Exhibitions History

The Magnes has a fifty-year history of presenting exhibitions that break new ground in Jewish Studies research, build upon the collaboration between curators and UC Berkeley faculty and students, expand Judaica connoisseurship, introduce under-recognized Jewish artists of the 20th century, and take risks with experimental projects by contemporary artists. Many of its exhibitions drawn on selections from its extensive collections, or commissioned works that use the collections as inspiration. 

This page is a growing archive of the exhibition history of the institution since its founding in 1962. The description of each exhibition is augmented by texts and label texts, images, press releases, links to press coverage and artists and contributors websites.

Visitors to the website who have been involved with any of the exhibitions created by the former Judah L. Magnes Museum and wish to contribute additional materials are encouraged to do so, reaching out to our staff through our contact information page.

Modern Jewish History 101: The Art Files

On View: 
Aug 28, 2012 to Jun 28, 2013

A panorama of Jewish life in the 20th century as told through images from the vast art collection at The Magnes. Paintings and sculptures by prominent artists illustrate key historical moments from pogroms to emigration to the Holocaust. The artists’ biographies are telling in their own right, revealing stories of global migration, Nazi persecution, trauma, and restitution.

Case Study No. 2 | The Inventory Project

On View: 
Aug 28, 2012 to Dec 14, 2012

The display cases at the very center of The Magnes building are designed to unleash the curatorial mind by presenting diverse collection items, a variety of display modes, and a wide range of perspectives. This is the ideal platform for the Case Study exhibition series, conceived as a “scholar’s playground.” Each year, UC Berkeley faculty, graduate students and visiting scholars will collaborate with the curators of The Magnes in creating collection-based exhibitions based on emerging research.

Typo/Graphics: Studying Jewish Types in Print and Photography

On View: 
Aug 28, 2012 to Dec 7, 2012

The main gallery presents an exhibition drawn from The Magnes’ vast collection of prints and photography. The broad selection by director Alla Efimova is an investigation of the use of reproducible images in ethnographic and documentary studies of Jewish lives, since 18th century to the present. The selection includes the well-loved images by Marc Chagall, Hermann Struck and Neil Foldberg as well as works by less known and anonymous image-makers. The focus is on the study of Jewish types in communities throughout the world.

Dissolving Localities | Berkeley Jerusalem

On View: 
Jan 22, 2012 to Jun 29, 2012

Emmanuel Witzthum’s multimedia project, Dissolving Localities, has focused for the last several years on the layers that compose the city of Jerusalem. Witzhum and the artists he invited “perform” the city as a musical/visual instrument. By interweaving recorded sights and sounds, ranging from birds’ songs to street noise, from prayer fragments to church bells, the project creates an expanding open-source multimedia montage, highlighting contrasts and unexpected harmonies.

The Magnes Effect: Five Decades of Collecting

On View: 
Jan 22, 2012 to Jun 29, 2012

In its first five decades The Magnes has made a global impact on Jewish culture through pioneering collecting practices and communal activism. It incubated the first Jewish film festival in the world and inspired the international revival of Klezmer music. It established the model for the study of regional Jewish history in America, explored the visual and materials dimensions of Jewish life, and became a preeminent Jewish museum collections in a world-class university setting.

Gained in Translation: Jews, Germany, California circa 1849

On View: 
Mar 1, 2011 to Jul 4, 2011

Inaugural exhibition of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life  

With the establishment of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley in July 2010, unique materials documenting the Jewish experience in Northern California were gifted to The Bancroft Library by the former Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley.

Jews of the Fillmore – BJE Community Library, San Francisco

On View: 
Oct 3, 2010 to Feb 27, 2011

After the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, the Fillmore district became home to a thriving Jewish community. Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe took root alongside other ethnic and religious groups living in the neighborhood. Fillmore and McAllister Streets were lined with Jewish-owned restaurants, bakeries, shops, and kosher markets.

@60.art.israel.world: Recent Art from Israel at the Magnes

On View: 
Feb 19, 2008 to Jul 27, 2008

The exhibition will survey recent work by contemporary Israeli artists. On loan from important private Bay Area collections, the paintings, photographs, and media art in the exhibition demonstrate the progressiveness and internationalism of the art world in Israel during the past decade. Sixty years after the establishment of the state, Israeli art is truly integrated into the global cultural landscape.

They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust

On View: 
Sep 10, 2007 to Jan 13, 2008

They Called Me Mayer July is the result of a 40-year collaboration between Yiddish anthropologist, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and her father, Mayer Kirshenblatt. Mayer grew up in Apt, Poland, and immigrated to Toronto in 1934. Through conversations and interviews with his daughter, Mayer recreated in remarkable detail a Jewish life in a small Polish city before the Holocaust. In 1990, at the age of 74, Mayer taught himself to paint and has since been illustrating the stories of his hometown.

Studio Man Ray: Photographs by Ira Nowinski

On View: 
Feb 21, 2007 to Aug 27, 2007

The studio on Rue Ferou in Paris was the home that Man Ray shared with his wife Juliet for twenty-five years. The couple lived and worked there from 1951 until the artist's death in 1976. Juliet preserved the studio as homage to her late husband. Studio Man Ray includes a series of photographs taken in the studio in 1983 and 1985 by San Francisco photographer Ira Nowinski, capturing the web of work, art, and life created by Man Ray and preserved by Juliet.

Journeys East: Patterns of Collecting

On View: 
Nov 20, 2006 to Aug 5, 2007

A significant component of the Magnes Collection is its holdings representing Jewish material culture from the Jewish communities of North Africa, India, and the former Ottoman Empire. During the years 2006-2008, these unique objects were researched as part of the museum's multi-year Collection Access Project, which enabled the museum to dramatically improve the care, interpretation, and exhibition of its permanent collection.

Through the Eye of the Needle: Fabric Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz

On View: 
Nov 20, 2006 to Feb 11, 2007

In 1977, at the age of 50, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz began creating works of fabric art to tell her story of survival during the Holocaust. Trained as a dressmaker but untrained in art, she created a collection of 36 fabric pictures of strong, vivid colors and striking details with a sense of folk-like realism. Meticulously stitched words beneath the pictures provide a narrative and the combined effect of story and art is powerful.

REVISIONS Jonathon Keats: The First Intergalactic Art Exposition

On View: 
Jul 31, 2006 to Jan 14, 2007


Concluding centuries of speculation about extraterrestrial intelligence, conceptual artist Jonathon Keats has discovered that a radio signal detected by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico contains artwork broadcast from deep space. Initially dismissed by researchers as meaningless, the transmission -- which originated between the constellations Aries and Pisces thousands of years ago -- is now claimed to be the most significant addition to the artistic canon since the Mona Lisa, or even the Venus of Willendorf.

My America: Art from The Jewish Museum Collection, 1900-1955

On View: 
Jun 5, 2006 to Sep 21, 2006

Focusing on the first half of the 20th century, My America: Art from The Jewish Museum Collection, 1900-1955 explores the eclectic styles and subjects of American art during this time. The exhibition includes over 50 works—paintings, sculpture, photographs, and works on paper—by artists such as Adolph Gottlieb, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Elie Nadelman, Larry Rivers, Mark Rothko, Ben Shahn, Aaron Siskind, Raphael Soyer, Alfred Stieglitz, Max Weber, and Weegee.