Jewish leader warns Swiss museum against accepting German art hoard

The head of the World Jewish Congress warned a Swiss art museum that it risks an “avalanche” of lawsuits if it accepts the bequest of a collection of artwork amassed by a man who dealt in art for the Nazis.

The Bern Art Museum discovered in May it had been named sole heir of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a man who dealt in so-called “degenerate” art for Adolf Hitler. The Bern museum has yet to decide whether to accept the artwork.

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said that since Gurlitt's father, Hildebrand, had collected art stolen by the Nazis from Jewish collectors or taken from German state museums, Bern would have a problem on its hands if it accepted the works before their provenance has been fully investigated.

“If this museum in Switzerland gets involved with this inheritance, it will open Pandora's box and unleash an avalanche of lawsuits – possibly from German museums, but certainly from the descendants of the Jewish owners,” Lauder said.

“The people in Bern will harm themselves and their country if they take these paintings before their provenance is cleared up. They would become a museum of stolen art,” he told German magazine Der Spiegel in an interview to be published on Sunday.

Gurlitt died in May at the age of 81, in the flat in Munich where he lived and stored the art collection. The Bern museum said news of his bequest came “like a bolt from the blue,” because it had not had any connection with him.

Hundreds of masterpieces by the likes of Chagall and Picasso were secretly stored by Gurlitt at the Munich apartment and a house in nearby Salzburg, Austria. He occasionally sold pieces to finance his quiet lifestyle and his healthcare. The collection is worth an estimated 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion).

The Gurlitt family had said its collection was destroyed in the bombing of their home in Dresden during World War Two. Its survival remained secret until 2012, when tax inspectors stumbled across the hoard during an unrelated inquiry.

The Bern museum denied a German media report last month that it had decided to accept the artworks. It said it was still in talks with German authorities to ascertain all the implications of accepting the inheritance.

“In the end our board of trustees is free to decide whether it is in the best interests of the Bern Art Museum to accept or decline the estate,” it said in a statement in mid-October.

Israel Museum puts rare artworks up for sale

The Israel Museum is selling 38 rare pieces of art estimated to be worth $17 million.

The money earned from the auctions will go to update the Jerusalem museum’s collection, the Israeli business daily Globes reported.

The works going up for auction by Sotheby’s beginning next month include paintings by Magritte, Pissarro, Picasso and Chagall.

The museum decided to sell off some of its artwork due to a reduction in donations and a need to purchase newly recognized important works of art, according to Globes.

There are 500,000 objects and works of art in the Israel Museum’s collection.

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.

The Paintbrush as Sword

Samuel Bak’s first art exhibit was in the Vilna ghetto when he was 9 years old. While the Nazis killed 75,000 Vilna residents, he and his mother emerged as just two of 200 survivors.

Some of that young boy’s artwork, which depicted a culture that once was called “the Jerusalem of Lithuania,” has survived the 20th century and can be found in the Lithuanian capital’s Jewish museum. But Bak’s storied 45-year career in painting also brings more than 40 of his works to Los Angeles for the two-month “Between Worlds” exhibit at the Finegood Gallery at the New Jewish Community Center at Milken in West Hills.

“I had no difficulties bringing up memories that for some other people belong to a realm that is so painful that they cannot even approach it,” the 71-year-old Bak said in a telephone interview from his suburban Boston home. “I wasn’t in a concentration camp, but I was in a [labor] camp where most of the children were murdered.”

The Finegood exhibit will include a film series and Holocaust-related teacher training, both working off of Jewish historical themes in Bak’s paintings, which have a permanent home at Boston’s Pucker Gallery. Abstract masters such as Picasso have influenced his earlier pieces, while Europe’s 17th and 18th century painters have influenced his later works — what Bak called, “my more mature style.”

Although shades of Salvador Dali’s dream-driven paintings, which fused reality with fantasy, can appear to have influenced Bak’s art, the painter said that is a misinterpretation.

“I’m using reality to speak not of dreams but of nightmares,” he said.

The painter, who has three grown daughters who also work in creative fields, said he prefers broad themes because, “I cannot compete with the works of historians or documents of that time. So I go into a totally different domain; the domain that asks questions.”

