Faculty and Grads a Big Part of Upcoming Jewish Museum Lineup

Young Suh and Katie Peterson, UC Davis art and English professor,UC Davis
They served us three different kinds of ceviche at their house in Richmond. Daniela was due at the end of June, and she warned her family that there was poison oak everywhere. Her brother thinks like an engineer. By Young Suh and Katie Peterson.

September 2017 - UC Davis College of Letters and Science faculty, former faculty and graduates will be a part of several exhibitions at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco during the coming months. 

The first is “Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist as Maggid” in which contemporary artists and writers have been asked to reimagine ancient tales. Acting as modern maggids — storytellers, transmitters of knowledge, secrets revealers — they explore the many facets of these stories’ characters, themes and metaphors. It opens Sept. 28.

Katie Peterson and Young Suh
Katie Peterson and Young Suh

Young Suh, studio art professor, and Katie Peterson, professor of English, have created work inspired by the story “The Souls of Trees” about a couple trying to have a child. Unsuccessful and frustrated in their attempts, the couple is advised by a rabbi to plant trees because the house they live in was built of trees cut too early.

The story especially resonated with Suh and Peterson, who are married and expecting their first child Oct. 1.

“Because we are in the process of making a family, it was a really exciting process,” Suh said. “The idea came out of conversations we had about the stories.”

Finding all kinds of families

For the exhibition, the duo has made a series of photos and a video of families of various forms taken in a forest titled “The Family of Trees.” Suh took photos while Peterson engaged in journalistically-oriented interviews with the subjects for the video. She also asked participants to draw family trees, which took a wide range of forms.

“These are non-traditional families, not defined by the idealized image of perfect and intact families,” Suh said. “They are families with missing members, of mixed races, with non-gender specific members — all different kinds of families.”

"I asked them to think about themselves as a tree and move around to find their own place. It reveals what they feel about the family, their place in it, and how they relate to each other."

In some photos everyone stands closely together, in some one person stands alone, and in others the family dynamic is shown in multiple groupings.

"We wanted to find a way to tell stories about these families without the obvious social signifiers of how we talk about our families — a more poetic version," Peterson said.

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor (MFA, ‘05) was inspired by the story of the Golem, a creature made from mud and brought to life, who is a protector but at times gets out of control. She is making large sculptures from cast-off chairs, couches and other materials.

Tales of the Golem date to the beginnings of Judaism. Vera Iliatova, an assistant professor of art from 2004 to 2007, will have paintings in the exhibition.

Video interviews with all the artists will be on the museum website.

Other exhibitions at the museum featuring UC Davis artists:

  • Art professor Lucy Puls will be part of "Sabbath: The 2017 Dorothy Saxe Invitational" as will seven UC Davis graduates: O’Connor, Julia Couzens (MFA ‘90), Richard Shaw (M.A., art, ’68), Torrey Cummings (B.A., art, ’99), Terry Berlier (MFA ’03), Chris Daubert (MFA ’88) and Chris Fraser (B.A., history, ’00). All have been commissioned to create an artwork inspired by the concept of the Sabbath for the show taking place Nov. 12 – Feb. 25.
  • Art professor Annabeth Rosen will have work in "Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists," as will Howard Fried (MFA ’70), a pioneering figure in Bay Area conceptual art. Rosen, Robert Arneson Endowed Chair of Art since 1997, is known for her ceramic “aggregations” and her work is subject of a 20-year survey now at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston. Fried’s art has been included in four Whitney Biennials at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as well as many other major museums around the world. The exhibition takes place Feb. 22 – July 29, 2018.

–  Jeffrey Day is a content strategist in the College of Letters and Science.