Peter Shire in his Echo Park studio. Photo by Tess Cutler

Peter Shire’s whimsical designs find fun in everyday objects


In a back room of his Echo Park studio, ceramicist and sculptor Peter Shire retrieves a box of mezuzot that he designed. He pulls out one. It consists of a stainless steel tube for the scroll, and on both ends are turquoise and yellow disks fitted with thin rods topped with little red and orange globes, like a crown. It’s a humorous and playful object, and a far cry from traditional Judaica.

“What we regard as serious, really, most of the time, is solemn and decorum and not real feeling,” Shire said. “There’s no harder work than play and, you know, being in the moment.”

He designed menorahs with the same eclectic approach, which Shire links to his Jewish background.

“Making a joke is a great way to get at the truth, maybe without getting people too upset,” he said.

A survey spanning four decades of Shire’s similarly whimsical teapots, tables, chairs, cabinets and other creations is on display at the MOCA Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood through July 2. “Peter Shire: Naked Is the Best Disguise” is his first design survey at a Los Angeles museum.

His works include everything from silverware, plates and cups to T-shirts, sculptures and paintings. The MOCA show also includes sketches and engineering plans that illuminate his design process.

“Naked Is the Best Disguise” is a swirling mashup of color and geometry, with smoothly finished shapes jammed together into works that walk a tightrope between craft and fine art.

“It is a kind of all-encompassing aesthetic possibility for Peter,” said Anna Katz, curator of the MOCA show.

Even the metal cabinets and machines in his studio are slathered in vivid paint.

“There’s a practical reason” for painting his equipment, Shire said. “One is that a lot of them are used, and so they come in pretty beat up and grimy and gross looking. And the other reason is, that’s what I do. I paint objects. I mean, why should they be different than the work itself?”

Born in Echo Park in 1947, Shire even dresses like his sculptures, with striped black-and-white T-shirts and bright mismatched socks. He has a gray beard and a wide, impish grin.

Dig underneath his silliness and he’s trying to make a serious point: Everyday objects meant for daily use are just as worthy of artistic attention.

The teapots stray the furthest from their classic shape and encapsulate Shire’s interest in transforming functional objects into sculptural forms defined more by aesthetics than utility. More than 20 teapots are included in the show.

An advertisement for his work was included in a 1981 issue of the irreverent Venice-based WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing, which drew the attention of Italian designers. That led him to become the only American founding member of Memphis, a design collective based in Milan. Memphis challenged “good taste” and the principles of modern design, such as “form follows function.”

One example of such a defiant sculpture is “Bel Air Chair,” produced in 1981 with Memphis. More a jumble of shapes than a chair, it has a red back, an orange sphere as a foot for the chair and a green cylinder as an armrest. He made a second, deconstructed version in 2010 called “Belle Aire Chair,” and for the MOCA show he made a 2017 iteration called “Brentwood Chair.” In the lastest version, the orange sphere is placed in front of the seat, challenging the definition of a functional chair.

 

Though he began as a potter, Shire has experimented with metal, glass, painting and large-scale outdoor art. One of his best-known public sculptures in Los Angeles is a 28-foot-tall steel and copper construction that resembles a city skyline. It rests atop Angels Point, the highest spot in Elysian Park, which offers commanding views of downtown and Dodger Stadium.

At his studio in the heart of Echo Park, giant metal sculptures peek out from a parking lot. Large spindly frames hold red, yellow and blue circles and squares, like giant versions of a Joan Miro painting or an Alexander Calder mobile.

The studio was once an auto repair shop, and Shire cites a lifelong love of hot rod culture as an inspiration in his work. One metal sculpture in the studio resembles an engine’s pistons. He also was inspired by California surfing culture, the designs of Charles and Ray Eames, and the midcentury Googie architecture of car washes and gas stations, including Googies, a coffee shop designed by architect John Lautner and formerly located at the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards near West Hollywood.

“My parents made fun of it. We’d go past it on the way to the beach. It was kitsch, done by arguably the greatest Southern California architect,” Shire said.

He describes his parents as the type of “effete modernists who had developed, through their heritage, the ideals of art and modernism.” But to Shire, L.A.’s car washes and coffee shops “were fantastic, because they were kitsch. And I will define kitsch my way, which is the substitution of real values for spurious values, i.e., plastic flowers.