“The bits and pieces for me,” he said, “are the various minds of the survivors who try to create a life of their own.”

“Between Worlds” at the Finegood Gallery, New JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. For more information, call (818) 464-3300.

‘Show & Tel’ Dials the Right Artwork

"Show & Tel: Art of Connection," the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s exhibition of 179 telephones decorated and deconstructed by painters, sculptors, politicians, athletes and others, features an array of artworks ranging from the whimsical to the confrontational.

Grouped by such themes as sports and color schemes, the often funky and always surprising phones fill several rooms at the Zimmer. Taken together, they show that a little imagination can go a long way toward transforming a prosaic object into something compelling and original.

All the phones are up for sale. Proceeds will go to youTHink, a Zimmer program for students that uses art to discuss important social issues.

Curator Kate Stern, a former talent coordinator for "Rock the Vote" and ex-casting director, leveraged her contacts to land some big-name celebrities for the show.

Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor submitted a purple flower pot sprouting a pink phone covered with violets. Basketball star Jason Kidd’s phone has a large 5, his number, plastered across his phone’s keypad and his last name spelled out in big letters across the receiver. Venice artist Aaron Kramer’s "It’s Fore You" features a phone encased in metal that is supported by four wood drivers. A wood barbell hangs from the base of the phone.

But it’s the lesser-known creators who, in many instances, have produced the most affecting pieces. Beth Livingston, an artist and U.S. Paralympics Ski Team member, created a massive piece titled, "Follow Your Heart," which features a 5-foot-long mermaid holding a phone receiver in her left hand. A colorful mosaic of jewels, plastic flowers, antique buttons and bottle caps decorate her belly.

New York firefighter Hugh Giffords’ "Never Give Up" has a backdrop of the charred remains of World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the foreground, a red phone peeks through the rubble of smashed cinder blocks.

Giffords, who plans to attend the Zimmer’s June 6 preview opening, lost 14 of the 16 members of his fire company in the terrorist attack.

"The greatest virtues that mankind possesses, marched straight into those buildings, [and] they did it for love," he wrote in text accompanying his work.

Curator Stern said she was happy with the diverse talent she assembled for the exhibit. Some participants responded quickly. R&B musician Alicia Keys turned in her phone only two days after receiving it in the mail. Others needed a little more prodding.

Artist Charles Arnoldi reluctantly agreed to participate but kept putting Stern off. Undeterred, she dropped by his studio when he was out and left one pound of homemade toffee, along with Post-It notes with messages such as "Chuck for president" and "You’re the man." Arnoldi sent in his painted phone soon thereafter.

Stern said she wasn’t able to get everybody she wanted. David Hockney said he was too busy. Madonna, a practitioner of Kaballah, a branch of Jewish mysticism, never responded. Poet Maya Angelou initially said she would participate and then vanished on a three-month book tour, ("I literally begged her," Stern lamented).

Esther Netter, the Zimmer’s executive director, borrowed the idea for the phone exhibit from a similar show that ran in Haifa two and a half years ago. She took more than a good idea — 29 of the Zimmer’s phone artworks come from the original Israeli exhibit.

"This is the biggest exhibit in Zimmer’s history," Netter said. "We’re preparing for a big party, so we’re putting our best, most shiny face first."

The "Show & Tel" preview will take place June 6 at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $100. The show opens to the public June 8 and runs until Sept. 10. For more information, call Carrie Jacoves at (323) 761-8992.–MB

Art Auction Hits B’nai Tzedek

Karen Sturm purchased most of the artwork in her home at art auctions, where sale prices generally are lower than for work offered in retail galleries.

Sturm is hoping for frenzied bidding May 15 at a 7 p.m. art auction and dessert buffet that will benefit her Fountain Valley synagogue, Congregation B’nai Tzedek.

Lithographs and prints by a variety of artists, including a few from Israel, some Judaica and about 50 higher-priced signed works will come under the gavel. Two works, including a Chagall print valued at $400, will be also be raffled for buyers of $5 tickets, Sturm said.

