A Look at Havruta, or Shared Learning, Now at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

According to My Jewish Learning
, Havruta is the time-honored Jewish tradition of learning in pairs. Both participants in the act of Havruta are transformed from receiving new knowledge and meaningful experiences — the root word of Havruta is the Hebrew word chaver, or friend. 

In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Artis a collaboration between San Francisco based artist Jenny Odell and Union Square window designer Philip Buscemi. The exhibition will remain on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum through July 5. The small but fascinating exhibit gets its name from the simple display case — the kind often used in private homes — which is used to display the artists' works. The artists use the case “as an investigation into the different values associated with manufactured objects and their commercial display”, according to the CJM program book.

[jump] The displayed items come from Odell's personal collection of disposed objects which she's archiving — it's a fascinating collection which spans the last century. Items come from a diverse cross-section of location such as Odell's own home, from the homes of her relatives, and even from the City Dump. Odell chose which objects to display, while Buscemi organized each object in the display case.

Some of the more unusual pieces include a tea pot shaped in the form of  nude woman. The user must remove the pot's head in order to pour water inside the pot—the heated water is then poured out of the legs. The teapot was a gift from Odell's uncle. Objects from Odell's home include figurines of The Simpson's, circa 1991, and Barbie Happy Meal toys from 1991.

Flea markets can be wonderful places to find objects d'art. In That Case includes an issue of World Progress Magazine from 1933—that year's Chicago World's Fair graces the cover. Odell found the magazine at the Alemany Flea Market

Items Odell rescued from the City Dump include a transistor radio, a photo album that once belonged to a Viet Nam veteran, and a rotary dialed telephone. There's even an issue of Modern Priscilla Magazine from 1905. There are many more eye-catching objects to be seen as viewers peruse In That Case.

“Havruta demands active participation and engagement with the texts being studied,” states the introduction posted at the beginning of the exhibition. “The works represented by In That Case are the collaborative endeavors of local artists paired with a thinker of their choosing from outside of the visual arts.”

In That Case is a fascinating study on the American preoccupation with collecting. In joining Odell and Buscemi in the study hall, we learn more about ourselves. 

In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art—Jenny Odell and Philip Buscemi, through July 5, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission, 415-655-7800.

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