Everything’s Relative

Visitors entering the exhibit on Albert Einstein first have to pass through a gravity-warping black hole.

It’s the only disorienting experience in a mind-stretching encounter with the life, loves and thoughts of the man who, in a very real sense, explained and shaped the modern world in which we live.

Simply named "Einstein," the nearly nine-month-long exhibit, the largest ever mounted by the Skirball Cultural Center, opens Sept. 14 and closes May 29, 2005.

In the words of Dr. Uri Herscher, the Skirball’s founding president, "We are trying to show that Einstein was not only a scientific genius, but a deeply involved humanist, a passionate advocate of social justice and a dedicated Zionist. He used his global stardom in striving to better the world in which he lived."

The exhibit also marks the centennial of Einstein’s annus mirabilis, the miracle year of 1905, when the 26-year-old "technical expert third class" in the Swiss patent office published four scientific papers, including the special theory of relativity, which revolutionized the concepts of time, space, energy and matter.

From those four theoretical papers sprung such discoveries as X-rays, crystallography, DNA, photoelectric effect, vacuum tubes, transistors, the mechanics of the information age and the foundation of the atomic age.

Paralleling the new scientific vistas of the time were experiments in painting, literature and other arts, and radiating from the exhibit will be some three-dozen satellite lectures, films, plays, dance recitals, side exhibits, adult classes, family programs, publications and even a cabaret.

"Einstein" also marks the inauguration of the Skirball’s new Winnick Hall, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, with its 300-foot-long unbroken gallery space and light-diffusing skylights.

Grace Cohen Grossman, the Skirball’s senior curator, gave an advance visitor a compact rundown on the exhibit’s nine thematic sections:

• Einstein’s Revolution — How Einstein, in his special and general theories of relativity, overthrew the classic Newtonian view of gravity.

• Life and Times — Einstein’s childhood and early studies in Germany and Switzerland and his sometimes stormy relationships with women, illustrated through original artifacts and family photos. A video narrated by actor Alan Alda explains some basic physics concepts.

• Light — A kinetic light sculpture illustrates Einstein’s revolutionary theories on the nature of light.

• Time — Displays and movie clips prove Einstein’s dictum that the faster a traveler goes the slower time passes.

• Energy — The world’s most famous mathematical equation, E=mc2, is explained through interactive displays.

• Gravity — On a wall-sized interactive computer screen, visitors can use their own body mass to explore Einstein’s notion of gravity as a warping of time-space.

• Einstein in Peace and War — The great physicist was also a proud Jew, musician, sailor, pacifist, atheist, Zionist and even a fundraiser for Hebrew University. Included are originals and copies of Einstein’s correspondence with President Roosevelt, Sigmund Freud and other luminaries, as well as an installation on Einstein’s lengthy stays in Southern California.

• Global Citizen — Einstein spoke out passionately against segregation, anti-Semitism, McCarthyism and nuclear armament, activities that earned him a 1,500-page FBI dossier. Included is the original letter offering him the presidency of the State of Israel.

• Einstein’s Legacy — Videotaped interviews with many of today’s leading physicists, emphasizing Einstein’s lasting impact on our world.

To create the exhibit, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to which Einstein willed his intellectual legacy, released many original documents and artifacts, some of which will be displayed for the first time at the Skirball exhibit.

The bulk of the exhibit was first organized and shown at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, with Michael M. Shara as the curator, in collaboration with Hebrew University.

For the Skirball run, the cultural center’s senior vice president, Lori Starr, coordinated the collaborative efforts of the California Institute of Technology, University of Southern California and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Caltech will present talks by leading scientists during the Einstein Centennial Lectures, from March to November of next year.

USC’s Labyrinth Project is erecting an innovative installation, "Three Winters in the Sun: Einstein in California," which tracks his meetings with scientific colleagues, fellow Jewish émigrés and the Hollywood glitterati. USC educators have also prepared a classroom study program to prepare student groups visiting the exhibit.

The Getty Research Institute will be represented at the Skirball in a series of lectures, film screenings, and the exhibit "Time/Space, Gravity and Light," which explores the relationships between art and technology.

UCLA is offering an Extension course on "Einstein for Poets."

During the run of the Skirball exhibit, a specially trained group of "explainers," mostly retired physics teachers, will augment the center’s docents. Audio tours will also be available.

Advance tickets for "Einstein" will go on sale Sept. 7. $12 (general admission), $10 (group rates), $8 (students and seniors), free (Skirball members and children under 12). Visiting hours are Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Free entrance on Thursday evenings, 5 – 9 p.m., between Sept. 23-Dec. 30. Closed Mondays and holidays. For tickets or more information, contact (310) 440-4500 or visit www.ticketweb.com or www.skirball.org.

For a complete list of programs, visit www.jewishjournal.com.