The 300 items, framed and matted with care, are to be displayed around the sanctuary, lobby and social hall. Participants will receive a numbered, magazine-sized catalog that briefly describes each and also serves as a bidding paddle. To whip up competition, an auctioneer starts the process with a reverse bid, allowing someone to win a work for $1, said Jill A. Selin, auction coordinator for State of the Art, a Cleveland, Tenn., company that helps nonprofits raise funds by sharing auction proceeds.

Sturm is hoping for 100 art lovers, which will earn the synagogue a minimum of $1,000 even if no one buys anything. Serin said the average group earns $5,000.

Art sold at auctions is often by artists whose popularity is waning or are unsold, old remainders from publishers or galleries, said a local gallery owner, who asked not to be identified. "It’s a fun event, but not a great deal," the owner said.

The synagogue is located at 9669 Talbert Ave., Fountain Valley. For more information, call (714) 963-4611. Artist requests can be made to Selin at (800) 242-7682.

The Little Flower That Could

Hippies, bellbottoms and Volkswagen Beetles aren’t the only ’60s icons to resurface. The Vietnam-era image of a sunflower accompanied by the words, "War is not healthy for children and other living things," is also experiencing a revival. The graphic was created in 1965 by Los Angeles print artist Lorraine Schneider. With a resurgence of the peace movement in response to the war in Iraq, demand for the sunflower has, well, blossomed.

Schneider’s daughter, Carol Schneider, and her husband Bill Donnelly have reincorporated Another Mother for Peace (AMP), the anti-war group to whom Lorraine Schneider, now deceased, donated her artwork shortly after creating it. Formed in 1967 to "eliminate war as a means of solving disputes between nations, people and ideologies," AMP spearheaded a variety of campaigns that helped turn the tide against the Vietnam War. AMP eventually closed its offices in 1986.

The newly recreated AMP, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, remains "dedicated to the principle that war is obsolete." Its board of directors includes artist Lorraine Schneider’s three daughters, Carol, Susan Messenger and Alisa Klaven, as well as several original founders and their children.

"Our goal is to communicate with a powerful statement that there are huge numbers of people … who don’t believe that war is a reasonable means of resolving disputes," Schneider said. The group has an active Web site ( and is planning a campaign to coincide with the 2004 election.

"Like my mom, I believe that as a mother and as a human being — not just as a Jew — that my duty is to live a humanistic life and that I have a responsibility on this earth," said Schneider, who is a psychotherapist in private practice.

The original sunflower image was an etching only 4 inches square, created for a 1965 exhibition which stipulated the diminutive size. "Mom felt that in such a tiny space, she needed to say something profound," Schneider said. "She never dreamed that her little etching would make such a big impact."

L.A. GOAL Opens ‘Doors’ at Skirball

Sherrie has cerebral palsy, which causes her hands to tremble. So when she was hired to work as an artist for L.A. GOAL in Culver City, she was concerned.

"I can’t paint a straight line, because my hands shake," Sherrie told Susan Wilder, L.A. GOAL’s art director.

"Well, then don’t," Wilder replied. "Use the shaking in your paintings, because that will be part of your language. Rather than fighting it, you can incorporate it."

A door that was closed suddenly opens.

The key? An extraordinary program for adults with developmental disabilities, many of whom haven’t had much success in a job before, let alone one where they are paid as artists.

Forty L.A. GOAL members will be demonstrating their artistic success in "The Drama of the Door," a unique exhibit opening April 30 at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery. The intention of the exhibit is to provide an opportunity to understand how the doors we open every day determine the lives we live.

The artists have worked diligently on the Skirball exhibit for the past year, exploring and discussing the theme of doors — doors in their lives that are open for them, doors that create barriers, doors that leave them feeling isolated and doors that give them freedom.

The discussion opened the way for the artwork that emerged: brilliantly colored paintings, black-and-white photographs, richly symbolic, hand-painted boxes and intricately designed wall hangings. Each piece tells a story.

The painted boxes have a door that opens and closes. The outside for some represents what is seen and known by others, while the inside depicts a more private self that can be hidden when the door is closed.

"I never thought that I could be a professional artist," said Lisa, who though visually impaired, has always enjoyed drawing. "My artwork has taken a new direction because of this job. It gave me a whole new life. I was very happy when I discovered I could paint."

