Now Playing

New Weather-Inspired Sculpture Is a 20-Foot Sandstorm in a Spinning Disk

Environmental artist Ned Kahn delves into natural phenomena at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.


If you’ve ever gawked at the enclosed tornado or the turbulent orb exhibitions at the Exploratorium, you’ve admired the work of Ned Kahn, the acclaimed Sebastopol-based environmental artist whose sculptures illuminate natural phenomena such as wind and clouds. But his latest piece, Negev Wheel—on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum beginning July 28—takes a slightly different tack. Here’s what you need to know to sound like an expert.

1. It’s a force of nature
Cyclones, hurricanes, and geysers are among the elemental subjects Kahn’s work has toyed with in the past. Negev Wheel is a little more meditative than that, but no less powerful. The sculpture is a vast, slowly spinning disk that’s 20 feet in diameter and filled with sand. As the disk turns, the sand tumbles and crashes down in hypnotic cascades and striations.

2. But it’s metaphorical, too
The churning, tumbling movement of the sand caused by an outside force (gravity) suggests chaos and turmoil. Yet its consistency and adaptability also give the impression of permanence. In the context of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, chief curator Renny Pritikin says, the wheel can be read as a symbol of the Jewish faith’s resilience in the face of constant upheaval. “It’s like sand dunes,” Pritikin says. “They’re constant and unchanging, and at the same time, constantly changing. It combines two contradictory realities.”

3. It’s a melting pot
Even the sand on display has a backstory: Kahn (a former MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient) imported boxes of it from the Negev desert in southern Israel. Despite its seeming uniformity, the particles that make up the sand have blown together over eons from Africa, Saudi Arabia, and across the Middle East.

Originally published in the August issue of
San Francisco 

Have feedback? Email us at
Email Ian Stewart at
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Ian Stewart on Twitter @IanAStewart