After hiatus, museum returns to former site

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After vacating its longtime site on Steuart Street three months ago, the Jewish Museum San Francisco is moving back in.

The lease for the museum's space in the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation ended Aug. 31 amid negotiations. Talks continued from that point, leading to the new yearlong, renewable lease.

That lease, which the parties expect to sign shortly, allows the museum to once again use the first-floor gallery space.

The museum will temporarily inhabit the basement space, which it had also previously occupied, for an exhibit opening on Friday, Dec. 25. The JCF, however, may end up using that space for other purposes after the exhibit closes.

The new lease restores the museum to its home after several months without a permanent exhibition space. During the limbo period, the museum co-sponsored "Desert Cliché: Israel Now — Local Images," at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

"A beat was missed," said Rabbi Brian Lurie, the museum's president and CEO. "If it had been talked through, [leaving] never would have happened."

The museum is expected to relocate to its new building in Yerba Buena Gardens in late 2001 or early 2002. In the meantime, it will rent the JCF space, as well as other temporary sites.

The Jewish museum had occupied the first floor and basement of the JCF building since October 1984. It was paying approximately $5,500 a month for rent when it left.

When the museum left in August, Lurie said, the JCF's proposed rent for the first-floor space was more than museum officials wanted to pay.

The museum and the JCF have since agreed on a "mutually agreeable price," Lurie said, which is less than what the JCF had originally asked and more than what the museum initially offered. Lurie declined to give a specific figure, as did JCF personnel director-building manager Elle Hoffnagel.

The JCF is currently reviewing other possible uses for the basement, Hoffnagel said, such as turning it into offices or a conference site.

As for the museum's upcoming plans, Lurie said, "there are a whole series of possible exhibits." He added that specifics will be determined when new director Connie Wolf arrives in mid-January.

Last week, the museum officially hired Wolf, a programming director at New York's Whitney Museum.

On Dec. 25, the museum will host "Being Jewish on Christmas," an annual celebration of Jewish art and culture that provides an alternative to traditional Christmas Day events. Included will be storytelling, hands-on children's art workshops, and klezmer, jazz and Sephardic music.

Opening on the same day will be "Alternativity: The Other Side of Christmas," a multimedia exhibition of contemporary art confronting issues related to being an outsider on Christmas. The show features painting, sculpture and installations by 15 contemporary artists, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

Throughout the day, an interactive video project will invite visitors to share their holiday experiences on camera. These will be simultaneously be projected live throughout the museum.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.