Unlike workshops for the handicapped, the employees at L.A. GOAL must adjust to high expectations: to be on time, to do quality work and to negotiate with the staff when something upsets them. According to Wilder, this isn’t easy for many people with developmental disabilities.

"They have been ignored or coddled by society," she said," probably because that’s the easiest way not to deal with them."

Elaine, another artist who has her work in the show, accepts the responsibility and sees the payoff. "L.A GOAL has meant a lot to me," she said. "I’ve never been able to do something I really liked before and not fail at it. I do what they ask. I don’t always like it, but I do it anyway, because it’s a job."

On a typical day in the art studio, Sherrie, Lisa and Elaine sit at a large table covered with works in progress, bottles of bright paints, drawing paper and assorted books. The room is alive with the exciting artwork created here: vibrant designs for note cards, baby blankets and hand-painted furniture.

There are eight artists working at the table, and as they draw and paint, they chat, sometimes about the content of their work or techniques the staff has shown them. Though they’re hard at work, laughter often fills the room — a response to a joke or to someone sharing a recent life challenge met in an amusing way. It’s clear that this is a work setting where ideas blossom and creative juices flow, and where disabilities are not the focus of attention.

"I usually painted flowers and pretty things," Lisa said. "For this exhibit, Susan said, ‘Why don’t you paint something that’s hard for you, something that you haven’t done before?’ I decided to do a trapdoor and paint something I don’t like to talk about. I call it my Worry Box."

"I get very frustrated sometimes, and carry things around inside," she added. "I represented that with a dragon, because a dragon breathes fire and fire is very hot, and can burn you. My worries can burn me and hurt me."

The artists at L.A. GOAL often work collaboratively on projects. For this exhibit, a painting by D’Marcus, titled, "The Boxer Rebellion," was also made into a quilt.

"It makes me feel recognized to have people noticing my work and the things that I have done," D’Marcus said. "It’s a new feeling. It feels really good."

D’Marcus said that the door in his painting opens to another world, one that is relaxing and away from pressure.

"My art is the strongest passion I’ve ever had since I was little," he added. "It helps my fear. I feel calm coming here every day and I try to help other people here to be more relaxed. I feel like part of a family."

L.A. GOAL’s "The Drama of the Door" exhibit will be at the Skirball Cultural Center, April 30-June 29. For more information about the exhibit, call (310) 440-4500. For more information about a reception and silent auction hosted by Sean Penn, Thursday, May 8, 5:30pm, call (310) 838-5274.

Community Briefs

Assembly Passes Holocaust-RelatedBills

Two bills pertaining to the Holocaust era, one creating a state center for Holocaust study, the other extending the deadline for claims to recover artworks, were passed by the Legislature last week.

The Assembly passed and sent to the governor’s desk a bill creating a comprehensive Holocaust-genocide education program for teachers.

Introduced by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), son of a Holocaust survivor, the bill provides for the establishment of a state Center of Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance.

“With the enactment of this bill, teachers will finally receive the necessary training and tools to effectively present this difficult subject matter to students,” Koretz said. The center will work in conjunction with California State University, Chico, said Scott Svonkin, Koretz’s chief of staff.

In the second action, Gov. Gray Davis signed into law a bill extending the current three-year statute of limitations on filing claims to prove ownership of stolen artworks to Dec. 31, 2010.

“The very nature of Holocaust-era artwork requires detailed investigation involving numerous historical documents in multiple languages, and sometimes requires international research,” said Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance), who introduced the bill. Under the new law, persons whose claims were denied for failing to meet the three-year statute of limitations are entitled to resubmit their claims. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

No Complaints on Messianic Signs

They’re lined up once again across the southwestern San Fernando Valley, just in time for the High Holidays. No, not people seeking last-minute tickets, but banners advertising services that include a Jew rarely discussed during the holidays: Jesus.

Since 1998, Adat Y’shua Ha Adom, a Messianic congregation in Woodland Hills, has hung 24 banners on streetlights and power poles in areas around the West Valley heavily trafficked by Jews. But the banners aren’t provoking the kind of reaction they have in years past.

Adat Y’shua’s banners were deemed legal after an investigation by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, following several complaints registered in 1999. The congregation continues to hang the banners every year during the High Holidays.