“I subscribe to the idea that kitsch is an idea of substituting fake for real. And I think we’re making an attempt to bring that back the other way and bringing the fake back into the real, because we’re not getting rid of the fake, you know. Plastic flowers are here to stay.”

His love of color also comes from his childhood home in Echo Park.

“My father was very color oriented, and he colored our house very carefully with groups of contrasting and complementary colors,” he said. “Colors can make you feel good and they can make you feel depressed.”

Shire is best known for his mugs and handcrafted earthenware, splattered with brightly colored paint and produced since 1972 under the name Echo Park Pottery. Strangers regularly walk into Shire’s studio to gawk at the sculptures and ceramics.

“There’s been this tremendous resurgence of attention to Peter, particularly among young artists in L.A. in the past, say, 10 years,” Katz said. “There are constantly young artists visiting his studio.”

Shire-Art

Peter Shire, Bel Air Chair, 1981. Photo by Joshua White

Ben Medansky, a young ceramicist in Los Angeles, moved to Echo Park from Chicago five years ago. He walked into Shire’s studio was offered a cup of coffee and became his
assistant for a summer.

“I’d been following his work my whole childhood and understanding what the Memphis design movement was. … I worked for him for maybe two or three months … but felt like I had learned so much. He was truly a mentor of mine and really inspired everything I do today,” Medansky said.

While rebelling against the strict rules of modernism, Medansky said, the Memphis design movement valued quality work.

“His idea was to always make things fun and cool and pretty. He wasn’t really interested in this new direction of art that really encourages bad aesthetics or bad art or ugly, grungy stuff,” Medansky said of Shire. “I really appreciated the high craftsmanship in all the work.”

Medanksy, 29, says the Memphis postmodern design aesthetic underwent a resurgence a few years ago, and while “he might not realize it because he wasn’t on Tumblr or Pinterest,” Shire’s work found a new audience among young artists.

“He understands the camp and the kitschiness of the work that he’s creating,” Medanksy said. “It’s very self-aware, and I think the entire Memphis group was self-aware of bad taste and knowing that bad taste can be taken seriously. He’s a big proponent of serious fun.”

“Peter Shire: Naked Is the Best Disguise” is on display at the MOCA Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood through July 2. For more information, visit moca.org.

Galka Scheyer: The art dealer who brought modernism to America


Galka Scheyer, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of Norton Simon Museum, Blue Four Galka Scheyer Collection Archives

Galka Scheyer, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of Norton Simon Museum, Blue Four Galka Scheyer Collection Archives

Artists and patrons of the arts who attended social gatherings in Los Angeles in the years between the two world wars would surely have met a loud, redheaded Jewish woman named Galka Scheyer. The German-born art dealer had a larger-than-life personality, and she harnessed her charisma to sell European modernism to an American audience. Her tireless efforts to promote the work of the so-called “Blue Four” — Lyonel Feininger, Alexei Jawlensky, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky — also helped shape California’s reputation as a flourishing center for modern art.

Examples from Scheyer’s vast personal collection of modern art, along with hand-designed exhibition brochures and catalogues, correspondence and other ephemera, are on display at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena through Sept. 25.

“Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California” includes work by the Blue Four as well as paintings by Alexander Archipenko, László Moholy-Nagy, Pablo Picasso, Peter Krasnow and Kurt Schwitters, photographs by Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, and even drawings made by children who had taken Scheyer’s art classes.

She was born Emilie Esther Scheyer in Braunschweig, Germany, in 1889 to a middle-class Jewish family. The free-spirited, energetic Scheyer studied art and English in London, took painting lessons from artist Gustav Lehmann, traveled with him to Italy and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and then worked as a painter in Brussels.

In 1915, Scheyer encountered the work of Russian artist Jawlensky in Switzerland. She was extremely moved by a portrait of his called “The Hunchback.” She resolved to meet him, and soon became his close friend, model and agent, and got him included in a group show in Wiesbaden in 1921. That same year they visited the Bauhaus art school in Weimar, Germany, and Jawlensky introduced her to Feininger, Kandinsky and Klee, all instructors at the avant-garde school.

