Ancient Talmudic study principle reinterpreted by artist Jenny Odell in collaboration with Philip Buscemi

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Ancient Talmudic study principle reinterpreted by artist Jenny Odell in collaboration with Philip Buscemi
Jenny Odell, The Pile, 2015. Digital print, 36 x 48 in. Courtesy of the artist. In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art—Jenny Odell and Philip Buscemi. On view January 28–July 5, 2016 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Dialogue has always been an integral part of learning in traditional Jewish contexts. The Talmud states, “Just as in the case of iron, when one implement sharpens another, so too do two scholars sharpen each other.”

The Contemporary Jewish Museum repurposes the centuries-old practice of havruta—the study of religious texts by people in pairs—for the contemporary art community. An ongoing exhibition series, In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art, brings individual Bay Area artists together with a scholar, scientist, writer, or other thinker of his or her choice for a ten-week fellowship in creativity. The resulting collaborations will be presented in The Museum’s Sala Webb Education Center, and visitors can also follow the collaborative process on The Museum’s blog (, where artists will post reflections, thoughts, images, and more at intervals during the development of the work.

The current installation features the work of San Francisco-based artist Jenny Odell in collaboration with stylist and window designer Philip Buscemi. Odell and Buscemi are creating The Bureau of Suspended Objects, a series of window-like displays in the manner of a cabinet of curiosities. Following a residency at Recology SF, Odell’s work has focused on the ways in which manufactured objects circulate from the factory to our homes, and how our sentimental attachment to objects changes their initial commercial value. The objects (whether brand new, in-use, or trash) become tools for an investigation into the ways we invest and divest values into and from material goods, and ultimately on the powers of visual merchandising.

Jenny Odell’s art practice exists at the intersection of research and aesthetics. She has often been compared to a natural scientist. Her work makes use of secondhand imagery and vernacular online sources in an attempt to highlight the material dimension of our modern networked existence. It has been shown widely including the Google Headquarters (Mountain View, CA), Les Rencontres D'Arles, Arts Santa Monica, Fotomuseum Antwerpen, La Gaîté lyrique (Paris), the Made in NY Media Center, Apexart (NY), and East Wing (Dubai). It has also been featured in TIME Magazine's LightBox, The Atlantic, The Economist, WIRED, the NPR Picture Show, and a couple of Gestalten books. Odell teaches at Stanford University. She is a Bay Area native with an MFA in Design from the San Francisco Art Institute and a BA in English Literature from UC Berkeley.

Born in 1972 in the suburbs of upstate New York, Philip Buscemi has been working as a stylist and window designer for many years in and around San Francisco’s Union Square, where he has learned to merge the fine arts and retail to create interesting and fantastical displays. He has been working alongside San Francisco’s celebrated interior designer Ken Fulk for the last 12 years as a stylist designing environments, installations, and events. Recently, Buscemi created an installation for the La Cienega Design Quarter, Legends 2015-Where Muses Dwell, which won Ken Fulk The Editors Choice Award. Buscemi earned a BFA in Painting and Sculpture at The Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI, and has won many artist awards and exhibited his works in many group shows in California.

The Jewish Tradition of Havruta
In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art draws inspiration from the traditional Jewish learning method of studying the Talmud in pairs, havruta. The Talmud itself is a book of scholarly exchange with writings outlining Jewish law by multiple rabbinic authors in two parts—the >Mishnah, a transcription of the Oral Torah (c. 200 CE) and the Gemara, commentary on the laws (c. 500 CE). There are approximately 120 known authors of the Mishnah alone. Contrasted with the university model where students passively listen to lectures to absorb information, havruta demands active participation and engagement with the texts being studied. The root word haver—“friend” in Hebrew—emphasizes the communal nature of learning, and the havruta learning model reflects the Jewish affinity for asking questions and grappling with complex topics, together.

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Ancient Talmudic study principle reinterpreted by artist Jenny Odell in collaboration with Philip Buscemi

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