San Francisco Exhibitions Consider Levi Strauss and Digital Culture

Suzanne Ennis | February 27, 2020 | Lifestyle

Two new exhibitions highlight the staying power of Bay Area innovations.



A 1928 junior aviator suit from the Levi Strauss & Co. archives, on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Worldwide, blue jeans are recognized as the quintessential American garment. What’s less widely known is that their co-inventor, Levi Strauss—a Jewish immigrant who chased the gold rush to San Francisco—lived the quintessential American dream. Levi Strauss: A History of American Style, an original exhibition at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, tells the story of the man, the pants and their legacies through the largest public display of Levi Strauss & Co.’s archival materials ever assembled. The exhibition follows Strauss from his Bavarian birthplace to San Francisco, where he made significant civic and philanthropic contributions to the city and its Jewish community. But it was the idea to toughen up men’s work pants with metal rivets, combined with innovative branding and marketing schemes, that ultimately made Levi Strauss a household name. Through clothing, photographs and other ephemera, the exhibition, which was organized in collaboration with Levi Strauss & Co. historian Tracey Panek, follows his company’s evolution from workwear in the late 19th century to Western wear in the mid-20th century to clothing for people of all walks of life today. Among the rare items you won’t want to miss: the first pants to use the patented riveting system, a reissue of a jacket worn by Albert Einstein, a custom ensemble worn by Lauryn Hill and—illustrating both Levi’s out-of-the-box marketing strategies and the versatility of its signature fabric—an AMC Gremlin with a denim-upholstered interior. Through Aug. 9, 736 Mission St.,



Jean Shin, detail of “Huddled Masses,” Pause (2019), installation in progress in the artist’s studio

Picture all of the electronic devices and gadgets you’ve owned over the past two decades, from your first laptop to your latest smartphone. Have you ever wondered where they are now, or how they’ve shaped who you are? Those questions may be top of mind for visitors to at the Asian Art Museum, a site-specific installation commissioned by the museum that prompts visitors to consider the impact—both environmental and human—of digital culture. For Pause, New York-based Shin (whose work is represented in the collections of Facebook and Microsoft as well as at the Smithsonian American Art Museum) used Bay Area-sourced e-waste such as cell phones, smartphones, laptops and cables dating back 20 years to evoke a garden retreat that’s anything but natural. Museumgoers are invited to switch off their phones and connect with each other atop benches wrought from miles of Ethernet cables wrapped around laptops, computer towers and hard drives. Rocklike sculptures titled “Huddled Masses,” which nod to traditional East Asian scholars’ rocks, incorporate more than 3,000 mobile phones and rise from waves of yet more cables. Visitors can find quiet and stillness in the space, but the tension between the sculptures’ form and material makes complacency all but impossible. “Ultimately, Pause is an installation of and about technology, but without electricity, Wi-Fi, flashing lights, moving images or sound,” assistant curator of contemporary art and programs Marc Mayer explains in the exhibition’s press release. “This disconnect is meant to spark questions in those who take a moment to slow down and think about what that might mean for them in their lives.” Plus, if you look closely, you just might spot your old flip phone. Through May 24, 200 Larkin St.,

Tags: art

Photography by: From top, photos courtesy of: Levi Strauss & Co. Archives; the artist