First Light: Rituals of Glass and Neon Art, an exhibition by She Bends, and Radiant Practices: Illuminating Jewish Traditions explore the many manifestations of light and ritual in Judaism and beyond
Tuesday, September 12, 2023 (San Francisco, CA) — The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) will present a pair of exhibitions that collectively celebrate light, spirituality, and ritual practices. On December 7, The CJM will open a major group exhibition curated by the Bay Area organization She Bends and featuring works in neon, glass, and plasma, paired with an intimate exhibition in the Yud Gallery celebrating the role of light in Jewish ritual through an exploration of ceremonial objects. Opening on the eve of Hanukkah, the two exhibitions celebrate the many ways in which light offers a spiritual experience for people across cultures and practices.
Through the mediums of neon, plasma, blown glass, photography, sound, and installation, First Light: Rituals of Glass and Neon Art explores the way in which the artistic practice of neon and glasswork is akin to an act of ritual devotion. The exhibition brings together nine artists and is curated by She Bends, a locally-based organization dedicated to building a more equitable future for women and gender-nonconforming artists working with neon around the world. Known colloquially as “benders,” the neon artists included in the exhibition are Angelina Almukhametova, Jess Krichelle, Kacie Lees, Stephanie Sara Lifshutz, Mollie McKinley, Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez, Kamila Mróz, Meryl Pataky, and Lily Reeves. First Light will feature a series of new commissions, including large-scale sculptures, video, and sound works, as well as existing pieces that reflect the artists’ relationship to their own sense of spirituality and process.
First Light: Rituals of Glass and Neon Art offers visitors insight into how neon benders and glass artists transform naturally-occurring elements into something materially and conceptually transcendent. Exploring universal themes of wonder and cosmological inquiry, the exhibition ties together these existential questions with the more specific complexities of working in neon. The artworks range from abstract, poetic sculptures that elicit deeper contemplation to interactive installations that invite visitors to engage with the artwork through sound, touch, and light.
Visitors will learn about the process of working with neon through an introductory room that unpacks the science and tools used in neon bending and glass work—including a neon bending table and examples of various materials and tools used in the process. A short documentary video by Jess Krichelle will also be on view, sharing conversations with neon glass blowers about their practices. Throughout the gallery, there will also be opportunities to activate or interact with certain pieces involving materials such as plasma and phosphor.
Concurrently, The CJM will present Radiant Practices: Illuminating Jewish Traditions, an exhibition exploring Jewish rituals from across centuries that are imbued with light in Jewish life. Light—typically in the form of candles—is used to mark sacred moments in time in the Jewish tradition. Light was the first thing created in Genesis, and it is often considered a reminder of a divine presence, a symbol of the Torah, and a marker of goodness and peace. The act of candle-lighting signifies the entry into the start of a holiday, and mourners light a candle on the yahrzeit (anniversary) of someone’s passing each year to commemorate their life. Radiant Practices will feature displays of five ritual objects associated with light, on loan from local collections: Ner Tamid (eternal flame), Shabbat candlesticks, Havdalah sets, menorahs, and memorial candles will be displayed, exploring how light is employed in spiritual practice and Jewish life. The objects on view will provide an entry into traditions and customs both historical and current.
Taken together, First Light: Rituals of Glass and Neon Art and Radiant Practices: Illuminating Jewish Traditions offer space for meditation and reflection, and a chance to engage with the myriad forms of light that inform and inspire our existence and attraction to ritual practices. Both exhibitions will be on view through April 28, 2024.
She Bends is run by founder and neon bender Meryl Pataky and Director of Programs Kelsey Issel. The organization is dedicated to building a more equitable future for neon through public education, curatorial projects, and artist programs that foster diversity and sustainability. She Bends pushes the boundaries of the neon medium beyond the confines of commercial signage into the realm of fine art. To learn more, visit shebends.com.
For over thirty years The CJM has engaged audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. In 2008, The Museum opened a new building designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, providing a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in educational activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase l’chaim (“to life”), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.
Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum is generously provided by Bank of America; Grants for the Arts; The Bernard Osher Foundation; John Pritzker Family Fund; and Taube Philanthropies.
Major support for The CJM Helen Diller Institute is generously provided by The Helen Diller Family Foundation.