“We’re just letting people know about our High Holiday services,” said Michael Brown, Adat Y’shua’s pastor.

One banner sits directly across from Kol Tikvah’s High Holidays banner on Ventura Boulevard near Winnetka Avenue, while another two banners near the intersection of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards sit directly in front of a shopping center that is home to Noah’s Bagels, Western Bagel and Jerry’s Deli.

“I know people get upset by it, but there’s so many other things that are more important right now,” said Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah. “This is not hurting Jews. It’s not a threat to us.”

The signs continue to raise the hackles of a few Jews, but none have entered a formal complaint with Jewish or city agencies.

“We’ve gotten some people who have notified us about it, but we haven’t gotten complaints from people saying please rip them down,” said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of the countermissionary group, Jews for Judaism, who credits the lack of complaints to stronger Jewish education and self-confidence.

“As far as I know, nobody has complained about it,” said Sheree Adams, Woodland Hills and Tarzana field deputy for City Councilman Dennis Zine.

Brown acknowledged that his congregation regularly receives some negative feedback when the banners go up.

“There’s a small set of people who, for whatever reason, don’t agree,” said Brown, 47, who grew up in a Reform home and became a involved in Messianic Judaism 10 years ago. “But the vast majority of calls we get are very positive.”

And while Jews for Judaism wouldn’t mind if Adat Y’shua packed up their signs for good, they aren’t going to hold their breath.

“In a society with freedom of speech, it’s very difficult to keep people from handing out pamphlets or putting up banners,” Kravitz said. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Mourning Season

Kever avot, the custom of visiting graves of loved ones between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, has its roots in Eastern European Jewish traditions. “Visiting is a sign of respect, said Rabbi Moshe Rothblum of Adat Ari El in North Hollywood. “We are also thinking about how we’ve acted in the past, and taking time to remember,” he said of the timing of the custom.

Mt. Sinai Cemetery will hold its 48th annual kever avot service at its Hollywood location. This year it will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sept. 15. It will also simultaneously host its first kever avot service at the new Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, 6150 Mt. Sinai Drive, Simi Valley.

At both ceremonies, Mt. Sinai staff will collect food donations for the SOVA food bank, the free food distribution program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. For information, call (800) 600-0076.

For those looking for a less traditional approach, Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer, creator and star of the one-man show, “Religion Outside the Box,” has planned an innovative kever avot service that includes a video presentation, a meditation on death by Buddhist priest John Daishin Buksbazen and a Franciscan dirge, in addition to the usual “Kaddish” prayers. It will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. For more information, call (323) 469-1181. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

Hebrew University VictimsRemembered

About 100 people came to Temple Beth Am’s Lainer Library on Aug. 29 to pay tribute to the July 31 victims of the Hebrew University cafeteria bombing, nearly a month to the day of the tragedy. Organized by American Friends of Hebrew University, the 80-minute tribute was dedicated to the memory of Revital Barashi, Marla Bennett, Benjamin Blutstein, Dina Carter, Janis Ruth Coulter, David Gritz, David Diego Ladowski, Levina Shapira and Dafna Spruch, as well as the 80 people injured in the attack. Most of the nine murder victims were under 30.

Even the liveliness of Beth Am’s brightly lit, modern sanctuary could not overcome the sadness and solemnity of the occasion, as Cantor Yonah Kliger sang “El Maleh Rachamin.” After opening remarks by Jeff Rouss, executive director of the Western Region American Friends of the Hebrew University, Beth Am’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Perry Netter, led the ceremony and a “‘Misheberach,’ for healing.”

For Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, a 1986 Rothberg International School graduate, Hebrew University, the oldest college in Israel, is a very special place. “It’s not just an academic but a sacred institution,” Bouskila said, “because of the progress it represents.”

Rabbinical student Deborah Bock, who also spoke with eloquence and emotion at a UCLA memorial a few weeks ago, returned to paint a loving picture of Bennett, her former Hebrew University roommate. Two other Rothberg International School friends of Bennett, Ari Moss and Emma Lefkowitz, also shared personal memories of their friend as they tried to suppress their emotions. “I’m going to miss the person she was going to be,” Moss said. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer