From junk to art

Malka Nedivi is known for her huge sculptures — roughly hewn, sometimes eerie figures that can reach up to 10 feet high — and collage paintings that are made of galvanized metal, chicken coop wire, pieces of old clothing, and fabrics and papers. 

Her choice of material tells the story of her life growing up in the house of a hoarder. As a youth in Israel, Nedivi lived among cardboard boxes and plastic bags filled with clothes and pieces of junk collected by her mother, who appears as the image of an old woman in many of the artist’s mixed-media art.

Malka Nedivi with “Bubbeleh,” mixed media (chicken wire, fabric, paper, acrylic paint and glue on a wood box). Photo by Ayala Or-El

“It’s interesting that all the things that she collected, and I couldn’t stand, are the things I’m using in my art,” she said. “It happened more after she passed away. Somebody told me that I’m one of those people who take a lemon and turn it to lemonade. It’s like taking those things which caused me pain and suffering and turning them into something beautiful. It was very healing.”

Nedivi, of Woodland Hills, said she always was embarrassed by her mother, Tzipora, who was so different from the other “cool” Israeli moms with their modern clothes and stylish hairdos. 

“My mom was a hoarder, and I was very ashamed of her and my house,” Nedivi said from her home studio. “In between the walls [were] piles and piles of boxes and things my mom had collected throughout the years. Anything that ever entered our house never left it. My mom never threw out anything. The children in the neighborhood used to laugh at her, about the way she looked, the way she dressed and how she used to collect things out in the streets. I was very ashamed to bring friends over. I didn’t want them to see how we lived.”

Born in 1952 in Rehovot, Nedivi is the only child of two Holocaust survivors who shared the same room with her until she turned 18. “We had a small house. In the living room, we didn’t have a couch, only some chairs and a TV. We also had a balcony with table and chairs. I used to study there for my finals so I wouldn’t wake up my parents.”

After her service in the military, Nedivi married filmmaker Udi Nedivi and moved to Los Angeles. It was a career move for her husband, but for Nedivi, who studied theater and literature at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, it was a chance to get away from the memories and the shame. She went on to study film at UCLA and work as an assistant editor before getting involved in art, first through ceramics and then through large-scale sculpture and collage paintings. 

 Seventeen years after arriving in the U.S., Nedivi received a phone call from Israel: Her mother’s health was deteriorating and she refused to move into a nursing home. 

“It was hard for her to part with her things … and also the management was not thrilled about having her move in,” Nedivi said. “They were afraid she was going to collect things. … I tried to bring my mom someone to take care of her at home, but none of them lasted long. They all left, one after the other. … I knew I didn’t have any choice but go and take care of her myself.”

By that time, Nedivi was a mother of three children. Her son, Ben, was about to go to college and her daughters were in elementary school and middle school. With the support of her husband, she packed her suitcases and moved back to Israel with her daughters in tow. 

“I knew that if I didn’t take care of her, nobody else would,” she said. “Before I left, my husband handed me a new camera and told me: ‘You can do it. Document your mother.’ He knew that it was going to help me. So I took the camera and filmed 120 hours, which I edited later into a 93-minute film.”

The resulting documentary, “Tzipora’s Nest,” was filmed during the time Nedivi spent in Israel caring for her mother. It tells the story of her mom and the last years of her life, surrounded by endless piles of junk and plastic bags full of different items she collected. 

“At first, when I moved back to Israel, I thought I should film my [older] daughter — how an American girl who studied all her life in an American-Jewish school arrives in an Israeli school — but in the end, I only documented my mom. And while working on the movie, something good had happened. I started understanding her better. I fell in love with her. I rediscovered my mom.”

Nedivi spoke with a psychologist about why her mom collected things. 

“He explained to me that people who went through such a trauma — as she did during the Holocaust, losing her parents and all her family — are left with holes in their heart. She was trying to fill in the holes with the things she collected. Like filling the void in her life.”

That was something she didn’t understand growing up.

“Back then, in those days, nobody talked about this phenomena, no one discussed this problem of hoarding. I didn’t know why my mother collected all these items and why our house didn’t look like the houses of the rest of my friends,” Nedivi said. 

“I remember going to visit my two best friends and enjoying the cleanliness and order in their house. I wanted to have such a house so badly. I begged my mother to turn the balcony to a bedroom, just like the neighbors did, but it never happened. I think that one of the reasons I was so happy to leave Israel and move here to Los Angeles was because I felt free of the shame that followed me back then. I have friends who live in the States and they would like so much to move back to Israel, but I never wanted to. I was always happy to live here; for me, it was a sense of freedom.” 

After her mom’s death, Nedivi began cleaning the small house. “I threw away everything. Till this day, I love throwing out stuff. I can’t have any small stuff at home. Whatever I didn’t use for a year or two, I throw away,” she said.

The experience proved therapeutic — and influential on her art, in which she layers fabric with glue and other torn materials to form large, looming figures. Most recently, she had an exhibition, “Mother and Daughter,” at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles on Fairfax Avenue, which ended in September.

Although she was eager to please the critics, she said she is also ready to have her art reach the masses.

“There were those who told me in the past that the reason I’m not able to sell my art is because I don’t want to separate from it,” she said. “But now, I felt ready to let go, and suddenly I started selling.”

Irwin Golden: A lifetime of talent spills onto the canvas

Inside the Belmont Village Senior Living’s Westwood facility, a large, 5-by-4 canvas hangs on the wall in the third-floor hallway. It’s an abstract artwork, a complex tapestry of mostly earth tones and a varied geometric scheme of squares, cut-off triangles and shapes that fall in between. 

An untitled piece, it’s located just outside Room 323, where 90-year-old Irwin Golden grins merely at the mention of it. And for good reason — he painted it.

“I like the big ones,” he said. “But there’s not enough space in here.” 

A recent move into a cozy white-walled studio unit has limited his workspace and storage capabilities. As a result, Golden has been forced to operate on a smaller scale of late, evidenced by a slew of recently completed abstract pieces crowding the floor and countertop of his narrow hallway kitchen. 

“For him, it’s like working on a postage stamp,” said his daughter, Sharyn Klein. 

At 90, Golden has the deep belly laugh of a man much younger. 

“I played offensive tackle in high school,” he said when asked about his younger years. Sitting comfortably in his armchair, a walker in front of him, his impressively built frame still doesn’t escape you. “But I was big and clumsy,” he added, letting out that laugh that invites you to join in. 

Still stuck on his own clumsiness, Golden recalls a fresh-faced Gene Kelly charging $5 for dancing lessons in Golden’s mostly Jewish Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill where he grew up. Golden enrolled, but, as he remembers it, the future Hollywood star wasn’t pleased with what he saw. 

“ ‘Come on, fat boy. Move your ass!’ That’s what he said to me,” Golden said.

Being different turned him on to art, Golden said. A young Walt Disney paying a visit to his elementary school in the early 1930s didn’t hurt either.

“I still collect Disney watches to this day,” Golden said with pride, extending his wrist to show off a vintage Mickey timepiece, one of 12 designs that he owns. The influence also can be seen in a painting Golden made for his grandson, featuring Mickey and trusty dog Pluto bounding through a vibrantly surreal, balloon-filled setting. 

As a teenager, Golden designed the stage sets for his high school’s class plays and painted in his spare time. The latter was met with disdain from Golden’s father. “He told me I was a sissy and that boys don’t paint,” Golden said. 

After three years of service in the South Pacific during World War II with the U.S. Army’s 98th Infantry Division, Golden returned to Pittsburgh and married his high school sweetheart, Shirley. He attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh on the GI Bill and was classically trained, honing his still-life and landscape skills (which he dismisses as “the boring stuff”). As part of his training, he worked with oils and re-created the works of greats such as Picasso, Modigliani and Chagall. 

He took a job in the display department of a department store, and his interests veered toward home furnishing and interior design. At the age of 22, he and Shirley moved to North Hollywood, where he opened a custom drapery business. 

Golden eventually moved his family to Mission Viejo. He wasn’t painting much, but his artistic background helped with other community projects. As a member of Temple Judea in Laguna Woods, Golden designed the stained-glass windows. As president of the local chapter of American Red Magen David for Israel, Golden designed Jewish New Year’s cards and tribute cards for fundraising. He retired at 62. 

Not one to sit idly by, Golden signed up for art courses at Saddleback College, where he discovered a connection to abstract art. “You get out of [abstract] what you see in your mind,” he said. “I was very into it.”

Over time, Golden developed and strengthened his abilities. He said he began to see works in his head, then transposed the visuals onto the canvas. This internal mechanism prevented bouts with macular degeneration and glaucoma from coming between Golden and his passion, enabling him to bypass his physical limitations. 

“It all comes from up here,” Golden said, pointing to his head. “I can see it in my head and my fingers just have to put it on the canvas.”

Golden’s work of late favors earthy browns and greens. Leading lines often direct attention to distinct use of deep reds and blues accompanied by a variety of spheres. There are also works integrating formless cloudlike visions of contrasting warm and cool colors. 

His mind is still razor-sharp, recalling memories and conversing with ease. Although hard of hearing, Golden softens considerably at every mention of his wife, wistfully stealing glances at a picture of her resting on a bedside table. 

“That’s my best piece of art,” he said, nodding in the direction of Shirley’s picture. 

Four years ago, while Shirley battled dementia, Golden stopped painting to be by her side. She died this past February after 69 years of marriage. For her, he completed a still-life painting of flowers, one of his few recent forays into that genre. 

“She liked flowers,” he said. 

Hoping to occupy his time, Golden resumed painting after Shirley died with renewed vigor. The dozen or so pieces that now litter his studio’s walkways have been completed over the last few months, his daughter said. 

A man who found his artistic voice in his 60s, Golden is still evolving.

“It’s fulfilling for me,” he said. 

With 90 years behind him, Golden looks forward. He’s eager to keep working, confdent his best work is still within him. 

“Look at this,” he said, his eyes scanning the room before finally coming to rest on a window overlooking Wilshire Boulevard. “I’ve got to find more space to work in.” 

Libeskind-designed museum reflects surrealist Nussbaum’s art

Just walking up to the Felix Nussbaum Haus in Osnabrück, Germany, is a breathtaking experience. The building’s unconventional design of sharp angles, zigzagging windows and mixture of wood, concrete and zinc creates a visual symphony with the surrealistic art housed within. 

It’s a first-rate art museum designed by the eminent Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind, dedicated to the life of a young local Jewish artist who perished in the Holocaust.

The main section of the Felix Nussbaum Haus, covered with oak, imparts a warm, organic feeling, in contrast to a section of cold, immovable concrete. 

Not the sort of thing you might expect to find in a quaint medieval German town founded by Charlemagne in the eighth century.

And yet, there it is on the borders of Lower Saxony and Westphalia in a region where Jews have lived since the Middle Ages. (Currently, approximately 1,500 Jews reside in the region, and there is one Orthodox synagogue.) 

Felix Nussbaum was born there in 1904. His father — an educated, wealthy iron merchant and World War I veteran — appreciated culture and supported his son’s artistic passions. His mother, however, felt “the arts are nothing useful,” according to Eva Gerber, director of the Museum of Cultural History in Osnabrück, where the Nussbaum collection was originally housed. 

Nussbaum left the city in 1922 at the age of 18 to pursue his art, first in Hamburg and then in Berlin, where he attended the Prussian Academy of Arts. There he met his Polish-born wife, Felka Platek, a fellow painter. In 1932, he was awarded the coveted Rome Prize, allowing him to study abroad in Italy. When Hitler came to power, the scholarship was revoked, and Nussbaum went through 12 tumultuous years living in exile that lasted into World War II. 

The artist painted in hidden places, escaped from an internment camp in France and lived illegally with the Belgian underground. He was able to slip by, out of sight of the authorities, until the closing months of the war. On June 20, 1944, Nussbaum was found and deported, along with his wife, and was eventually sent to Auschwitz. He perished there about a month later, at age 39, meeting the same fate as his wife, parents and older brother. 

The Felix Nussbaum Haus opened in 1998 and displays close to 100 of its 300 pieces of art, thanks to a large number of works recovered by the artist’s cousin and given to Osnabrück. Gerber said they’ve become a valued treasure.

“The city of Osnabrück decided to create a museum for the Nussbaum collection, not just for the crime of the time but for the art,” she said.

Artistic influences revealed in Nussbaum’s work include the Post-Impressionist painters Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Rousseau, according to our tour guide, Anne Sibylle Schwetter, curator at the Felix Nussbaum Haus. However, she said, “Nussbaum developed his own style using metaphors to depict his emotional and isolated world.”

In a powerful example of architecture and art working together, the museum showcases two self-portraits by Nussbaum — both created in 1943 while he was in hiding — on a long, stark concrete wall. The first piece, “Self-Portrait With Jewish Identity Card,” is spiritually deflating. Filled with drab colors and an aura of claustrophobia, it shows a man standing in front of a crumbling wall, holding an identity card that has an illegible place of birth and the word “without” written for his nationality. Wearing a coat with a yellow Jewish star on it, one of the ultimate symbols of the degradation imposed by the Nazis, his penetrating gaze seems to be foreshadowing his destiny.

“His identity is not his identity. … The Germans were responsible for taking away his identity and freedom,” Schwetter said. 

In a stark juxtaposition, the only other painting on the long wall is “Self-Portrait at the Easel.” A more virile Nussbaum is shown calmly smoking a pipe, bare-chested with bright eyes. His internal angst reveals itself through the labels that appear on the bottles of paint — death, nostalgia and suffering. According to Schwetter, the painting suggests a message from Nussbaum that even though he was a prisoner, he found freedom in his art.

“Self-Portrait at the Easel,” Felix Nussbaum, 1943. Photo courtesy of Felix Nussbaum Haus

Nussbaum’s sense of humor remained evident even up to his last known painting, “Triumph of Death” (1944). It features a hideously alluring landscape of trash, dead trees, a sky filled with masks in the shape of kites, and skeletal figures, many still with skin and hair, playfully making music in an post-apocalyptic world. A torn piece of sheet music appears on the ground with notes from “The Lambeth Walk,” a song in the 1937 musical “Me and My Girl” that is a caricature of a German military march. 

This painting is placed alone on a dark wall; the floor leading to it slopes downward, and a grate compels you to stop at a distance a few feet from the painting. It forces you to pause for a moment and take it all in, and then you realize: You’re at a dead end.  

The museum, which sits on the remains of an 18th-century bridge that was once part of the city’s fortifications, is itself a work of art. Designed by Libeskind, a Polish-American Jew and internationally renowned architect and urban planner, it was the first building he completed in his signature deconstructionist style. Other noteworthy ones have followed: the Jewish Museum Berlin, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the master plan for the World Trade Center site in New York City.  

The entrance to the Felix Nussbaum Haus — part of a 2011Libeskind-designed extension project — is both inviting and daunting, as its cacophony of shapes hints at the interior.

Inside, the museum contains three distinct sections, each symbolic of an important phase in Nussbaum’s life. A windowless narrow corridor made of concrete — a material that is cold, hard and barren — symbolizes his experience in exile. This wing of the museum faces what from 1933 to 1945 had been the local Nazi Party headquarters. 

The main wing is covered with oak, symbolizing Nussbaum’s younger life and his artistic evolution. It looks toward the former location of the old Jewish synagogue, which burned down in 1938. 

The wing called “The Bridge” is faced with zinc sheets — the coldest and most unchanging of the materials. It represents the last days of Nussbaum’s life and his death in the extermination camp. It is oriented toward the neighboring Museum of Cultural History, symbolically reintegrating Nussbaum’s life and art into the history of the city of Osnabrück. 

