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San Francisco Chronicle | Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life Reopens 01.23.2012

San Francisco Chronicle | Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life Reopens 01.23.2012

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Article by Kenneth Baker

Article by Kenneth Baker


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Categories:Types, Reviews, Art
Published by: The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life on Jan 27, 2012
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Monday, January 23, 2012
Sarah Rice / Special to The Chronicle
Helen Bobell, of Oakland, shows her son Kai, 22 months, a 20thcentury Torah Ark pediment at the re-opening of Magnes Museum inBerkeley, Calif., Sunday, January 22, 2012.
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Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life reopens
Kenneth Baker, Chronicle Art Critic
The institution longknown as Judah L.Magnes Museum -custodian of pre-eminent collectionsrepresenting thecultural history of Jewsin the West - reopenedSunday as the MagnesCollection of Jewish Artand Life at UCBerkeley's Bancroft Library. Thename change tells the story inshorthand.The Magnes' utilitarian butsparkling new quarters, a 25,000-square-foot building on Allston Way, just steps from BART'sDowntown Berkeley Station, houses its holdings of paintings, sculpture, textiles, graphic arts and ritualobjects. Rare books, musical manuscripts and certainephemera in its collection will reside elsewhere in UCBerkeley's library system.Under an agreement completed in 2010, thecollections of the Magnes now belong to theuniversity , which will preserve them for the widercommunity and as resources for scholars and coursesin Jewish history and religious studies.The Magnes board purchased the Allston Way building - a disused printing plant - in1997, wisely anticipating the institution's eventual relocation and expansion, if not onthe present terms.
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Today's Deal in East Bay
The merger agreement with UC Berkeley followed lengthy efforts that ultimately failedto marry the Magnes with the San Francisco institution now known as theContemporary Jewish Museum.
Sleek, transparent new space
Founded in 1961, the Judah L. Magnes Museum occupied an 8,600-square-foot houseon Russell Street in Berkeley for years. The location and building were inviting, if notconvenient, to visitors but far from adequate to store or display properly even afraction of the museum's collection - almost 15,000 items of Judaica, artworks, andother artifacts and documents of Jewish life in the West.The house was sold for about $2 million, the proceeds going to ease the Magnes' moveand conversion of the Allston Way building to museum use by Pfau Long Architects of San Francisco.The interior of the new site, its public spaces all on the ground floor, looks sleek andtransparent. Custom case work by Pacassa Studios of Oakland displays a selection of objects representing the scope of the Magnes' interests, from religious antiquities anddocuments to modern painting and sculpture of Jewish inspiration. These slowly rotating displays, called Case Studies, will allow museum staff and academiccollaborators to excavate its holdings in fresh ways. A long glass wall both permits the secure display of artifacts and gives a view of collection storage, making the workings of the institution seem accessible as never before. A sizable space that serves as an auditorium, which the old Magnes never had, canaccommodate public and university-related events, and promises a growth in theMagnes' public programs.Two temporary exhibitions represent the Magnes' continuing involvement with livingartists through commissions and collaborations with other facets of the university.
Continually running film
Berkeley resident and San Jose State University faculty member Gale Antokal presentsa continually running short digital film titled "The Spill" (2012). In black-and-white, infixed close-up, it shows milk pouring down a stone staircase, seeming to almostdissolve it.In a large back gallery, suitable for many exhibition purposes, Jerusalem nativeEmmanuel Witzthum presents a two-channel video projection of arresting visual andsonic richness. He has digitally superimposed images of the ordinary life and landscapeof Jerusalem to produce a kinetic city portrait aesthetically involving even to someone who has never visited the city. A soundtrack composed of recordings made on-siteprovides the piece with a sort of non-melodic musical score. As a fellow at the UC Berkeley's Townsend Center for the Humanities, Witzthum plansto give parallel visual and sonic treatment to the city of Berkeley, for presentation atthe Magnes in the spring.
Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life:
2121 Allston Way, Berkeley. (510) 643-2526. www.magnes.org.
 E-mail Kenneth Baker at kennethbaker@sfchronicle.com.
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2:30 PM on January 23, 2012
The old museum had a great collection. Cannot wait to visit the new one.
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