Curator of Herpetology, about the differences between the two, the anatomical accuracy of Lobel’s art, and address some recent rumors about Cal Academy's most famous resident, Claude the white alligator.

Have you read the Frog and Toad books?

I have read Frog and Toad, yes. I have a son who is 5 and a son who is 2.

What are the differences between frogs and toads?

Technically true toads are just one family of all frogs. Toads are a type of frog but not really vice versa. The archetype of a toad is a grumpy warty thing that is on the ground but there are toads that breed only in tree holes. There are more than 6,200 frogs including toads, so for reference that's more frogs than [there are kinds of] mammals. There are probably slightly less than 500 in the species of true toads so you have some sort of sense of that relationship between frogs and toads. This is a time of discovery, so as a community of scientists we discover 150–200 new species of amphibians every year, most of which are frogs. Right now we are above 7,200 species of amphibians. Most amphibians are frogs. There are about 600 plus species of salamanders and 199 species of caecilians. [Caecilians] look like a cross between a snake and an earthworm. Those are the three types of amphibians.

Illustrated Ode to Frog and Toad: Q + A with Lauren Gregg

When you have an exhibition on a beloved children's book characters like Frog and Toad, an online search reveals plenty of nostalgic tributes. But this image caught our eye and led us to Lauren Gregg, an illustrator based in Athens, Georgia. We asked her what inspired this adorable update to the classic duo.

Lauren Gregg, Frog & Toad, 5 in. x 7 in., cel vinyl on illustration board.
Why did you choose to commemorate Frog and Toad with this illustration?

This illustration was actually a painting for my friend and fellow illustrator Meg Hunt! She curated an art show for her wedding (best idea ever), and had over 50 illustrators make tiny paintings about love for her and her husband. At the time I was revisiting books from my childhood, and when I got to this part in Frog and Toad Are Friends, I started crying like a little baby:

“I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a frog. And I felt good because I have you for a friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.” 

It's the most perfect example of love and friendship I think I've ever read, and I immediately picked up my paintbrush and got to it.

Fiddler on the Roof at 50

Fiddler on the Roof turns 50 this year. When it appeared on Broadway in 1964, it was an immediate hit, with memorable songs, themes of Jewish post-war concern, and the more universal topics of assimilation and how to balance innovation with ritual.

As a contemporary response to this storied musical, we partnered with JCCSF's 3200 stories to put out a call for videos of those willing to belt out one of the most beloved melodies, Tradition, but with a modern twist. The result is Break/Tradition, watch it below:

Two Museums Consider the Future

Top: Elisheva Biernoff, The Tools Are in Your Hands, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Eli Ridgway.
Bottom: Shane Hope, atomic_kill_threads, 2012, Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist.
The Encyclopedic Palace, the main exhibition of the 2013 Venice Biennale, borrowed its name from a utopian structure designed by self-taught artist Marino Auriti in the 1950s and intended to house all worldly knowledge. Visions of an idealistic future have inspired artists for centuries, but the utopian impulse has seemed especially timely of late. Returning to the original Greek etymology of the word, “no place,” contemporary artists are less likely to focus on a physical depiction of an ideal world, instead looking to more conceptual approaches to social amelioration.

Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote that utopia exists in the act of daydreaming, and artists’ renditions of utopia can sometimes mean no more (or no less) than that quietly radical definition. Work in Progress: Considering Utopia, which closes at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) on January 20, and Dissident Futures, which closes at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) on February 2, both feature artists who offer their own meditations on utopia and other alternative futures, based on speculation, promise, and possibility.