Throughout the building, asymmetrically shaped windows create collisions within the walls. The light works like a sundial throughout the museum, always changing with the time of day. There are sloping floors, unpredictable intersections and dead ends that reflect Nussbaum’s martyred life of fear and oppression. 

Leaving the museum, it’s hard to not feel swept away by the magnitude of the architecture and Nussbaum’s gripping and powerful world that was filled with beauty, confusion and, ultimately, silence. 

Searching for utopia in Orange County

The Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California bills itself as “the first great metropolitan park of the 21st century,” but until recently it was the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. The base was commissioned in 1943 and served as an airport for President Richard Nixon as he shuttled between the Western White House and Washington, D.C. After El Toro was decommissioned in 1999, the site was dormant for years. Then, after a long and contentious debate, voters approved a plan to create the Great Park. In 2011, I was invited to be one of the park’s first artists-in-residence.

At the time, I was fascinated with what psychologists call “mental time travel”—the way old family photos or home movies can reanimate an emotion and cause you to re-experience physical sensations you felt at the time. It can also happen with historical events. Images of President Nixon’s resignation trigger a rush of feelings in me—even though I experienced the event as a 10 year old watching it on television. 

Orange County is a fertile site for Nixon time travel. The 37th president was born in Yorba Linda and lived in Whittier and San Clemente. I wondered if, when he visited El Toro, he ever stood on the site of my temporary art studio. When I looked out the window at the rows of newly planted date palms, I tried to picture jets on the runway, Marines in jeeps, and 5,000 supporters pressed against a chain-link fence waiting for the president to descend from the sky—to time travel to that unforgettable day in 1974 when Nixon landed here, a few hours after flashing his famous “V” sign and boarding his helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House for the last time.

I decided to see if I could trigger people’s “involuntary memories”—memories evoked by cues rather than conscious effort. I wanted to know if the former base was haunted for others, too. So every Sunday for seven months, I went to the park to hold “open studio” hours and asked people to tell me their memories of Richard Nixon. As people visited with me and told me stories, I worked on large pen and ink drawings based on well-known images from the Nixon presidency, and I made drawings to illustrate the personal stories I had collected from park visitors over the previous weekends.

The Vietnam War figured into many of those conversations. Every American man over the age of 60 told me his draft number and how he either served or avoided the war. People also told me about the antiwar protests at nearby UC Irvine, which surprised me. I taught in the university’s art department for five years and never heard anything about student protests.

In fact, I had an impression of Irvine as a placid postwar utopia. In conversations with park visitors, I heard about neighborhoods where you “felt like you were in the best place.” People told me about growing up in the newly built housing tracts of the planned community and described how the town smelled of the Eucalyptus trees planted as a windbreak between the orange groves and lima bean fields.

Irvine was a lima bean farm until 1960 when the University of California bought 1,000 acres from James Irvine for $1. At that time, California had a problem: the children of the postwar baby boom were reaching college age and would soon overwhelm the state’s educational institutions. UC Irvine was one of three new campuses to open between 1960 and 1965. President Lyndon B. Johnson presided at the UC Irvine dedication.

The layout of the UC Irvine campus and an adjacent community planned for 50,000 residents was designed by William Pereira, the architect who drafted the master plan for LAX. In photographs that ran in the September 6, 1963 issue of Time magazine, a dashing Pereira gestures to his blueprint of subdivisions and cul-de-sacs—“the perfect place to live, work, shop, play, and learn,” as described by Irvine Company literature.

How did the Vietnam War transform this brand-new utopian campus? Inspired by my interviews at the park, I decided to investigate in the UC Irvine Archives and Special Collections at the Langston Library.

A sleeve of 35mm slides from October 4, 1965, opening day of the University of California, Irvine reveals many buildings still under construction, and bare ground dotted with fragile saplings staked to posts. Smiling girls with bouffant hairdos and boys with crewcuts carry armloads of books through William Pereira’s vision of the perfect future—all space age cement curves and expressionistic patterned facades.

Just a year and a half later, the students don’t look as happy. In a fat folder of slides from January 23, 1967, I find young people assembled with unmistakable seriousness on the steps of the Gateway Plaza to protest the firing of UC President Kerr for his lenient treatment of Free Speech Movement activists (at the urging of recently elected Governor Ronald Reagan). The students are holding hand-lettered signs that say: “In Memoriam Clark Kerr” and “R-E-A-G-A-N Doesn’t Spell FREEDOM.”

May 4 1970, Irvine

I see the students becoming more radicalized in dress and demeanor year by year. In bound volumes of The New University, the student paper, I read about how the campus participated in the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam in October 1969. In faded slides, the clean-cut boys of 1965 are now shaggy-haired and shirtless. Girls have ditched their curlers for straight hair parted in the middle like Joan Baez, and they’re wearing jeans. They wear black armbands, and many students are barefoot. The crowd has swollen, completely filling the stairs, and legs are dangling from the library balcony.

Visitors to my Great Park studio had described their memories of April 30, 1970, when President Nixon appeared on television with a giant map of Southeast Asia to announce his expansion of the war into Cambodia. In response, students at over 400 colleges and universities went on strike. In a photo from May 4, 1970, the UCI plaza and library are occupied and no one is smiling anymore. In one photo, a crowd holds signs that read: “Did Dick Ask Us?” and “Does your government represent YOU?”

I don’t think the protestors know it yet—the 24-hour news cycle hadn’t been invented— but National Guardsmen in Ohio opened fire on an unarmed crowd at Kent State University at 12:24 p.m. that same day, killing four students and injuring nine. Based on the angle of the sun and shadows on the plaza, the massacre in Ohio has already happened. It’s a weird feeling to know this has happened when the students in the photo do not yet know.

The speed of the transformation at Irvine is what affects me the most. In the five years since 1965, these brand-new buildings became symbols of an establishment the students felt had betrayed them. The students rejected the utopia that was created for them, not in a symbolic sense, but literally—this utopia was created for them.

The story of war protest at UCI may not be as historically significant or well-known as the protests at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and Columbia University. But it is a microcosm of the rise and fall of the postwar American Dream. 

I think about Pereira’s vision for a college campus as a tranquil utopia in an orderly, planned Southern California city, and try to reconcile that idea with images of Ohio guardsmen positioning their M-1 rifles in front of the pagoda on a picturesque campus 2,000 miles away. Tear gas blurs the silhouettes of students fleeing the Modernist cement buildings of Kent State, and in other pictures students crouch in a parking lot over the fallen bodies of their classmates. I guess it’s hard to “master plan” for some futures.

I put my folders back on the cart to be reshelved, wondering how long it will be until someone else asks to look at them. I emerge from the library into the late afternoon sun, blinking with the disorientation of a time traveler. I half expect to see picket signs and girls in ponchos. The Gateway Plaza is swarming with students, but they are of all different ethnicities, not the primarily Anglo students of the late 1960s. They are not shaggy but groomed and gelled. They’re texting on smartphones as they race purposefully to class. They have skateboards and backpacks, and it’s hard to imagine them protesting anything—not because they seem apathetic or indifferent, but because they’re so diverse it’s hard to imagine a single cause that could galvanize all of them. 

The campus bears so little resemblance to the master plan that it’s hard to locate all eight original Pereira buildings amidst the expansion and constant construction. When I find them, the Brutalist buildings look dated and a little cartoony, dwarfed and crowded by giant glass and steel laboratories. The products of more recent architects—and their visions of an entirely different future—colonize every square foot of available space.

Deborah Aschheim is an artist who makes installations, drawings, and sculptures as part of a long-term investigation of personal and collective memory. Her project, “Involuntary Memories,” will be exhibited at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum from July 26 to September 28, 2014. 

This article was originally written for Zocalo Public Square.

Filmmaker forges intimate portrait of artist-activist Ai Weiwei

In 2010, Alison Klayman sat in a car in Chengdu, China, with her camera rolling as the internationally renowned conceptual artist and dissident Ai Weiwei scuffled with police, who were pushing and pulling at him and his entourage. The melee had erupted as Ai was attempting to file a lawsuit against the policeman who had beaten him so severely a year earlier that he had suffered a life-threatening cranial hemorrhage, requiring surgery to remove the blood from his brain.

“The moment when my camera fuzzed out is because one of the plainclothes officers came over to the car and grabbed my camera,” said Klayman, 27, whose award-winning documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” opens in Los Angeles on Aug. 3. “My goal was to keep my footage and not have him look at it and turn me in.” So Klayman was prepared. As the officer approached, she deftly switched out her tape with a blank one, which the official promptly confiscated. She had become adept at this kind of bait and switch after authorities had previously confronted her in the process of making her film about China’s most famous artist-activist. Ai is probably best known for creating the Beijing Nation Stadium, also known as the “Bird’s Nest,” for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but his sculpture also has been in museums throughout the world, including a recent installation on the courtyard at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“At the time, it was really scary,” Klayman recently recalled of the Chengdu confrontation from her home in New York, where she moved after following Ai for three years to make her debut film. “I didn’t know if everybody I was with was about to be detained. I was very nervous, not so much for my personal safety, but for everyone I was with who were Chinese citizens.”

“Never Sorry” introduces the charismatic Ai as he prepares for his 100 million sunflower seed installation at the Tate Modern in London while launching his campaign to discover the names of children killed in the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, their deaths a result of shoddy government construction. The heartbreaking images of children’s belongings in the rubble inspired Ai’s giant mural of 9,000 colorful backpacks on display outside his 2009 exhibition, “So Sorry,” in Munich. 

The documentary also follows the Web-savvy artist as he continues to tweet mocking messages about his government, despite escalating police surveillance. Officials shut down his blog and raze his newly built Shanghai studio even as Time magazine votes him a runner-up for person of the year and ArtReview names him the world’s most influential artist in 2011. In April of that year, the film shows the activist disappearing into custody on dubious charges of tax evasion, where he suffers psychological torture during 81 days in jail — all while a global campaign explodes on his behalf.

Alison Klayman

Klayman was an underemployed freelance journalist when she began shooting a short film on Ai without pay in 2008, and she had no idea that the artist-architect-photographer would, over the course of filming, become China’s most renowned cause célèbre. Hers was, perhaps, a textbook case of being in the right place at the right time: “I did not go to China to find Ai Weiwei, nor did I even know who he was,” she said. In fact, back in 2006, Klayman had little interest in Asia, hardly spoke a word of Chinese and didn’t even own a camera when, on a lark, she accompanied a fellow Brown University graduate to visit the friend’s relatives in Shanghai.

Klayman had grown up a world away, in a Conservative Jewish home in suburban Philadelphia, where she attended the Akiba-Barrack Jewish Day School and became fluent in Hebrew. Her mother, a native Yiddish speaker, was born to Polish Holocaust survivors in Israel; while Klayman’s grandparents spoke little about their experiences in a series of camps, she said, “The subject loomed large in our family.” So did the Jewish concepts of “social justice, chesed and tikkun olam. … When you grow up with the Holocaust as part of your [legacy], you’re raised on the idea that you have to speak out, and that staying silent about injustice contributes to the injustice.”

It’s a worldview that, in part, would connect her with the outspoken Ai, whose own father was imprisoned and forced to perform hard labor during the Cultural Revolution. But Klayman’s journey to China, she said, “was the most random thing ever.”

She had hoped to see the world and jump-start her journalism career when her classmate invited her to Shanghai in 2006; five months later, Klayman moved to Beijing, where she sustained herself, in part, by serving as China’s correspondent for JTA and writing for this newspaper, among other publications. She found a home away from home within the Kehillat Beijing congregation, where she tutored five young women for their b’nai mitzvah and also co-founded the city’s Moishe House for Jewish programming with her American roommate, Stephanie Tung.

It was Tung, who was helping to curate an exhibition of Ai’s New York photographs, who brought Klayman in to make a 20-minute video about the artist four years ago. By that time, Klayman knew that Ai had designed the lauded “Bird’s Nest” stadium and then had denounced the Olympic Games as Communist Party propaganda. Even so, she said: “Early on, he was talking about the government in ways that haunted me. I was thinking, ‘How are you able to do the things that you do, and how are you not in jail?’ ”

When the artist allowed Klayman to continue filming him after his photography exhibition, she accompanied him to Munich, where excruciating headaches as a result of his Chengdu beating landed him in the hospital. “Never Sorry” shows Ai in his sickbed holding up the bag of blood that had been extracted from his skull. 

Klayman surmises that she was able to follow the artist within China because she was not a prominent journalist from an outlet like CNN, which meant she was beneath the government’s radar.

When Ai was arrested in April 2011, the debut filmmaker realized she had unprecedented footage of China’s most famous missing person; for weeks she stayed up late into the night to Skype with Ai’s assistants, as his Beijing studio was raided and his possessions searched. Klayman phoned Ai the night he was released: “He was subdued, exhausted and clearly relieved to just be home,” she said. Her documentary ends as the artist-provocateur wanly tells reporters that he cannot speak to them as a condition of his bail, then firmly shuts his studio door.

“Now that we’re a little farther out, we know he’s not completely broken, but at that moment it felt like [he was], and it was crushing,” Klayman said, adding that Ai went on to violate his bail conditions by speaking out on Twitter and in op-ed pieces.

Even after those conditions were lifted on June 22, Ai is still not allowed to leave China and has been ordered to pay $2.4 million in tax fees. He also faces possible charges including bigamy and pornography. “He’s still living in total uncertainly,” Klayman said. Therefore, the timeliness of her work is all the more front-and-center. “It’s important to me that the documentary will help keep people aware.”

“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” opens on Aug. 3 in Los Angeles.

‘Modigliani’ paints moving portrait of tormented artist

An artist’s angst over personal demons and the vicissitudes of the marketplace is depicted with a mixture of humor and pathos in the upcoming revival of “Modigliani” at the Open Fist Theatre in Hollywood. The story, set in the Montparnasse area of Paris in 1916, covers three days in the life of the celebrated Italian-Jewish painter Amedeo Modigliani, who, like numerous other artists, became an icon only after his death. He is particularly noted for his renderings of elongated figures, mask-like faces and erotic nudes.

The play, by the late Dennis McIntyre, was produced off-Broadway at the Astor Place Theatre in 1980, where director Bjørn Johnson saw it when he went to New York as a young actor to study. He was so taken with the material that, years later, he decided to play Modigliani as a project for his acting class in Los Angeles. Now he is helming a professional production of the work for a midweek offering at the Open Fist.

“ ‘Modigliani’ is really the genuine starving-artist story,” Johnson remarked. “He was a guy who was recognized by everybody but just couldn’t get it off the ground.”

He was also recognized for his alcoholism, his addiction to hashish and absinthe, and his womanizing. 

“He was a wild guy,” Johnson said, “very eccentric and so open. And that’s what’s so attractive about the play, what’s so attractive about the characters. What else is attractive to me about the material is that it’s a great acting opportunity. The scenes are detailed, and they’re deep, and they get to completion. They go to very deep places, not all of them dark. But it’s just kind of a great, human opportunity for an actor, and a director.”

Johnson and Matt Marquez — who plays the title role — both say that they, as artists in another medium, can relate to Modigliani’s struggles.  Marquez describes the three days depicted in the play as a particularly crucial point in Modigliani’s life. The artist is burned-out; tired of buyers, collectors and dealers; has not been painting; and wants money to fulfill his fantasy of running away to Martinique.

“He’s somebody who has begun to doubt his own talent,” Marquez explained, “and he has reason for that. He’s basically come to a crisis in his life where he doesn’t know what to do or if he’s made the right choice. So, he’s filled with doubt, like many of us are at times in our lives.”

Marquez added: “What makes it even harder to deal with is the fact that he has tuberculosis and he’s dying. In those three days, he’s struggling to find something of substance in his life and a way back into what he loved so much in his art. He’s uninspired, and he’s trying to find inspiration, and he knows his time is finite. He doesn’t know if he’ll make it to the next day.”

The art world of Modigliani’s day in Paris was teeming with such movements as Cubism, Post-Impressionism, Dadaism and Futurism, among others, but Modigliani didn’t fit the mold. Marquez feels it’s a problem for artists that never changes.

“It has to do with culture and what’s popular and what’s not. They say artists are ahead of their time, but it’s more about everyone else having to catch up. They’re right where they need to be, but everyone else has to catch up,” Marquez said.

“There’s a line where one of the dealers tells my character that there’s no demand for a certain kind of painting that I’m doing, and I say, ‘Demand? But demand can’t change something that’s beautiful.’ And, of course, he rejects what I’ve just said,” Marquez added.

The tragic underpinning of the play is leavened with hilarity, particularly in the characters of Modigliani’s fellow artists Chaim Soutine (Nasser Khan), also Jewish, and Maurice Utrillo (Daniel Escobar).

Utrillo wants Soutine to help him kill his mother’s lover, while Soutine wants assistance in stealing a dead cow so that he can watch the side of beef change and paint the colors that emerge. He worries that they won’t get to the carcass in time. “What if they throw out the beef? Butchers aren’t very sensitive. They don’t understand reds or greens.”

Modigliani, or Modi, as he was called, also has his comedic moments. At one point he explains his injured hand to his agent, Leopold (Jeff Lorch and Peter Lewis,  double-cast), by recounting his escapade in an upscale restaurant that he had entered from the back.  When the staff realized he had drunk two bottles of wine, and probably couldn’t pay, they started chasing him. He describes leaping over tables, stepping in dinners, introducing himself and sampling desserts when he found himself at the table of a French general and his wife.

“And you know what I think about French generals,” he says. He then describes how he dropped his pants and bent over, adding, “And Jews don’t drop their pants on very important generals.”

The fact that Modigliani was Jewish definitely informs the work and is a significant element of the story, according to Johnson.

“I don’t think it’s an isolated thing. I think it ties into his sense of being held outside, of being excluded, of being repressed. And I think it couples with his frustrations. Utrillo is his best friend, and yet he sort of laughingly calls him a Jew bastard and sarcastically calls him a kike. But it definitely ties into the gestalt of the society in which they’re living.” 

Modigliani’s sense of being alienated explodes in the play’s devastating, pivotal scene, which finds him meeting with art dealer Guillaume Chéron (Jon Collin Barclay), who trivializes the artist’s efforts, is disrespectful, dismissive and somewhat contemptuous, offering an insultingly paltry sum for some of the artwork. The dealer says, “You have a talent — but I doubt you’ll ever develop it. You’re good — no — more promising than good, but you’re not that good.”

In reaction, Modigliani goes on a rampage, destroying many of his paintings. His self-destructive behavior finally provokes his mistress and model, Beatrice Hastings (Nicole Stuart), into leaving him.

It seems that Modigliani has nothing left, but then his inner core bursts forth. It is a quintessential expression of tenaciousness, which, for Johnson, is at the heart of this play.

“He’s got so much behind him; he’s got so much fire in his belly; he’s got so much genuine artistic inspiration; and he’s flying in the face of incredible obstacles. He’s got tuberculosis; he’s out of money; he’s in questionable company; he doesn’t have two cents to rub together; he doesn’t have any food; it’s incredibly cold, and it’s raining. He’s got some hard knocks and close calls, and he just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I think the universal theme is tenacity.”

“Modigliani” at the Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90038. 323.882.6912. Mon. April 30 (preview) – Thurs. May 24, 2012. Reservations:

Gala Opening:
Tuesday, May 1st @ 8pm 
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 8pm

Gala Opening Tickets- $30.00
Preview tickets: $15.00
VIP Tickets $34.00 ~ Includes Wine
Regular tickets $20 ~ Students & Seniors – $15

Lucian Freud, noted British artist, dies

Lucian Freud, one of Britain’s most noted artists, has died at the age of 88.

Freud, who was a grandson of Sigmund Freud, the pioneering figure of psychoanalysis, died at his London home on Wednesday.

Born in Berlin in 1922, the future artist fled with his family to England at the age of 10 after Hitler took power in 1933.

A figurative painter, he was famed for his portraits and paintings of nudes.

“The vitality of (Freud’s) nudes, the intensity of the still life paintings and the presence of his portraits of family and friends guarantee Lucian Freud a unique place in the pantheon of late 20th Century art,” said Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate Gallery in London. “His early paintings redefined British art and his later works stand comparison with the great figurative painters of any period.”

The classic Szyk haggadah becomes a modern masterpiece of the digital age

There’s a 1,000-year-old haggadah, there’s an Internet haggadah, and now there is a new $15,000 Arthur Szyk Haggadah.

Szyk (pronounced Shick) was a Jew, a Pole, an American, and always an artist, whose brilliant paintings and cartoons could give new life to ancient traditions or eviscerate a Hitler and Mussolini.

Now, almost 57 years after Szyk’s death, antiquarian bookseller Irvin Ungar has come up with a new edition of the artist’s 1940 Haggadah, which, Ungar believes, gives new meaning to the term state-of-the-art, particularly in digital technology.

To create the new haggadah, Ungar said he assembled an international team of top-flight craftsmen, including a digital photographer, writers, designer, bookbinder, printer, boxmaker and film director. To provide the perfect paper for the haggadah, Ungar tracked down a mill in Germany, which had been in business since 1584.

Szyk was born in Lodz in 1894 and started drawing portraits of guests in his parents’ home at age 4. After studying painting in Paris and visiting Palestine in 1914, he was drafted into the czar’s army in World War I but deserted. Later, he fought against the Soviets under the legendary Polish Marshall Josef Pilsudski.

With the rise of Nazism in neighboring Germany, Szyk became one of the first anti-Hitler cartoonists, explaining that “the painter of books wants to reply to the wall painter.” The Fuehrer allegedly put a price on the head of his nemesis.

At the same time, Szyk worked for two years on his haggadah, and, in 1937, took his 48 paintings to London, hoping to find a publisher who would do the work justice.

However, Szyk had injected his anti-fascism into his art, such as putting a swastika armband on the Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave and a Hitlerian moustache on the Wicked Son. In the pre-war British appeasement days, every publisher turned him down until Szyk reluctantly deleted the Nazi symbols.

When the haggadah came out in 1940 in an original edition of 250 copies printed on calfskin vellum, it was one of the costliest publishing projects of the 20th century. Subsequent photo reproductions could not match the brilliance of the original.

The same year, Szyk immigrated to the United States, and, as a self-described “soldier in art,” his ferocious depictions of the Axis leaders soon graced the covers of Time, Colliers and newspapers across the country. Amazingly, his use of medieval techniques of manuscript illumination proved to be the right style for biting, contemporary satire.

After the war, he applied his talents to supporting Israel’s struggle for independence, in the process creating a new image of the muscular Jewish worker and soldier.

Szyk, whose cartoons had attacked McCarthyism and racist prejudice against blacks, ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee in early 1951, and within a few months he died at the age of 57.

In the subsequent decades, Szyk and his art were largely forgotten, until a renaissance during the past decade — including a spate of documentaries, biographies and one-man exhibits — brought him to the attention of a new generation.

One of the early rediscoverers was Ungar, a Reform congregational rabbi in Forest Hills, N.Y. and then Burlingame, who had left the pulpit in 1987 to found Historicana, an antiquarian bookseller firm in the northern California city.

Once introduced to Szyk’s work, Ungar was smitten and, as president of the Arthur Szyk Society, is now devoting his life to the master’s legacy, he said.

“No Jewish artist has been more devoted to liberty and social justice than Szyk,” Ungar declared. “No artist has done more to translate Jewish values into art. His haggadah is the great book of freedom.”

The new Szyk Haggadah is being printed in a one-time edition of 300 copies, divided into 215 copies of the deluxe edition at $8,500 per copy, and 85 copies of the premier edition at $15,000 each.

Each copy, resting in a clamshell box, is accompanied by 248-page companion volume on Szyk’s art and life, with essays by such scholars as former museum director Tom Freudenheim (a frequent contributor to The Jewish Journal) and Israeli historian Shalom Sabar. Also included is a DVD of the documentary “The Remaking of the Szyk Haggadah.”

For more information, call (650) 343-9578.

The Four Questions

Images reproduced with the cooperation of Historicana, publisher of the new edition of The Szyk Haggadah

Art: Goldfarb’s sleight of hand and eye at MOLAA

“Walter Goldfarb: D+Lirium,” on view at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach through May 18, should reassure viewers that our art-jaded world still provides the occasional joy of discovery. The mid-career view of this talented Brazilian artist is also his first solo exhibition in the U.S., and the work is much more interesting than the show’s somewhat precious title suggests.

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1964, Goldfarb still works there, and his art has been seen primarily in Brazil, Spain, and (not surprisingly) Miami. There’s an intelligence behind his art that suggests layers of meaning that are accessible, but not explained. Highly readable iconic images of famous works of art are appropriated in ways that make us wonder about their meaning: the artist only hints, he doesn’t tell. Conventional media such as painting and drawing on canvas are juxtaposed with embroidery, calling attention to questions that continually confound us: Where is the line between art and craft? If it’s got sewing/embroidery does it qualify as high art? These conundrums are implicit in Goldfarb’s work, but don’t diminish its grander ambitions.

Working in a variety of media, Walter Goldfarb creates a rich series of suggestive, yet elusive, images whose individual parts (e.g., a “Last Supper,” a building, a text) can be easily read, even while we struggle to determine their meaning. The various techniques at work here tantalizingly relate to a range of other artists: Rauschenberg’s 1950’s “Combines” and the early work of Jim Dine come to mind. From these and other masters of the evocative, Goldfarb has learned to suggest layers of possible readings, forcing us to reconsider what at first glance seemed like a simple image. So, using the term lysergic for the series of paintings that range from a Last Supper to an opera house may suggest some sort of hallucinatory experience — but is it the artist’s or the viewer’s? We don’t have recognition problems in deciphering the images, yet we are repeatedly being asked to doubt our sense of recognition. There must be some complex meaning here — or maybe there’s just rich imagery. How do we know? Does it matter? Is it OK if we just groove on the visual profusion?

Momentarily less puzzling are the various works in which elusive motifs may be at odds with one another. Here is “Le Juif Errant” and there is “Lohengrin” and might not these juxtapositions be meant to confuse us? Well, yes. As often is the case with the most interesting art, this is about something readable morphing into the indecipherable. So in the grand work, “Golem” (1999, part of the “White Series”), Goldfarb gives us Prague — or does he? We’re not sure whether we are looking at the Charles Bridge and the State Opera House or just some imagined memory of them — actually, the latter, since the artist clearly wants only to be suggestive, and further confuses us with a line of Hebrew script as a connective thread between two bits of architecture that might have been misdrawn by a 19th century tourist.

Sure, we know that Golem means Prague, which means something Jewish; but here there are massive empty spaces as well — as opposed to the compression of the actual remembered Prague — with strong overtones of loss. It’s an enormously potent vision, but just when you want to feel comfortable with the artist asserting himself in some Jewish manner (after all, doesn’t Hebrew script also mean “Jewish”?), you realize that Goldfarb is also a much more expansive appropriator — mixing and matching — playing with Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding” (1434, National Gallery, London) and with our memory of it.

He does this again by using micrography to turn Hebrew letters into a decorative thread (another version of embroidery?) that emanates from a cross-less crucified Christ in his “Yiddishe Mary” (1997), that is both puzzling and uncomfortable. I see these works as gestures of respect for the viewer. The artist takes for granted our ability to reassemble these visual ideas. We see that again in “Faust — Where is Margueritte after Van Gogh” (1999); the elaborately calligraphed word “Faust” and Van Gogh’s drooping sunflowers (marguerite=daisy?) must mean something, and yet we struggle to find an answer to Goldfarb’s implicit question.

Visitors to the Museum of Latin American Art will be continually challenged by Goldfarb’s ironic sensibility that just skirts the political statement. Perhaps the least oblique work is “Kol Nidre” (1998), in which a map of Europe with names of deportation and concentration and death camps is flanked by papal images — the one on the left surely recognizable as Pius XII.

The artist’s range of interests is part of what makes his work so fascinating — from religious and historical subjects to hints from literature, music (Stokowski and Leonardo’s “Last Supper” make a joint appearance), and art history. In spite of his playing with so many media — embroidery, tempera, charcoal, oil, pastel, and more — Goldfarb seems ultimately like a very ambitious draughtsman, putting everything in the service of drawing, even when the occasional three-dimensional sculptural additions make it from the wall to the floor. This can be seen in “Rapunzel and the Manipulator’s Milk after Vermeer and Cornelis van Haarlen”[sic] (2004), where embroidery turns into a rope that falls off the canvas, and the luminous depth of Vermeer’s original painting (“The Kitchen Maid” ca.1658, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) is ironically turned into a banal two-dimensional image despite its embroidered texture.

While this resonant group of works reflects a significant talent, it’s difficult to pinpoint anything specifically “Latin American” or Brazilian here — which reaffirms the problem of categorizing artists in today’s intensely cross-cultural world. While most of Goldfarb’s art-historical references seem to hark back several centuries, I am struck by hints of both the imagery and the spatial play of James Ensor (1860-1949), and the clear reference to Rauschenberg’s early transfer drawings (as in his “Dante’s Inferno” series). Goldfarb fits comfortably in a tradition of artists whose work pays homage to renowned predecessors by fiddling with both images and their meaning. But this is an impressively original body of work by an artist with both a skilled hand and a fertile intellect. The work challenges us with new perspectives on what we think we know, while perhaps also making us doubt our knowledge. It’s quite literally a sleight of hand (his) and eye (ours).

Given the international flavor of so much art these days, and the decline of the sort of regionalism that once sought to identify art with its origins, it’s not especially useful to see Walter Goldfarb as a Brazilian artist. Indeed, we might wonder why this show isn’t in a more mainstream venue, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The recently reopened Museum of Latin American Art has a name that still reminds one of the fake romantic Hollywood pap purveyed by 1940’s movies, conjuring up memories of Bing Crosby singing Irving Berlin’s “I’ll see you, in C-U-B-A”, mambos and cha-chas that we had to learn in dancing school, and the ersatz exoticisms of Carmen Miranda and Xavier Cugat. But the current Walter Goldfarb exhibition obviously demonstrates that Long Beach is playing an important role in expanding the possibilities for seeing art in Southern California, and for that we ought to be grateful.


R.B. Kitaj — an appreciation

Amnon Barzel, the prominent contemporary art curator who served as the first director of what is now the new Jewish Museum in Berlin, says he arrived in Germany as an Israeli but left as a Jew. It is as much a comment on current German philo-Semitism (I’ve always said “now they love you to death!”) as on its opposite.

The same kind of logic could be applied to American-born painter R. B. Kitaj, who spent much of his life in Britain and died last month in Los Angeles. Kitaj found his gradual self-definition as a Jewish artist through his connection to what came to be known (probably inaccurately) as the “School of London,” a term of his own invention.

Likely under the strong spell of Francis Bacon, the group counted among its other (sort of) Jewish “members” Lucien Freud, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach. At a time when variants of abstraction were giving way to pop art, these artists remained committed to a very different, even traditional, sort of figurative painting mode. But Freud, Kossoff and Auerbach were, in their own way, legitimate Brits, and thus presumably not as put-off by the odd ways in which so many British Jews yearn for invisibility insofar as their Jewishness is concerned. Kitaj, like other contemporary American Jews, never quite felt that self-denial, even when he felt no strong Jewish attachments. Despite the Anti-Defamation League’s attempts to persuade us otherwise, American Jews have come a long way from the fearful 1930s attitudes that Philip Roth so brilliantly describes in “The Plot Against America” — when we hopelessly yearned to be perceived as undifferentiated Americans.

Two important exhibitions examining the Jewish content of Kitaj’s work will open in Los Angeles in January — “R.B. Kitaj: Passion and Memory — Jewish Works from His Personal Collection” at the Skirball Cultural Center and “Portrait of a Jewish Artist: R.B. Kitaj in Text and Image,” at UCLA’s Archive of Jewish Culture. These shows will offer the opportunity to calibrate just how “Jewish” Kitaj’s art really is — as distinct from his rhetoric about art-making in the diaspora. I doubt that Kitaj would have come up with his two “Diasporist Manifestos” (1989 and 2007) had he not lived so long in the comfort/discomfort of a London that in turns admired and reviled him as an artist — and, he felt, as a Jew.

Kitaj’s art’s connection to Judaism is not just that of a “diasporist” artist, however — always on the outside in some indefinable way, and yet also wholly celebrated as mainstream. After all, this is an artist who was long represented by the prestigious Marlborough Galleries, and his portraits of friends, even notable Jews such as Isaiah Berlin and Philip Roth, don’t necessarily suggest that his subject matter is Jewish — or do they?

Nevertheless, it should be noted that Kitaj was not the first artist to find relationships between the Shoah and the Passion of Christ, though his “Passion” works, which are included in the Skirball exhibition, reflect Kitaj’s intense need as an artist to anchor himself in the traditions of western art — which is largely dominated by Christian iconography — while also figuring his own way through issues that range from recapturing bits of Jewish history to working through Jewish ideas of thinkers, such as Martin Buber.

I first met Ron Kitaj in the late 1960s, when I was living and working in Berkeley and Kitaj came there to lecture. We became casual friends and remained so; I visited with him and his late wife, Sandra Fisher a few times in London, and then met up with him again much later in Westwood, where he moved after exiling himself from London. In 1965, I was blown away by Kitaj’s first New York gallery exhibition, at Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, which I saw when I was still working at The Jewish Museum. My interest certainly had nothing to do with his being a Jewish artist (I doubt that I even knew he was Jewish), but rather, his obvious talent. Here was a serious painter — in the age of Pop/Op and post-AbEx Color Field and all the other “isms” of the day — who was a skilled draughtsman with a very sure sense of using images, a sensibility that leapfrogged from that of the early 20th-century abstractionists and colorists right over a slew of subsequent modes, and did so with extraordinary self-confidence. Kitaj may not have been the unmatched draughtsman of his era that he claimed to be, but he was an amazingly talented artist, with breathtaking control of line and a gorgeous sense of color. His work is filled with imagery both suggestive and elusive, and often confounding.

Critical reaction to Kitaj’s work was often problematic, ranging from high praise to the damning reviews that ultimately led to his 1997 departure from London. The fluctuations were probably more the result of his not being easily pigeonholed — art writers need comfortable categorizations no less than anyone else — than because of the evolution of his work. Indeed, given the many decades of Kitaj’s productivity, it’s astonishing to consider how consistent his work was — in style, if not in subject matter.

That steadiness, too, has been off-putting to some critics, conditioned as we are to save our highest regard

Life, liberty and the pursuit of beautiful language

For most of his 92 years, artist Sam Fink has been obsessed with the pursuit of freedom and the beauty of language. Even though he is a painter, he calls language “the highest form of art, higher even than painting and music.”

But even Fink could not have predicted that these passions would culminate in the creation of his exquisite versions of “The Book of Exodus” and “The Gettysburg Address,” both recently published by Welcome Books.

Although it has the appearance and dimensions of a coffee-table book, his “Exodus” is a complete and genuine illustrated version of the second book of the Torah, every word, both in Hebrew and English, was hand-lettered by Fink (a feat made even more remarkable by the fact that he doesn’t know Hebrew). The words of each of the 40 chapters of Exodus are incorporated in 40 different watercolor paintings of the sky.

His other work, “The Gettysburg Address,” contain Lincoln’s 270 words inscribed and illustrated by Fink, as well as a chronology of events leading up to the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

A commercial art director throughout most of his professional life, Fink’s recently published work is a far more personal approach afforded to him through retirement. Ruminating on his American and Jewish experience — as a child of immigrants and as a soldier during World War II — both books serve as an opportunity for the artist to delve deeper into the meaning of the word “freedom.”

Fink was born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1916 and grew up in a typical middle-class Jewish family, conscious of their heritage, but with minimal religious observance. Reflecting on his childhood, he recalled “Even when I was a little boy, I would look at the clouds and see all kinds of magic. I had the gift of imagination.”

He was a good student and was admitted to the then-academically demanding City College of New York. Being creative and a free spirit, he says he “rebelled” against the restrictions and requirements of a formal education and announced to his parents that he wanted to quit school in order to hitchhike to California and back.

It was the depth of the Depression and, he recalls, he had all of $50. Nonetheless, with his parents’ rather reluctant blessings, he set off. As he traveled from coast to coast, he fell in love with America and its people and “absorbed the beauty of our country.” Once again, he cited “the expanse of the sky which reflects that there is freedom all around us.”

On his return home, Fink joined his father in the commercial art field. With time out for World War II when he served as a master sergeant with the 88th Infantry Division in Italy, he eventually joined Young and Rubicam (Y&R), then, as now, one of America’s foremost advertising agencies. There he became an art director and headed their art department in Chicago. After leaving Y&R in 1970, he continued to work as a freelance art director for 20 more years, most notably on the Land’s End catalog.

After he retired in Great Neck, N.Y., Fink began to reflect more deeply on the source of his good fortune.

“I remember both my sets of grandparents,” he said. “They were illiterate, and I spoke Yiddish with them. They had children, and we prospered in this land … it’s so amazing what freedom has meant to us!”

As is his custom, Fink “spoke” to himself saying, “Hey, Sam, you owe this country.”

By way of repayment, his first “installment” was to copy the Constitution of the United States on a single sheet of paper. “In copying word by word I realized how difficult it is to achieve freedom,” he said.

He then thought of copying the Bible but his late wife, Adelle, said: “Don’t just copy it, illustrate it!” That was the genesis of his “Exodus.” As he writes in his introduction to the book, “Exodus is a cry for freedom, and that’s what it is all about.”

The source of the Hebrew text in Fink’s “Exodus” is the Torah, and the English translation is the 1917 Jewish Publication Society version. Fink’s watercolors reflect the tenor of the chapter they illustrate.

While he does not claim to be influenced by any particular artist, some of his “skyscapes” are reminiscent of Rothko and others of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The bottom line, however, is that they are Fink originals. He hopes they “will entice people to read about the price of freedom.”

In “The Gettysburg Address,” Fink’s portrayal of Lincoln varies from page to page and is somewhat reminiscent of the style identified with the Jewish Italian artist Modigliani.

Fink had originally intended his work to be a gift to his children and grandchildren. However, on one of his many trips to Israel to visit his son, David, and his seven grandchildren, he stopped in an airport bookshop and picked up a book published by Welcome Books. Figuring that they might be interested in his books, he sent a proposal to Welcome founder and CEO Lena Tabori. Even though she rejected his proposal, she invited Sam to lunch. As a result she eventually agreed to publish, not one, but each of his works.

Looking back, Fink said, “I can’t believe I did it; something happened which made me bigger than I am.”

Books: The anti-Chagall offers a field guide to the shtetl


“They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust” by Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (University of California Press, $39.95).

Mayer Kirshenblatt was born in 1916 in the Polish town of Apt. In 1934, when he was 17, Mayer, his mother and his three siblings immigrated to Toronto to join his father, who had made the trip six years prior. The family ran a paint and wallpaper store. In 1990, after a lifetime of selling paints, Kirshenblatt, retired and at loose ends, decided to pick up a paintbrush himself, and from its tip the world of his youth poured forth.

Kirshenblatt’s canvasses, together with a stunningly vivid text — the product of four decades’ worth of interviews with his daughter, noted New York University folklorist Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett — have now been reproduced in a handsome volume by the University of California Press, and the result is a marvel: With his scrupulously recalled images, Kirshenblatt has managed to do no less than create a new visual language for describing pre-war Eastern European life. In stark contrast to the black-and-white record that has made up our vision heretofore, Kirshenblatt’s paintings are untainted by the horrors to come. They offer a picture not of Polish Jewish life as it was before tragedy struck, but simply as it was. If Chagall was the shtetl’s mythmaker, then Kirshenblatt is his antithesis: a shtetl anthropologist.

The book — the product at once of scholarly rigor and a boy’s sense of wonder, respect for the dead and an even greater respect for the living, ethnographic exactitude and artistic style, a yearning born of loss and a synthesis born of collaboration — is a book like no other.

“They Called Me Mayer July” unfolds not in a grand narrative arc, but in small, bite-size anecdotes, often no longer than a paragraph or two. It is a style, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett writes in the book’s afterward, “more picaresque than bildungsroman.” Like his images, Kirshenblatt’s episodes can stand alone, but they offer more punch when taken together.

While the classic Chagall figure is ever floating skyward, its Kirshenblatt corollary is nothing if not earthbound. The only whitewashing that happens here is literal, as when one of the town’s rabbis repainted the study hall’s walls after a less devout soul had stenciled them with flowers and butterflies. Kirshenblatt’s town, which he often calls by its Polish name, Opatów, is a world of prostitutes and chamber pots, outhouses and broken wind. It’s a world of colorful nicknames: Simkhe the Scab, Avrum the Lump, Yosl the Little Square Noodle and Shmiel the Dog. Sometimes, Kirshenblatt writes, the nicknames sprang from no apparent reality, but in other cases the reason was all too clear. Kirshenblatt tells the story of his poor cousin Malkele, who one day fell into a latrine. Her nickname? Malkele drek.

The book’s title is based on the author’s own nickname, or at least a translation of it.

“Everybody in town had a nickname,” Kirshenblatt writes. “Mine was Mayer tamez, Mayer July, because July was the hottest month of the year. Mayer tamez means Crazy Mayer. People get excited when it is hot, and I was an excitable kid.”

Excitable indeed. Kirshenblatt was someone with his finger in every pie — boundlessly curious, mischievous to the core, a teacher’s nightmare.

“I failed one grade of public school because I played hooky,” he writes. “I was too busy watching everything that was going on in town. I would spend hours observing the blacksmith and the tinsmith, the ropemaker and the cooper, the mills and the carp ponds, and the town square on market day, when all the peasants came to town.”

Given the fact that he’s a painter without formal training, it’s temping to call Kirshenblatt’s work “Outsider Art,” but the label, with its intimations of a life lived on society’s periphery (or maybe even in the loony bin), doesn’t really fit. If anything, he comes across as the consummate “insider.” “He has often said of himself that he is a doer, not a watcher,” his daughter writes, “he likes to be a participant and active observer, not a voyeur.” It is a quality that he took with him across the Atlantic. In his adult life, Kirshenblatt became an enthusiastic camper and sailor, a collector of antique clocks and a restorer of furniture.

This spirit of “active observation” is apparent throughout Kirshenblatt’s book. He explains not only what his townspeople did, but how they did it. Indeed, so keen is his understanding of the inner workings of things that the book at points reads like a “how to” manual. He offers illustrated sections on how to make a dreidel, a whistle, a shoe, a brush, even a shofar from a willow branch.

Which is not to say that Kirshenblatt lacks a storyteller’s gifts. Like all good raconteurs, he is drawn to the bizarre and unusual: those in town who specialized in disabling people so they wouldn’t be drafted (one good at giving hernias; another, a specialist in lopping off trigger fingers) or the wealthy Winona Ryder antecedent who stuffs a live fish down her fancy blouse. But alongside this, Kirshenblatt also displays an understanding of the rhythm and texture of everyday town life: its trades, its politics, its religious diversity, its sounds and its smells.

“They Called Me Mayer July” is a memoir, but this too is a label that fits imperfectly. Kirshenblatt’s telling cannot really be termed a “confession.” As his daughter again helpfully points out, Kirshenblatt’s narrative mode, “because it is more concerned with the palpable world than with interiority,” can best be understood as “extrospective.”

Kirshenblatt will often end his stories with a nice little kicker. Sometimes, these are mournful. Of his uncle Yankl — a handsome ladies’ man who lived in Warsaw — Kirshenblatt writes, he “disappeared like the others.” But more often than not, these little codas are more wry and whimsical than they are elegiac. Never one for organized study, Kirshenblatt suffered in a JCC painting class; the model, he said, moved too quickly from pose to pose.

“My daughter told me to forget about the classes and paint from memory,” he writes. “The teacher also encouraged me to work on my own.”

This article originally appeared in the ” border =0 alt=”Mayer Kirshenblatt painting”>

On the tricky question of ‘who is a Jew[ish writer]?’

I do not know who qualifies as a Jewish writer.

If you wish to count the non-Jewish John Updike because he created a Jewish protagonist (Henry Bech) or if you include genetically Jewish Muriel Spark (who converted to Catholicism and wouldn’t know a box of tefillin or a bag of knishes if it bit her on her now late, lamented nose) it is OK with me.

You may choose to call William Styron a Jewish writer for penning “Sophie’s Choice,” and not Harold Pinter, because his Judaism consists in reviling anything Jewish.

There are some clear cases — I. B. Singer in, David Foster Wallace out — but otherwise, I’m going to leave canonization to the anthologists.

Having avoided writing an essay that has been written too many times, I am free to create my own categories. I hope I can convince you that if Judaism and literature are close to your heart, you should engage in the same exercise.

First category, hosannas for a new and wonderful group: Jewishly literate women. They are very different in feel, but writers like Dara Horn, Tova Mirvis, Allegra Goodman, Nicole Krauss, Ruchama King, Rebecca Goldstein and many others share a knowledge of Judaism without an apparent resentment of it. They are not uncritical, but they are also not beleaguered. This is a relatively new combination in most American Jewish literature, excepting the wondrous Cynthia Ozick. These women are not pushing against the tradition because they do not live in a society where the tradition is pushing against them. Their prose can be coolly witty (Goodman), mystically charged (Horn), elegantly cerebral (Goldstein), and all the while their stories weave in and out of Jewish contexts. I note the parallel, more finicky and double-edged development in England of whom Naomi Alderman and Charlotte Mendelson are the outstanding examples.

Not only are the books unangry (why is that not a word?) but the Judaism in them points beyond itself. Myla Goldberg’s popular “Bee Season” used kabbalah to suggest something that would not be easily earned without the propulsion of tradition. Here is a phenomenon that the Chaim Potok generation never knew — Judaism as liberation. Danny Saunders, the haunted Chasidic progeny of “The Chosen,” had to see a sculpture to know rapture. Today his sister would get an aliyah.

There is a certain liberation in writing as a Jewish woman because the tradition is not so imposing. When you read a modern male counterpart, gesturing rudely behind his back are Saul Bellow, the Roths (Philip and Henry), Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud and on and on. Augie March, Bellow’s wide-eyed lover of the close and far, explorer of his fresh-faced country, is a marvelous creation, but you cannot recreate him. March’s eagle’s feathers have long since molted and turned into Art Speigelman’s “Maus.” Too much pain, too much historical experience and too little societal friction against the artist. The novelist with an immigrant voice, like Gary Shteyngart, can also use the excess of wonderment that Bellow shares with earlier Jewish writers like Stanley Elkin and Mordecai Richler and, for that matter, S.J. Perelman. But that is the prose of exhalation, hard to create if your breathing was never confined in the first place.

A lot of writing has turned intensely personal and memoiristic because with such an open country, the only unfair chafing that the artist receives is at the hands of parents when young. Tales of abuse have little larger message. What constrains the Jew in America? During the Cold War, Philip Roth quipped that in the West everything goes and nothing matters, while in the East nothing goes and everything matters. Perhaps the intense solipsism of much of Roth’s writing is explicable not as a character defect, or not that alone, but also as a reaction to a world in which he cannot struggle against the bonds that would limit him as an artist.

A result of this damnable freedom, some major Jewish writers, as Sylvia Barack Fishman has pointed out, choose other settings to create the story. Michael Chabon creates a fictional Alaska where constraints still apply. Nathan Englander goes to Argentina, where threats are still real. Jonathan Safran Foer goes to an Eastern Europe where the ghosts still reign. For many writers, perhaps for all, the Houdini principle applies: In order for one’s art to reach maximum potency, it has to begin in chains.

So modern Jewish literature is afflicted by category confusion, following the pattern of Ring Lardner’s horseman, who jumped on his steed and rode off in all directions. Much of it draws on the power of the past; Nicole Krauss’ “History of Love” is a palmipsest, where the modern love story is charged with the electricity of what came before. Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” uses the immigrant experience and so does Ozick’s “Heir to the Glimmering World.” The writing of Thane Rosenbaum and Melvin Bukiet reprises Holocaust themes, often to powerful effect. But who brings news of today? Is there news to bring? Sept. 11 looms increasingly as a modern catastrophe with ever unfolding consequences, and the turn to Sept. 11 novels is an indication of how powerful the need for a scaffolding of historical consequence to build an enduring novel.

When Allegra Goodman writes about scientific fraud in “Intuition” we witness a talented novelist writing a competent novel about material she has mastered but which is not her own. (To see an instructive contrast, read C.P. Snow’s “The Affair” on the same question a generation before. Snow was a scientist, but paradoxically, although there is less science in the novel, the psychology is more subtle and acute.) When Goodman writes “Kaaterskill Falls” there is something at stake and the result is incrementally more moving. Goodman’s passion for things Jewish lights up her characters and enlivens the story. The question is: Where and when does the Jewish novelist still have something at stake?

Long ago, the doyenne of American Jewish letters, Ozick, issued a call for a “new Yiddish.” There is still a playful, buoyant and exuberant strain in many Jewish writers that recalls a sort of highbrow Borsht Belt. Safran Foer’s Alex would sneer at a sentence by Raymond Carver or Anne Beattie if it tiptoed up to him all well-behaved and full of WASP-like angst; the result would be like having Mork visit Walton’s Mountain. Still, style is not enough. And with the prosperity of American Jews, the post-idealized age of Israel and the ironic flippancy that rides sidesaddle on any statement of commitment, what is an American Jewish writer supposed to love?

Religious riot act, deaf in Africa, small sculptures, kid paint


Tissa Hami is a Muslim Iranian American comic. Her blog profile says, “People who disapprove of her act will be taken hostage.” Chad Lehrman is as Jewish as gefilte fish: He’s geeky and meeky, eats bagels, sells insurance and is in show business. Lifelong Hindu Tapan Trivedi hails from the land of cow worshipping. While traveling through the Deep South, he read the entire Christian Bible, one billboard at a time. White, Christian and straight Keith Lowell Jensen wanted very badly to be a minority. His only way was through religion. He is now a member of the most hated minority of all, the atheists. John Ross, a Christian, found Jesus at age 14. They’ve been together ever since. See these five comics wage holy war on each other in a hilarious show, “The Coexist? Comedy Tour.” Bring a poncho, because there will be some serious mud slinging, but in the end everyone will smile and hug and carpool home together.

9:30 p.m. $10. Westside Eclectic at the Third Street Promenade, 1323-A Third St., Santa Monica. (310) 451-0850. Check out the tour’s very witty blog, ” target=”_blank”>


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American Jewish University is scaling things down. And we’re not talking about their enormously ambitious plans for the future of the recently merged institution. We’re referring to their latest art exhibit of small-scale sculptures by artists Annette Bird and Dan Van Clapp. “Go Figure!” includes Bird’s miniature figurines depicting the complex relationships between conflicted lovers, parents and children, loving friends and passionate partners. Van Clapp uses found materials with a rich former life to assemble his figures. Antique doll parts, hardware and worn fabrics infuse his work with a mysterious air.

Sun.-Fri. Through Nov. 11. Platt Gallery, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1201. ” target=”_blank”>


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Chabad Telethon Sunday, ‘Shadow of Doubt’


Only two more weeks until Yom Kippur … are you mentally and emotionally prepared? Tackling the weighty topics of repentance and forgiveness can seem like a mighty task, but with the entertaining inspiration of “The Gates Are Closing” you can start thinking and discussing those issues long before the holy day arrives. The staged reading of the play by Merle Feld will be directed by Temple Emanuel congregant and seasoned professional director Deborah LaVine. Set in a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the play illuminates the struggles of 10 characters of various ages, backgrounds and professions with issues of identity, betrayal and forgiveness.

8 p.m. Selichot Service at 10 p.m. Free. Temple Emanuel, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3742.


To Life! To Life! L’Chaim! The joyous, dancing-rabbi-filled, celebrity-guest-infused, mitzvah-inspiring Chabad “To Life” Telethon is taking over Channel 9 for six hours of giving today, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Actor and comedian Elon Gold will host the mega celebration and will be joined by stand-up comedian Mark Schiff, broadcaster Larry King, actor Jon Voight, singer/actress Mare Winningham, radio personality Dennis Prager and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Last year’s live broadcast raised more than $6 million for Chabad’s educational and nonsectarian social services, which include summer camps, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, crisis intervention, senior programs and humanitarian services. Tune in to life, tune in to giving, tune in to the telethon (and don’t forget to grab your check book before you settle into the couch)!

4-10 p.m. Channel 9. ” target=”_blank”>


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The Geffen Playhouse calls Wendy Wasserstein’s final play, “Third,” “the jewel in their season’s crown.” The acclaimed playwright, who died unexpectedly of cancer at the age of 55, wrote poignant plays with strong intellectual heroines and relevant political discourses. Before the lights of Broadway were dimmed in her honor, Wasserstein completed “Third,” a dramatic piece about a modern, politically correct female professor who reveals her own prejudices when she accuses a “red state” jock student of plagiarizing his brilliant paper on King Lear. Starring Christine Lahti, this West Coast premiere promises to be a real highlight of the Geffen’s repertoire.

Tue.-Sun., through Oct. 28. $40-$115. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-5454.

Desperate times forged painter’s creative legacy

Charlotte Salomon perished in Auschwitz at the age of 26, but the astonishing legacy she left behind will be celebrated this month in an exhibition and on stage.

In her short life, Salomon was a prolific painter, but her style and sensibility were so unique that critics still have difficulty describing her artistry.

“An enormous and breathtaking visual instrument … a great work of European, Jewish and women’s culture … one of the most important art works of the 20th century,” writes art historian Archie Rand.

Her method varies, from single images to storyboard-like sequencing. Her early work, depicting childhood memories, is very colorful, but the work became increasingly abstract as she explored her internal musings, including painful images of her mother’s and grandmother’s suicides.

Both the exhibition, which opened April 12 at the Goethe Institut, and the stage production, opening in previews Thursday, April 19, at the Met Theater, go under the identical title of “Charlotte: Life? Or Theater?”

The title is taken from Salomon’s visual autobiography of more than 1,300 watercolor gouaches, which she painted in southern France between 1940 and 1942, before she was seized by the Nazis.

Salomon was born in Berlin, the daughter of a prominent physician and academic, and, in a rare exception for a Jew, she was admitted to the Berlin Fine Arts Academy in 1935, during Hitler’s regime. She was expelled three years later and found refuge with her grandparents in Villefranche, near Nice.

There she learned of her tragic family history of five suicides, all women, including her mother and grandmother. This awareness brought her to “the question,” as she put it, whether to take her own life or “undertake something crazy and unheard of” — an autobiography in art.

Just before she was arrested and shipped to Auschwitz, married and pregnant with her first child, she gave her massive collection to a friend, telling her, “Keep this safe, it is my whole life.”

Salomon’s father and stepmother, who survived the Holocaust by going underground in Holland, discovered the hidden treasure and gave it to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.
The exhibition is made up of digital reproductions of 26 of Salomon’s paintings.

The stage production of “Life? Or Theater?” subtitled, “A Three Color Play with Music,” was created by Elise Thoron and Gary Fagin, and has been performed at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, London, Amsterdam and Philadelphia.

Director Louis Fantasia commented that “Charlotte Salomon created vibrant, original art as a ringing affirmation of life in the face of impossible odds.”

The stage production, he added, is “a brilliant piece of musical theater, emotionally charged, politically astute and filled with remarkable tunes. It is perhaps as close as we can come to a three-dimensional staging of the theater of the mind, of paint, water and paper, that she strove so brilliantly to create in the last two years of her life.”

Exhibit hours through July 30 at the Goethe Institut, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, are Mondays 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Fridays 9 a.m.-3 p.m. For additional information, call (323) 525-3388.

Following previews beginning April 19, the play will continue with regular performances at The Met Theater, 1089 N. Oxford St., April 26-May 27. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. For reservations, phone (323) 957-1152. The play is presented in cooperation with the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity.

For more information, visit

Charlotte Salomon art

MLK Observances; Beethoven @ LACMA; Alpha Dog Rising

Saturday the 13th

Craig Taubman’s regular “One Shabbat Morning” service gets a special theme for this one Shabbat. Dedicated to families who have children with special needs, this morning’s affair will begin with guest speaker and educator Dr. David Ackerman discussing his experiences with the special-needs community, followed by a service of song and celebration and Kiddush lunch.

9:15 a.m. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426. ‘ target=’_blank’>

6 p.m. Free. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000. ‘ target=’_blank’>

Tuesday the 16th

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In a colorful, patchwork-reminiscent style, painter Bonnie Stone touches on themes of women’s roles and family life, as well as Judaic subjects. Tobey C. Moss Gallery presents some of her recent watercolors, in “Bonnie Stone: A Woman’s Touch,” featuring works like “Game of Chance” and Voyager,” which pay homage to both Marc Chagall and Stone’s Jewish heritage.

Opening reception Jan. 13, 2-5 p.m. Jan. 13-March 10. 7321 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 933-5523. ‘ target=’_blank’>

Friday the 19th

End the week on a spiritual note with one more event honoring the message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. This evening, Rabbi Stewart Vogel and the Temple Aliyah choirs collaborate with Grammy-winning gospel artist and pastor Andrae Crouch and the choir of his New Christ Memorial Church. The result will be a Gospel Shabbat, weaving ancient liturgy with gospel music for an inspirational interfaith service.

8:15 p.m. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545.

He makes unique dreidels, and he makes them out of clay

In a gallery carved into a stone wall amid the ancient ruins of Caesarea, Eran Grebler sits at a potter’s wheel shaping clay dreidels.

Outside, tourists explore the old amphitheater, temple and residential quarters of this Israeli city built by King Herod the Great in 30 B.C.E. Caesarea was once the Roman capital of Palestine, the place where the Romans tortured to death Rabbi Akiva. The site of his martyrdom has become one of Israel’s national parks.

Nearby, behind glass doors, Grebler, 47, does what he has been doing for 25 years: He makes elaborate, innovative ceramic dreidels for a living.

“I’m the only one in the world who lives all year for dreidels,” he says.

Grebler’s dreidels are not your typical spinning tops. They don’t have four sides, and they’re not necessarily for Chanukah. Some are round, some are square or fashioned after the Star of David. Others are shaped like a mobile phone, an artist’s palette, even a football field.

All the dreidels are positioned on a circular base. The base has a marker on it, some bit of color or design in one spot. When you spin the dreidel atop the base, whichever letter stops at the marker is the letter you’ve spun.

Some of the dreidels look like carousels, with ceramic spheres dangling off a post that emanates from the base. You spin the post, and the spheres fly into the air.

These dreidels do not use the game’s traditional Hebrew letters. The “Blessing Dreidel,” for instance, has spheres reading “love,” “happiness,” “health,” “joy,” “luck” and “success.” Spin the dreidel, and you get a blessing.

The “Gentleman’s Dreidel” offers men ideas about what to say to women: “I called just to hear your voice,” “I missed you a lot,” “I’m here for you,” “I love you,” etc. This is the one Grebler says he plays with at home.

There are also dreidels that assign household chores (take out the garbage, fold the laundry, wash the floor….), suggest a place to visit (Paris, London, Croatia….), give investment advice (stocks, bonds, short-term loans….) and offer suggestions on how to spend an afternoon (movies, museum, shopping at the mall….).

The dreidels range in price from $7 to $70, and Grebler says he sells thousands a year all over the world. About 500 are on display in his Caesarea gallery, which he calls The Draydel House.

Spinning tops and ceramics have captivated Grebler since he was a child. His father, a mechanical engineer, gave Grebler a water pump from an old Ford engine as his first toy.
“It spun like a dreidel,” Grebler recalls.

The grown man with salt-and-pepper hair reaches for a framed black-and-white photograph on the gallery wall and takes it off the hook. The photograph shows Grebler at 6 years old, standing near a table lined with ceramic urns. There’s a caption in Hebrew printed alongside the picture. Grebler translates: “You can’t say the kid didn’t make his dream come true.”

Grebler’s father liked to take his son to galleries, where the young boy would revel in art. As a high school student, Grebler studied ceramics under a veteran Israeli artist, a friend of his father’s. After the army, Grebler started making a range of Judaica artworks. But people liked his dreidels best. So he made more of them. When he had children, he made dreidels for them.

“I wanted to make people happy,” Grebler says.

His children, now 12, 16 and 18, continue to give him inspiration and sometimes suggestions about what to make. One of his daughters gave him the idea to craft a dreidel shaped as a dancer.

Grebler, who wears an easy smile, said he feels like a kid. A sign in his store says, “Please Spin!”

“Most shops write, ‘Please don’t touch,'” Grebler says. “I want people to touch.”

Sometimes, he works at a wheel in a corner of the gallery, which he opened in 2002.

Usually, he works from a studio in Pardes Hana, near his home.

It takes him two or three weeks to make a batch of dreidels. First, he spins the clay on the wheel. Then, he burns the clay, glazes it and paints on gold and writing. He throws the clay into the fire again, adds more paint and sticks it back in the kiln.

The ceramic dreidels are delicate, so Grebler puts all his on circular bases. A four-sided ceramic dreidel would break when spun, he says.

On the wall behind the gallery’s sales counter is a list of words in different languages for “spinning top” — from “dreidel” or “draydel” in Yiddish to “toupie” in French, “kreisel” in German, “trompo” in Spanish, “trotolla” in Italian and “baczek” in Polish.

The history of the dreidel, too, is written on the wall in Hebrew. The game of dreidel was played in Sardinia at the beginning of the Roman period, the text says. Eventually, Europeans, and especially Germans, adopted it. The Jews learned to play dreidel from the Germans, so the story goes.

According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jews began playing dreidel in the early Middle Ages. They labeled the dreidel’s four sides with the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, he and shin, standing for the Yiddish words nimm, gib, halb and shtell, meaning “take,” “give,” “half” and “put.”

Later, the letters were interpreted to mean “nes gadol hayah sham,” (“a great miracle happened there)”. The Jews of modern Israel changed sham to po, so the letters would spell out “a great miracle happened here.”

For Grebler, the maxim could not hit closer to home. A miracle did happen here. “It was my dream to open a place where people can play,” he says.

To see more of Grebler’s dreidels, go to

Take These for a Spin

Dreidels come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Here are a few of the most creative ones at Gallery Judaica on Westwood Boulevard.

Versatile Israeli Violinist Gains ‘Dream’ Hip-Hop Hit

Perusing the hot R & B/Rap Billboard charts, one does not expect to see a red-headed Israeli artist — replete with a classic “Jewfro” mop of curls — represented by the No. 3 song. ” TARGET=”_blank”>Miri Ben-Ari, however, doing the unexpected is standard fodder; so it should come as no surprise that her new single, “Symphony of Brotherhood” (featuring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech weaving in and out of an extended string solo) topped the charts just one month after its radio release.

Given the violin diva’s penchant for multitasking high-profile projects, it also should come as no surprise that topping the charts is just a drop in the bucket for Ben-Ari. Since April, she has been featured on billboards internationally as the poster girl for Reebok’s “I Am What I Am” campaign; in May, she and Israeli hip-hop mogul, Subliminal, recorded a video, “Classit VeParsi” (Classical and Persian) — which topped Israel’s video charts.

Next Ben-Ari went on national tour with the popular hip-hop group, The Roots, even as she was getting ready to release a hip-hop single about the Holocaust. Meanwhile, VH1 announced her as a new artist working with its Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to restore instrumental music education in U.S. public schools.

For many, it’s exhausting just to read Ben-Ari’s list of accomplishments, but the artist is full of energy. She is, after all, on a mission: “I want to bring music back,” she said matter-of-factly. “In an era where everything is music samples, I’m representing a movement that’s turning to live music again.”

Ben-Ari grew up as a classically trained violinist in Israel, and as a child prodigy, she caught the attention of violin virtuoso Isaac Stern. Though she bowed to the top of one music competition after another, Ben-Ari was convinced that the classical scene was not for her.

“The whole time, I knew I wasn’t going to be a classical violinist,” she explained. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I was really good with the violin. It was fun playing so fast on the instrument — almost like a sport. But I wasn’t feeling the orchestra thing.”

At 17, Ben-Ari won a scholarship to study music in Boston, where she was exposed to jazz for the first time. After hearing a Charlie Parker CD, she knew where her future lay.

“I had to study whatever it was that Parker was doing,” she said. “I had to be able to improvise like he did. I had to learn that language!”

Following obligatory service in the Israeli army, Ben-Ari packed her bags and moved to the Big Apple — where she hustled gigs every night. “If I walked into a club, and there was a stage,” she said, “I’d pull out my violin and play. If there was no stage, I’d still play. At first I’d get my ass kicked. But you go home, practice all day and go out and get your ass kicked again.”

Persistence and gutsy acts — which Ben-Ari attributes to Israeli chutzpah — got her noticed by jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis and the late Betty Carter, as well as by hip-hop moguls like Kanye West and Wycleff Jean. Once the heavyweights got into her act, it was not long before Ben-Ari had played Carnegie Hall, The Apollo, and Jay Z’s Summer Jam — where she received a standing ovation from 20,000 screaming audience members.

“I was a nobody,” Ben-Ari chuckled, “but I had the second feature, after Missy Elliot.”

Since then, Ben-Ari has gone on to record and perform with pop icons like Alicia Keys and Britney Spears, and she won a Grammy in 2004 for her violin chops on Kanye West’s smash-hit single, “Jesus Walks.”

It is heartening to know that someone so openly Jewish and Israeli can receive so much love from the non-Jewish world.

“Wycleff Jean and Jay Z put me on the map,” Ben-Ari said with passion. “They were not Jewish white people. I’ll never forget that. This is also why I relate to [African American] history. I’ve been working with them. I got embraced by the black community, more than any other community — including the Jewish community. They loved me like one of their own.”

The fact that she is Israeli, Ben-Ari continued, actually strengthens her connection to African Americans, whether Jewish or not. “Struggle relates to struggle,” she said. “They appreciate that I’m from Israel, because I’m coming from struggle.”

That mutual struggle, Ben-Ari continued, was in fact the inspiration for her recent hit single: “MLK is the hero for the black American struggle. Of course, if you’re coming from a struggle yourself, you can’t help comparing…. It always crosses my mind — if we had MLK in Nazi Germany, would it have helped?

Would it have affected the outcome of the Jewish Holocaust?”

These kinds of questions are what led Ben-Ari to work on the Holocaust hip-hop single, due to be released in the coming months.

“It’s almost like they say, ‘music is therapy,'” she explained. “It’s a way to deal. There is no other way for me.”

Artists Dream in a Golden Age

Sam Erenberg spends most of the day, nearly every day, alone in a 1,000-square-foot box.

“It’s like a temple,” the painter says of his artist’s studio.

A lonely temple, that is.

“I’m the rabbi and congregation all in one,” he says with a laugh.

Working as an artist can be isolating, especially in the sprawling city of Los Angeles. And what good is inspiration without community?

The Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California exists for artists like Erenberg. The group, consisting of about 30 members, constitutes one of the nation’s first organized networks of Jewish artists. Its aims are twofold: to create a support system for local artists and to transform the way the Jewish community relates to art.

On a recent evening, Erenberg sat among other artists in a garage-turned-studio in Larchmont Village. He, for one, was happy for the company.

“This is my ad-hoc family,” he said to the painters, photographers and sculptors who had gathered there for the group’s monthly meeting.

The Artists Initiative emerged three years ago, when Amelia Xann of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles approached USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life. Xann wanted to create a program to promote visual art by Jewish artists.

The organizations decided to found a group that would put on exhibitions, host a lecture series and provide a space for artists to explore the relationship between their Jewish identities and their art.

So, the Artists Initiative launched, with $40,000 in foundation grants for a speaker series and Web site.

The group staged its first exhibition in 2004 at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “Too Jewish — Not Jewish Enough” showcased paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, ceramics and digital work that incorporated Jewish themes or adhered to “a Jewish sensibility.” (Art with a “Jewish sensibility,” Erenberg explained, exhibits “a kind of longing, a feeling that you’re connected to a long history.”)

The second exhibition, “Makor/Source,” concentrated on the sources of the artists’ inspiration. The exhibit opened this year at the Hillel: Centers for Jewish Life, at USC and UCLA.

Members are planning a third exhibition, which will likely have a California theme, to open in the next year or so at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Art historian Matthew Baigell will curate the show.

Ruth Weisberg, a nationally recognized artist and the de facto leader of the group, said the initiative has ambitious goals.

“We really want to be another porthole, another entrance into Judaism,” said Weisberg, who is dean of USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts. “Younger people, especially, are often more at ease entering the Jewish community through cultural events than any other way.”

Weisberg, who illustrated the Reform movement’s new haggadah, said she hoped the group would also encourage Jewish artists to treat Jewish themes in their work.

“Many Jews who are involved in the art world keep their Judaism in one part of their life, and their cultural [expression] in another,” she said. Jews may fear being categorized — or even dismissed — as Jewish, rather than mainstream, artists. But keeping art and religious identity separate “is, I think, unnecessary and not that productive.”

Not all of the group’s members agree.

“I’m here protesting,” Channa Horwitz announced at the last meeting.

“I’m Jewish, and I’m an artist, but I’m not a Jewish artist,” said Horwitz, who uses complex patterns and bright colors in her work. “I don’t think art has anything to do with religion.”

Horwitz’s response reflects the diversity of the group, which includes Jews across the religious spectrum, from around the world, including the United States, Israel and Russia.

Despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, members find value in the group.

“It’s really great to sit in a room with people who get it,” said Laurel Paley, whose use of Hebrew text in her art has been criticized as “obfuscation.”

Members hope their network will become a model for communities across the country. To increase membership and public awareness, the group is updating its Web site. It has also applied for another foundation grant.

Should funding arrive in the fall, the artists hope to launch new projects. One idea they bandied about involves creating a Jewish community center for the arts, where the public can come not only to view art but also to create it.

As the artists speculated about the future, a sense of what could be — if only they had the world as their canvas — invigorated the group.

Exciting things happen when artists get together, said Bruria Finkel, a sculptor with works on display at the New Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.

The Dadaists and Cubists of the 20th century began by meeting in groups, Finkel said. Now, with Jewish artists flourishing in the United States, especially on the West Coast, who knows what this group can accomplish?

“It’s a golden age,” she said.


Video Bares Artist’s Obsession, Views

“I have a warped idea about my worth, my abilities as an artist, my intelligence,” Jessica Shokrian says in her video installation at the Skirball Cultural Center. “For much of my life, I’ve been extremely concerned with how I look and how I think I look to other people. It’s definitely been a sad obsession.”

A Persian Jew who lives in Los Angeles, Shokrian’s confession appears in her 12-minute video triptych, “Six Years, Twelve Minutes and Two Seconds” in the exhibition, “The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photographs,” opening March 24.

On the central monitor, her pale face blurs and her speech wavers in and out of synch, reflecting her distorted self-image. On another TV, family rituals often drown out her wispy voice. On the third, her elderly Persian aunt makes a lonely pilgrimage to an ethnic food market.

“Jessica’s work delves into all the ways one can experience exile, whether from one’s country, one’s family or from oneself,” says Tal Gozani, the Skirball’s associate curator. “There is something so sad but also brutally honest about her work.”

At a visit to Shokrian’s downtown loft recently, the 42-year-old photographer and video artist appears as fragile and thoughtful as she does in her triptych. While twisting her fingers through her frayed, black sweater sleeves, she says she identifies with her aunt, because she, too, has felt lost, between cultures, cut off from her family’s homeland and from her family.

They are conservative Persian Jews based in Beverly Hills; she is a single mother who lives downtown and is divorced from the Belgian non-Jew she “wasn’t supposed to marry in the first place,” she says. Her family’s disapproval has not always been tacit, she adds, and while she is drawn to their ancient culture, she has been torn between her desire to connect with them and her opposing desire to live her own life as a contemporary artist.

The loft’s decor reflects this tension: Persian rugs lie beneath luminous moody photographs and a self-portrait in which Shokrian looks backward, her expression anxious, while stepping through a doorway.

This self-portrait could be a metaphor for her life journey. Shokrian’s father grew up in Tehran; her mother, raised in a secular Christian farming family in Central California, converted after meeting him at Cal State Sacramento. As a girl, the artist says, she felt “invisible, ignored” and less accepted than her Persian cousins because she was a hybrid who did not speak Farsi.

She says the culture’s strict mores also made her an outcast at school.

“I wasn’t allowed to wear jeans, to talk to boys, to attend sleepovers,” she recalls.

When she gained a little weight, some relatives warned that she might become too heavy to attract a proper husband. As is the custom in traditional Persian homes, the expectation was that she would remain a virgin and live at home until she married a Persian Jew.

Her longing for a valued role within the family led her to pick up a 35-mm Nikon camera in high school to become the official family photographer and to be the quintessential “good girl,” she continues. But when her parents refused to allow her to go away to college, “I lost it and rebelled,” she says.

In her early 20s, she disappeared for days while dating a bohemian artist some 15 years her senior. As she spiraled deeper into depression, she began drinking, doing drugs and trying “pretty much everything,” she says.

Psychotherapy and AA meetings helped her get sober. But when she wed her now ex-husband at 25, her father refused to speak to her for close to a year.

She moved back home, six years later, soon after the birth of her son. But this time, her parents were so concerned about her depression that they urged her to attend Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Her photographs began appearing in galleries and anthologies, such as Houman Sarshar’s “Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews” and Linda Sunshine’s “Our Grandmothers: Loving Portraits by Seventy-Four Granddaughters.” Accompanying her essay about grandma is a shadowy portrait of Shokrian and her baby that looks like a melancholy Madonna and child.

Even more personal work followed in 2002, after the artist again moved out of her parents’ home, this time with a boyfriend who left when her family protested the relationship. Feeling vulnerable and exposed, Shokrian shot a series of nude self-portraits — enlarged Polaroids that were recently displayed at the Farmani Gallery (she was aghast to learn the space was across the street from her uncle’s office) and are now at the Bedlam Warehouse.

During that frightening period in 2002, Shokrian believes the “Jewish Identity Project” commission helped save her life. The show’s organizer, Susan Chevlowe, then a curator at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan, had seen a 1998 film Shokrian had made about her aunt while still a student. Chevlowe was impressed that the film’s slow pace poetically transformed the widow’s bus ride into “a metaphor of the displacement and longing experienced by an immigrant living between cultures,” she wrote in her catalog essay. The film ultimately became part of Shokrian’s video installation, combined with other footage to express her mixed feelings about her family. The triptych is named for the time she spent on all components of the piece (six years) and the length of the final product (12 minutes and two seconds).

In one lovingly shot sequence, Shokrian’s relatives spontaneously trill, expressing religious rapture as her father donates a Torah to his synagogue. At her sister’s engagement party, voices interrupt dreamy images of sultry dancers, jeering, “Face the reality of your life Jessica and stop hiding behind that damn camera.” The artist slows these female voices down to a creepy baritone to emphasize the cringe-factor.

Chevlowe believes the piece — like many other recent video installations — dissects “the boundaries between what’s personal and real and what’s imagined.”

The work has been cathartic for Shokrian, who believes her “sad obsession” is fading, in part, because of her status as an emerging Los Angeles artist. She says she now has a close relationship with her father, who appreciates her triptych as a sign of respect for his family.

“In spite of the alienation I’ve experienced, I’ve managed to find the beauty and a kind of connection through the spirituality of my family and their community,” she says. “If I haven’t been able to be the perfect Persian daughter, I feel like this was the next best thing I could do. And I think my relatives recognize this is an offering and a way of showing that I really love them, even though my life now is so much about my work.”

For information about the Skirball show, March 24 through Sept. 3, call (310) 440-4500. For information about Shokrian’s photos at the Bedlam Warehouse, 1275 E. Sixth St., Los Angeles (the red door east of Alameda), call (213) 924-9000.


A Photojournalist’s Twist on Nazi Image

A visitor to the Getty Center encounters a 1932 photomontage of Hitler, his right arm raised Nazi style. Behind him stands a corpulent German industrialist slipping wads of money into the Fuehrer’s outstretched hand.

The ironic title is “The Meaning of the Hitler Salute: Little Man Asks for Big Gift,” and the picture is part of the small but striking exhibit, “Agitated Images: John Heartfield and German Photomontage, 1920-1938.”

Heartfield was born in Berlin as Helmut Herzfeld to parents who were both ardent socialist activists. They left their four children behind to shift for themselves, when Helmut was 8, and fled Germany to avoid a prison sentence for “blasphemy.”

The boy quickly proved that he had inherited his parents’ rebellious streak. Drafted into the Kaiser’s army at the beginning of World War I, he started out by sending anti-militaristic photomontaged postcards to the front.

In 1916, soldier Helmut Herzfeld expressed his disgust for the war slogan, “May God Punish England,” by anglicizing his name to John Heartfield.

Threatened with transfer to a combat unit, the newly renamed soldier faked a nervous breakdown so successfully that he got a medical discharge.

Was Herzfeld/Heartfield partly Jewish?

Art historian Andres Mario Zervigon of Rutgers University, who curated the exhibition and is writing a book about Heartfield, thinks almost certainly not, though he is still looking into the matter.

But even in this case, Heartfield went against the norm.

“Though he was of German descent, he identified himself as Jewish,” Zervigon said.

Back in civilian life, Heartfield helped found the Dada movement in Germany and began his lifelong membership in the Communist Party.

Initially trained in advertising, he created photomontages to twist standard pictures carried by the mainstream or Nazi press into subversive attacks on the pictured dignitaries.

One of his 1929 exhibits carried the title, “Use Photography as a Weapon,” and the Getty display illustrates what he meant.

Taking a well-known picture of Hitler in the throes of an emotional speech, Heartfield superimposed a chest X-ray, exposing a neatly stacked column of gold coins. The caption reads, “Hitler, the Superman, Swallows Gold and Spouts Tin.” The last two words are German slang for talking nonsense.

One of Heartfield’s favorite targets was the rotund Hermann Goering, mocking him with his own words that “steel makes a nation strong, but butter and lard only makes people fat.”

With Heartfield and his German colleagues in the lead, photomontage became an art form, designed to sell both soap and ideology, which made a strong impression in the United States on the founders of LIFE magazine.

The same style became a major tool for agitprop, especially by the rival Nazis and communists. Heartfield never wavered in his loyalty to the party of Lenin and Stalin and turned out a series of worshipful posters in praise of the Soviet workers paradise.

He also turned to the design of book covers, and his illustrations for the German translations of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and John Dos Passos’ “Three Soldiers” are striking to this day.

Heartfield completed only one book of his own, which he titled, with characteristic irony, “Deutschland, Deutschland Ueber Alles” — then the first line of the German national anthem.

Following the Communist party line, Heartfield could lampoon the Social Democratic leaders of the Weimar Republic as viciously as he did the Nazis, sharpening the enmity between the two left-wing parties that paved the way for the Nazi takeover.

Knowing full well what was in store for him under Nazi rule, Heartfield fled to Czechoslovakia, where he resumed his anti-Nazi fusillade. In honor of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he designed a montage of new Nazi “sports,” including axe swinging for judges and head-rolling for Brown Shirt bullies.

After wartime refuge in England, he returned to East Berlin in 1948, but was greeted with suspicion. For one, the party now denounced photomontage as a “formalist” art form, and communists who had spent time in the West were seen as potential traitors.

But gradually Heartfield was rehabilitated, had a one-man retrospective show in 1957, and died as an honored artist in 1968, at the age of 77.

The current exhibit brings back, with a sense of immediacy, the fierce political struggles of the Weimar Republic between the two world wars. Now that these hatreds have faded into the past, Heartfield remains as one of the innovative minds that ushered in the golden age of photojournalism.

“Agitated Images,” continues through June 25 at the Research Institute Gallery of the Getty Center. Admission is free, parking is $7, and no reservations are required. For more information, call (310) 440-7300 or visit


Artist Depicts Pain of Genetic Ailment


When he was 6 years old, Los Angeles artist Ted Meyer had two life-changing experiences. He won his first art show prize after copying a flamingo drawn by an older friend. Secondly, he was diagnosed as suffering from Gaucher Disease after intensive bouts of pain in his knees and hip bones.

“It felt like someone was slowly breaking your bones for days on end,” Meyer recalled.

Initially, his parents took him to several hospitals in the New York area, where puzzled doctors shook their heads and warned that they might have to amputate the boy’s legs. Finally, a European intern at Mount Sinai Hospital recognized the symptoms of Gaucher Disease, but in the absence of any effective treatment at the time, all he could prescribe were painkillers.

Over the next year, Meyer’s stomach distended, he was constantly fatigued and he bruised and bled easily. Doctors removed his large spleen when he was 7, but that offered little relief. And his persistent nosebleeds seemed only to worsen.

“I didn’t go to school much, and I was the smallest kid in my class,” the 47-year-old Meyer remembered. “I had to stay in hospitals three or four times a year, and there were some weeks when I couldn’t move my legs at all.”

Meyer’s grandparents had emigrated from Lithuania, Poland and Russia. His parents were carriers of the abnormal gene that can cause the disease, but they were not affected. Meyer’s older brother has Gaucher Disease, too, but a third brother never got it.

Between bouts of pain and hospitalization, Meyer developed his painting skills and eventually got a bachelor’s degree in design at Arizona State.

His early works reflected his own physical struggles, and in the series “Structural Abnormalities,” he depicted painted contorted structural images.

“I was at war with my body, and these paintings expressed my trapped and isolated feelings,” he said. “My condition was so rare that there was no one I could talk to about it.”

In his early 30s, Meyer underwent two sets of hip replacements, but 10 years ago, he started receiving the new enzyme replacement infusions and within six months showed dramatic improvement.

Now living in a combination apartment and studio at the Brewery Arts Complex in downtown Los Angeles, Meyer is a well-known graphic designer for magazines and Web sites and has written four popular books.

One of his eye-catching “Structural Abnormalities” paintings is on the cover of “Message to Elijah,” an educational video on Gaucher Disease narrated by actor Elliott Gould.

Every two weeks, Meyer visits a doctor for enzyme therapy, though “after 10-12 days, I usually get tired and feel some pain,” he said.

Long-haired and slim, Meyer would be taken as a healthy specimen on the surface, and he usually doesn’t mention his affliction. One reason, he said, is that New Age devotees in California, who like almost every one else have no idea what Gaucher is, usually advise him to just take some herbs for his problem.

A major hurdle facing many Gaucher patients is the huge cost of the treatments, which can run to $200,000 a year.

“I am lucky that I have insurance through an authors’ group, but even so, you can reach the $2 million lifetime cap in 10 years,” Meyer noted.

Meyer is among an estimated 1,000 Los Angeles-area Jews of Ashkenazi descent with Gaucher Disease. Experts estimate that only about one in 10 is receiving proper treatment. Approximately 50,000 area Jews are carriers of the defective gene and could pass the disease to offspring.

The chief reason for the low treatment rate is that many Los Angeles doctors, including Jewish physicians, are not trained to recognize the symptoms of Gaucher, said Dr. Barry Rosenbloom, a UCLA professor and director of the Comprehensive Gaucher Treatment Center at Tower Hematology Oncology. The center is listed by the National Gaucher Foundation as the primary treatment facility in the Los Angeles area.

“Once correctly diagnosed through a simple blood test, Gaucher patients can be restored through treatment within one year,” Rosenbloom said.

The Comprehensive Gaucher Treatment Center is located at 9090 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 888-8680.

Detailed information about the disease, as well as financial assistance, is available through the National Gaucher Foundation. Call (800) 925-8885, or visit


Many With Gaucher Unaware of Disease

Lack of One Enzyme Triggers Illness

A Different Brand of Texas Governor

They don’t make Jews like Jesus anymore, Kinky Friedman proclaims in his most famous song. They don’t make Jews like Kinky Friedman anymore, either. While there are some notable Jewish pop and rock icons, Jews have never proliferated in the ranks of country-western music. Nor are Jews noted for writing songs with titles like “Asshole From El Paso” or lyrics like, “We reserve the right to refuse service to you…. Our quota’s filled for this year on singing Texas Jews.”

The Kinkster is nothing if not irreverent. But this Texas cowboy, who has morphed from recording artist to postmodern mystery writer, may have redefined chutzpah with his current campaign to become governor of Texas.

Friedman will discuss his 2006 gubernatorial bid, play guitar, sing his songs and read from his work (over the years, he’s written 17 mystery novels, other books, and a regular column for Texas Monthly) at the Skirball Cultural Center on Nov. 17, in “An Evening With Kinky Friedman.”

It will be an opportunity for Angelenos to meet a man who, like Lenny Bruce, serves up iconoclastic humor. But unlike Bruce, Friedman has lived past 40, reaching 61 in both good health and impressive company. His friends are as varied as George and Laura Bush, Bill Clinton and Bob Dylan. Friedman, in fact, may be one of the few people to have slept at the White House as a guest of both Bush fils and Clinton.

Friedman, a counter-counter culture figure who first started his band, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, in the early 1970s, has always been interested in politics. And politics infuses Friedman’s art — in a way that’s not remotely predictable. In his most recent detective novel, “Ten Little New Yorkers,” which was published this year by Simon & Schuster, Friedman had figures named McGovern and Nixon, although the Nixon “character” is actually a bodily function. Friedman denies that the 1972 election stands out for him; he says that McGovern is based on a friend of his by that very name.

Friedman’s gubernatorial bid is not his first one for elected office. That was in 1986, when he ran for justice of the peace in Kerr County. He was a Democrat, but ran as a Republican, noting that even LBJ, one of the most popular Democrats in the state’s history, lost in Kerr. Friedman finished second. He “returned to the private sector” a wiser man: “You never want to be in a campaign that only has one ballot box.”

He also decided to set his political targets more thoughtfully: “A judge, a mayor, a city councilman, that’s hard work. A governor only has to inspire the people of Texas.”

Which is what he is trying to do with his trademark subversive humor. To qualify as a candidate, he needs 50,000 signatures during a two-month window after the upcoming March primary.

Of course, a lot of people don’t take him seriously. This is, after all, the former frontman for the Texas Jewboys, the politically incorrect provocateur who once wrote an anti-feminist ode advising women to “get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed.” But his unofficial political advisers include Bill Clinton, who has known Friedman for years. Clinton’s advice, Friedman said, was to “stay funny, stay positive. Your humor is what connects you to people.”

Free publicity doesn’t hurt either. Friedman was the recent subject of a profile in The New Yorker, “60 Minutes” came by his ranch in Texas, and he will star in a reality TV show on Country Music Television called “Go Kinky.”

“It’s starting to pop,” he said of his campaign. “People are taking me more seriously than I take myself. I’m meeting schoolteachers with tears in their eyes.”

As befitting a man whose parents were both educators, Friedman calls education “the centerpiece of” his campaign. “It takes a real dumbass not to understand the value of education,” he said.

Friedman’s father was a professor at the University of Texas, from which Friedman graduated in 1966. He calls his educational program, “No teacher left behind. I’m afraid we’ll have to leave one governor behind.”

He’s referring to Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas.

Other Friedman views: He calls the whole anti-gay marriage platform “not a very Christian thing.”

And as part of his “anti-wussification campaign,” he wants to bring back the Ten Commandments: “We may have to change the name to the Ten Suggestions.”

Although Jewish, he considers himself a “Judeo-Christian with Jesus and Moses in my heart. They were both homeless people and both independents.”

As an outsider celebrity, Friedman’s hardly in the Ronald Reagan-Arnold Schwarzenegger mold, but rather the Jesse Ventura strand, which would include not only Norman Mailer, who ran for New York City mayor in 1969, but also Sam Houston, the last independent to be governor of Texas, back in the 1800s.

“I like accidental politicians,” he said. “Politicians like George Washington, John McCain, Teddy Roosevelt, Davy Crockett.”

Or nonpoliticians: “Musicians can better run this state than politicians. Beauticians can better run this state than politicians…. Politicians can get an honest job robbing banks or working for the Mafia.”

What does he think of fellow Texan George W. Bush?

“He’s a good man trapped in a Republican’s body.”

What does he think of the record-breaking number of death-row inmates executed in Texas?

“That’s pretty excessive. We’re No. 1 in executions and 50th in education. We need to take a close look at death row,” he said.

But running for a governor isn’t just a mission; it’s a bid for a paying job. In “Ten Little New Yorkers,” he killed off his meta-detective in a suicide pact with a lesbian. He hasn’t produced a record in years.

“If I lose,” Friedman said, “I’ll retire in a petulant snit on a goat farm.”

Kinky Friedman will host a “Fun-Raiser” on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 5-7 p.m. at Lucy’s El Adobe, 5536 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, (323) 462-9421. He will also appear at the Skirball Cultural Center on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m. for “An Evening With Kinky Friedman” with special musical guest Little Jewford. $15-$25. For tickets, call (866) 468-3399. For more information, visit

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, October 15

Joyous dance and celebration is at the heart of Russian American painter Ann Krasnow’s art. Take it in, and meet the artist in person at Solaris Gallery’s opening reception for “Ann Krasner: New Work.”

6-9 p.m. 9009 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (310) 273-6935.

1114 by Ann Krasner 
“1114” by Ann Krasner. 

Sunday, October 16

Your favorite glass-eyed investigator gets honored by the American Cinematheque this weekend at their “Peter Falk In Person Retrospective.” Friday, see a double feature of “The In-Laws” and “Mikey and Nickey,” with a discussion in between films with Columbo himself. Saturday, see “Happy New Year,” or come later for “Wings of Desire” followed by a talk with Falk and director Wim Wenders. And wrap up the weekend with today’s screening of “A Woman Under the Influence.”

$6-9 (per feature or double feature). Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456.

(From left) Alan Arkin, Peter Falk and director Arthur Hiller.

Monday, October 17

In David Margolick’s new book, “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink,” a boxing match in the days leading up to World War II carried the weight of the world. Hear all about it, as Margolick reads from and signs his book tonight at Book Soup.

7 p.m. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.

Schmeling, a drenched Joe Jacobs at his side. Photo courtesy New York Daily News

Tuesday, October 18

The daughter of late British Jewish actor Laurence Harvey and supermodel Paulene Stone, Domino Harvey led a turbulent existence. Tony Scott’s new biopic, “Domino,” is loosely based on her life story as a drug- and adrenaline-addicted heiress turned bounty hunter. The film opens this week and stars Keira Knightley.

Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley stars as model-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey. Pnoto by Daniela Scaramuzza/New Line Productions

Wednesday, October 19

“If Hitler had the atomic bomb first, we’d all be speaking German,” observes one World War II British agent in the PBS documentary “Secrets of the Dead: The Hunt for Nazi Scientists.” There’s plenty of derring-do behind enemy lines to track down Nazi nuclear and rocket scientists, and then to snatch them before the Russians could. Harrowing testimony by survivors detail the deaths of 10,000 slave laborers used in the German weapon project. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

8 p.m. on KCET.


Thursday, October 20

Theatrical readings along the theme of “In a Lonely Place” take place today at the Hammer Museum. Co-sponsored by Los Angeles Conservancy’s “Curating the City: Wilshire Boulevard” project, readers include actress Dana Delaney and prototypical L.A. writers James Ellroy and Bruce Wagner.

7 p.m. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.

Bruce Wagner
Bruce Wagner

Friday, October 14

Recall the angst-ridden days of college application season in David T. Levinson’s new comedic play, “Early Decision.” The playwright may be more recognizable as the founder and chair of Big Sunday, Los Angeles’ largest volunteer day, but the Jewish community has a role in his play as well.

Oct. 9-Nov. 13. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 392-7327.

Early Decision
(From left) Susan Merson, Lara Everly, Brain Chase and Bob Neches star in “Early Decision.”


A Big Opening

Museums, like movie studios, prefer to open big.

The high cost of museum management, from health care to advertising, has forced institutions to reach for blockbuster exhibits — Tutmania! — market them like summer movies, and pray for long lines and lasting buzz on opening day.

Then there’s Max Liebermann.

Skirball Cultural Center founder and director Uri Herscher was in Jerusalem several years ago, visiting a friend’s small, art-filled apartment. His eye caught an attractive painting, a Liebermann, his friend said, and Herscher responded, “Who?”

Virtually unknown today, Max Liebermann was the most famous German painter of his time. He died at age 87 in 1935, just as Adolf Hitler rose to power. As he watched the Nazis march through the Brandenburg Gate celebrating the takeover of Hitler, Liebermann famously remarked, “One cannot eat as much as one would like to vomit.”

In 1935, he couldn’t have known the half of it. But even by 1933, he understood plenty. Liebermann had already resigned from the presidency of the Prussian Academy of Arts, which forbade him to paint because he was Jewish and refused to exhibit paintings of Jews. After his death, the Nazis destroyed much of Liebermann’s work.

Collectors, mostly European, valued the remaining Impressionist depictions of peasants, landscapes and cultural figures. But elsewhere Liebermann remained erased from history — an artistic equivalent of what Hitler attempted on the Jewish people as a whole.

“Can you eradicate an artist?” Skirball’s Herscher asked. “What does that mean?”

Truthfully, the answer to the first question is almost certainly “yes” — if time and circumstances conjoin to make it so. The second question won’t have to be dealt with insofar as Liebermann is concerned, thanks to those who saved his work and to museum leaders such as Herscher.

Herscher posed these questions in the conference room just off his office at the Skirball Cultural Center. He was standing over the page proofs of a thick and comprehensive catalog of Liebermann’s work — the catalog that will accompany the Skirball’s upcoming exhibit, “Max Liebermann: From Realism to Impressionism.” The exhibit, which opened Sept. 15 and runs through Jan. 29, is the first complete Liebermann exhibit ever held in the United States.

Herscher refused to let Liebermann and his art remain another victim of Hitler’s Germany. But he acknowledged that bringing an exhibit of this size to the Skirball is a risk. After all, the Skirball’s exhibit on the life and work of Albert Einstein, held last year, netted a small fortune in ancillary sales — Einstein posters and ties and the like. The market for Max Liebermann desk calendars is, to say the least, untested. It took extra convincing and fundraising for Herscher — who happens to excel at convincing and fundraising — to persuade his board that the Skirball wouldn’t suffer for Liebermann’s art.

It was the right decision. Although every museum deserves and needs its blockbuster, not every deserving artist guarantees huge crowds.

Liebermann merits exhibition at the Skirball because his art is significant, but so is his life story, or more accurately, the meaning of his life story. Herscher’s initial vision for the Skirball was as a museum that would explore the role of Jews, and by extension all minorities, in the life of a democracy. And it is no stretch to apply this rubric to Liebermann.

For a brief moment, for a fleeting few years, Liebermann and his art flourished in a free Germany — the flawed and flailing tries at democracy that were unable to take root either before or after World War I. He attained a measure of success that allowed him entrée into the highest echelons of Berlin society. He was a vocal and patriotic supporter of his country during World War I. And his art came to reflect the power and satisfaction of bourgeois Germany. As for Liebermann, his self-identity was as a painter first, a German second and a Jew somewhere after that.

“I have sought to serve German art with all my strength,” he wrote upon resigning from the Prussian Academy. “It is my conviction that art has nothing to do with politics or descent.”

Months later, as the Nazis solidified their hold on Germany, Liebermann’s conviction weakened. In a letter to the Hebrew poet Hayyim Nachman Bialik, he admitted that in the past he distanced himself from Zionism.

“I now think otherwise,” he wrote. “As difficult as it was for me, I have awoken from the dream I have dreamt my entire life.”

“There was a level of self-delusion that is heartbreaking,” Herscher told me. “Only at the very end of his life, when it was too late, did Liebermann recognize his self-delusion.”

The irony of course is that an artist, whose talent rests on his perception, fails to see what is happening all around him. Liebermann painted some of his most famous landscapes around his villa at Wannsee, just a stone’s throw from the mansion where Nazi leaders planned the extermination of Europe’s Jews.

Herscher slid a print of a Wannsee painting across the table to me.

“It just shows you the limits of art,” he said.

I’ve no doubt the actual exhibit will be beautiful — and bittersweet. In spite of that — or because of that — the choice to finally bring Max Liebermann to America was smart and bold. And it’s one you should reward with your presence.

For more information on the exhibit, visit


7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, September 10

Party at tonight’s sixth annual Barbie and Ken Toy Drive and you’ll give the kids a reason to smile, too. Cover per person is one new unwrapped toy or combination of toys with a minimum $25 value, for which you get music, open bar and food till the wee hours, or as long as it lasts. Event title notwithstanding, anatomically correct toys are also accepted.

8:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P.,

Sunday, September 11

The Katrina devastation is worth your attention and donations, but take some time to think about Sept. 11 today, and while you’re at it, help out some other victims of terror. The Society of Young Philanthropists hosts a trunk sale, with 10 percent of proceeds going to OneFamily Solidarity Fund, an organization that provides assistance to terror victims in Israel. For a $5 donation at the door, you can shop their “Philanthroshop” for premium women and men’s denim brands and knits, plus names like T-Bags, Joyaan, Bijou Designs, Trisje Handbags and Christiano men’s shirts.

9 a.m.-9 p.m. $5. Beverly Hills residence, 1006 Elden Way. (310) 271-0060.

Monday, September 12

They say music can reach you where words fail, and so why not investigate the connection between song and soul? This evening, the Gal Einai Center of Los Angeles brings you Kabbalah master Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh in a discussion and exploration titled, “Wings of the Soul: Kabbalah and the Art of Music.” Ginsburgh will be accompanied by violinist Marc Brodsky.

8 p.m. $25. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 392-7327.

Tuesday, September 13

Depression-era Manhattan provides the backdrop for the first production of the Ahmanson’s 2005-2006 season. The play is “Dead End,” which preceded the 1937 Humphrey Bogart film. Written by Sidney Kingsley, it tells the story of a gang of poor teenagers being displaced by the wealthy tenants that threaten to move into their neighborhood. Expect stunning visuals with a set that includes a 40-foot-high New York City skyline and a simulation of the East River, accomplished by filling the playhouse’s orchestra pit with more than 10,000 gallons of water.

Runs through Oct. 16. 135 North Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 628-2772.

Wednesday, September 14

If you’ve missed seeing former Journal staff writer and gifted artist Michael Aushenker’s words and drawings in these here pages, we’ve got fix for ya, at least as far as the art is concerned. On display at Santa Monica’s Novel Cafe through the end of September are 13 of Aushenker’s vibrant paintings. For East Siders, he also has a painting on permanent display at Birds Cafe on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood.

Novel Cafe, 212 Pier Ave., Santa Monica. Birds Cafe, 5925 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, September 15

With a title as lovely as “Heir to the Glimmering World,” how can you resist? Especially when it comes from the celebrated literary mind of Cynthia Ozick. This evening, ALOUD at Central Library presents the author, in conversation with new Los Angeles Times book editor David L. Ulin on the subject of her new work based on the real-life Christopher Robin. (Ozick also appears at Dutton’s Beverly Hills on Wed., Sept. 14, at 7 p.m.)

7 p.m. Free. Central Library Mark Taper Auditorium, Fifth and Flower streets, downtown Los Angeles. (213) 228-7025. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday, September 16

In his latest off-Broadway comedy, actor and playwright Daniel Stern (“City Slickers”) explores the old cliché about keeping up with the Joneses, as it applies to one out-of-work television actor whose “Jones” happens to be a Streisand. “Barbra’s Wedding” opens the Falcon Theatre’s 2005-2006 series this week, and stars Stern as Babs’ neighbor, and Crystal Bernard (“Wings”) as his wife.

Runs through Oct. 9. $25-$37.50. 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 955-8101. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, July 16

Who says chicks can’t be funny? Tonight, comedians Marie Cain, Annie Korzen, Ann Randolph and Betsy Salkind each take a turn onstage as part of “Tickling Adam’s Rib: An Evening of Four Ferociously Funny Females”…and dare you to not laugh.

8 p.m. $20. Steinway Hall at Fields Pianos, 12121 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 471-3979.


Sunday, July 17

Call him an alarmist or seer, but controversial New York Times best-selling author and investigative journalist Kenneth Timmerman will not be ignored. The Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, Republican Jewish Coalition and StandWithUs co-sponsor his appearance today at the Museum of Tolerance to discuss his latest book, “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran.”

7 p.m. $10. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2527.


Monday, July 18

Labor politics and humor collide in the latest traveling exhibition, “The Traveling Wobbly Show: Comics and Posters,” at the Workmen’s Circle. Wobblies — a common term for members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) — have a rich history of producing humorous political cartoons and songs. The Circle’s show consists of 25 Wobbly prints gleaned from Paul Buhle and Nicole Shulman’s book, “Wobblies, A Graphic History.” Other events coinciding with the exhibit continue throughout July and August.

1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Tuesday, July 19

Imprisoned in seven concentration camps over four years, Kalman Aron survived by painting the portraits of the camp guards for their wives and girlfriends. At the time, he was a young man, and he later went on to paint the portraits of author Henry Miller and President Ronald Reagan, as well as numerous landscapes and paintings of people in his trademark style of “psychological realism.” This week through Nov. 15, the acclaimed artist opens his studio to the public for a rare retrospective exhibition.

1550 S. Beverly Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 922-1200.

Wednesday, July 20

Sandra Bernhard and other artists pay tribute to American cinematic jazz and swing greats in tonight’s “Play It Again: The Movie Music of Woody Allen” at the Hollywood Bowl.

8 p.m. $6-$34. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000.

Thursday, July 21

A little more night music tonight, this time at the University of Judaism. The DeLuca-Karamzyn-Sussman Trio performs an informal concert of Schumann’s “Fantasy Pieces,” Brahms’ “Piano Trio in B Major” and Peter Schnickele’s “New Goldberg Variations.” The pieces have been described as “romantic,” “lush” and “downright silly,” respectively, and those attending the performance will be privy to stories about the composers as well as the music.

7:30 p.m. $10. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.

Friday, July 22

UCLA Film and Television Archive goes ahead and makes your day with its Don Siegel retrospective series. The director of tough crime dramas like “The Killers,” “Dirty Harry” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is honored with a host of screenings through Aug. 7. Tonight, see “Hitler Lives?” The documentary short won the 1946 Academy Award, and although uncredited, Siegel acted as the principal director of this anti-fascist compilation film.

7:30 p.m. $5-$8. James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 206-3456.

Israeli Artist Paints a Path to Healing

There is something raw about the rough brush strokes in the work of native Israeli artist Rhea Carmi, and about her textured materials, such as sand and stone. But then, there also was a rawness to the tragedy that originally informed and inspired her work.

Carmi lost her brother in the Yom Kippur War and needed a way to cope. When she turned to painting, friends and family told her that she had talent.

The result of this new life path will be on display this summer at the Lawrence Asher Gallery in the museum district of Wilshire Boulevard. Most of the exhibited works will be from Carmi’s “Humanity’s Struggle” series, but there also will be selected works from her “Humanity’s Resilience and Everlasting Spirit” series. The exhibition explores themes the 53-year-old artist has wrestled with throughout her life; the paintings themselves represent her work over the past 12 years.

Carmi’s artistic evolution quickly became about more than confronting the grief of her brother’s death: She’s also had to process warring sides of her personality — the scientist vs. the artist. Carmi studied physiology at Tel Aviv Open University before switching her major to art at Ramat-Gan Institute for the Arts, where she studied under artist Moti Mizrahi, an artist recognized for his conceptual art and use of space, and mixed-media artist Arie Aroch.

“In my work you can see a war between certain characteristics of mine,” Carmi said. “One side of me that wants everything to be in order [with a] vertical flow … like in science. The other is my wild side.”

The paintings in her “Humanity’s Resilience” series utilize Carmi’s chemistry background, tapping into her inner scientist. Jerusalem stone and other raw materials such as sand and rocks recreate the look of antiquity in this series. Through carving into the paint, painting on stone and using ancient Hebrew letters, Carmi creates a cave-painting look that symbolizes the resilience of the Jewish people throughout history. This series is as much about touch as sight; the textures Carmi uses let the viewer feel the layers of history.

Some of the paintings in “Humanity’s Struggle” deal with the universal emotions people experience after trauma or tragedy. Her mixed-media pieces with cookie-cutter figures illustrate the loss of identity that can occur after a tragedy.

One example is “Survivor’s Dance,” a red painting in which various uniform figures dance in a circle, like they are jumping on a trampoline. Carmi described it as a dance of life. The various figures illustrate diverse and individual reactions to tragedy.

An example of her wild side taking over is “Suspended: Humanity Struggles VIII,” with its vibrant primary colors and strong masculine lines, depicting the senseless violence and loss of life in the Middle East. The painting shows several figures being hung. The shock of the subject matter and the rough nature of her brush strokes had museum visitors mesmerized at her last exhibit.

In “Humanity Struggles XXIV,” there are Hebrew letters and a red tzitzit that Carmi said is supposed to look as though it has been soaked in blood. It juxtaposes the struggles occurring in Israel with the calmer constant of Judaism.

“Even though the struggles are very hard, most of the time we fix it. You become stronger and better if there is another disaster because of those struggles,” Carmi said.

Her works, with their vast range of styles, materials and symbols reflect her conflicting sensibilities: “Sometimes one side takes over the other. It depends on the mood…. I could separate my work into the one that comes from my guts and the one that comes from my head. I convey my feeling via the material and the colors and the texture.”

She expects and welcomes a broad swath of reactions to her work.

“People can relate their personal experience to my paintings,” she said, “even though I experience something different than them.”

Rhea Carmi discusses “Humanity Struggles” at the Lawrence Asher Gallery, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. The Humanity Struggles Series (1991-2003), will be on display through July 9 at the Lawrence Asher Gallery, 5820 Wilshire Blvd. Parking available behind 5858 Wilshire Blvd. For more information, call (323) 935-9100.

Spectator – ‘Time’: a Truthful Family Portrait

For Los Angeles artist Shelley Adler, the epiphany came after her second diagnosis of breast cancer and near-death from diverticulitis in 2001. Following her lumpectomy and two weeks in the hospital, she returned home and glimpsed cartons of family photographs she had collected since her parents and other relatives had died.

“The black-and-white snapshots revealed little worlds and scenes I wanted to bring alive in color,” said Adler, whose “Shades of Time: The Extended Family of Shelley Adler” runs through July 1 at the Workmen’s Circle. “I wanted to paint them the way the 16th-century Dutch genre painters had done — small portraits of ordinary people in their homes, offering glimpses into their lives.” Yet, she had put off the project until that day in 2001: “I suddenly recognized I might die, and if I was to do the series, it had to be now,” the artist said.

Adler, 69, had not painted in oils for decades; she had grown up Jewish in what she describes as a repressive small town, Minot, N.D., which she escaped to attend art school. But by 1960 she had married, had children and become a librarian in an effort to “conform, to be ‘normal.'” Fifteen years later she was so miserable that she divorced, returned to art school and became a professional illustrator.

After her 2001 epiphany, she left her job as The Jewish Journal’s art director and, between radiation and chemotherapy treatments, spent hours intensely staring at the snapshots.

“Eventually, the body language of the individuals told me things I wanted to communicate,” said Adler, who left The Journal in 2002.

Her realistic paintings include a 1944 winter portrait of her stoic, taciturn uncle Ben, who stands very still in front of his Minot jewelry store, his eyes veiled behind shadowed spectacles. In a painting of Adler’s domineering father and grandmother, his hand clutches her shoulder as if he is controlling her every move. A summer 1930s portrait of Adler’s scowling mother and aunt reveals “two women who are in conflict, yet they’re in a family,” she said.

Sherry Frumkin of the Santa Monica Art Studios, which previously displayed some of the paintings, described them as “intimate little gems, which make you feel transported to another era.”

If the portraits aren’t always positive, Adler said, “I’m a truth teller. I don’t color things with niceties…. [Rather], I hope viewers will feel they’re looking through a window, as if these people will step right out of the frame.”

For information, call (310) 552-2007.