Her relationship with Jawlensky shaped the rest of her life. She gave up her own career as a fine-art painter to focus on promoting him and other artists. Jawlensky called her “Galka,” the Russian name for a small crow, known to be exceptionally intelligent, energetic and gregarious. She would later write to him in a 1936 letter, “I shall never forget those inspiring days when you initiated me into the sacred world of art. I shall never forget you really did make me what I am today.”

Scheyer convinced the four artists, in 1924, to make her their legal representative in the United States. They shared a common vision about art being a vehicle for a deeper understanding of the self and the world, and adopted the identity of the Blue Four not because of a shared aesthetic style, but largely for the sake of marketing. Scheyer equated the color blue with spirituality and unity. She organized the first American exhibition of their work at a New York gallery in 1925 and the following year traveled to California and began showing their work in major cities.

After the first California show, the San Francisco Examiner dubbed her the “prophetess of modern art.” She met William H. Clapp, the director of the Oakland Art Gallery, and convinced him to make her the gallery’s “European representative,” an unpaid position. She also taught art at the Anna Head School in Berkeley in the 1920s.

Scheyer was a force of nature. During the Great Depression and World War II, she arranged exhibitions, lectures and publications on the four artists’ work and negotiated sales on their behalf. Feininger affectionately called her “Little Tornado.” She befriended Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who helped her stage a Blue Four exhibition in Mexico City in 1931. She also helped other European artists, including Moholy-Nagy, show their work in the United States.

Her success in selling work to L.A.-based modernist collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg fueled hopes of selling to other Hollywood collectors. She befriended such film stars as Marlene Dietrich, Harpo Marx and Greta Garbo, as well as film director and art collector Josef von Sternberg, who co-sponsored four Blue Four shows in L.A. in the 1930s.

The art did not sell itself. After the first Blue Four exhibition in Los Angeles in 1926, one artist remarked: “It reminded me of crawling things — of worms or things mouldering in the ground. Ugh! It was awful.”

Modernist art “was certainly much more avant-garde than the United States was used to,” said Gloria Williams Sander, curator at the Norton Simon Museum. “At that point in the ’20s, and even through the early ’30s, the taste for the day was still towards more realistic art. French Impressionism was very big. Of course, there was the Armory Show [the first large exhibition of modern art in America, held in New York in 1913], and the Dada artists were making inroads on the East Coast. But that was still a little bit of an outlier.

“So someone like Galka, who really understood the merits not only of German modernism but of abstract art — and could discuss those in a way that was digestible and inspiring — was really unique. … She made really great progress on behalf of those artists.”

Among the many important connections Scheyer made during that period were with Austrian-born architects Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra. She lived briefly in Schindler’s Kings Road House in West Hollywood in 1931, and in 1933 she commissioned Neutra to build her a concrete-and-glass house in the Hollywood Hills. The house served as an art gallery and meeting place for fellow art enthusiasts.

Scheyer visited Germany in 1932, but cut her trip short when she realized the peril she faced as both a Jewish woman and a promoter of modern art. Back in the States, she wrote letters and sent funds so that her two brothers could get their families out of Germany. They soon followed. Her mother, sadly, took her own life before being deported.

Scheyer’s first impression was not always favorable. The photographer Edward Weston wrote in his diary that “Galka repelled me at the start of our acquaintance” but that he later grew to enjoy her “insight of unusual clarity, and an ability to express herself in words, brilliantly, forcefully, to hit the nail cleanly.” Ceramic artist Beatrice Wood wrote, “When I first met Galka Scheyer I wanted to run. She was short, red-haired, plump, loud voiced — then I took myself to task. … The second time we met, I let go of esthetics and listened. I discovered an intelligent, caring woman and we became good friends.”

As a salesperson, she used her contacts to promote the work of the Blue Four. But she was also an outlier in the art world. She never married or had children, and she was not born to a wealthy family like Peggy Guggenheim.

“On the one hand, what she did was novel and wonderful. She also wore people down. There’s no way around it,” said Sander, the Norton Simon curator. “There were just times when people said, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m not going to buy this work.’ And she was lobbying because she was eager to sell it. And she did feel the responsibility to work on behalf of the four artists.”

When Scheyer died in 1945, she left her collection to UCLA with the same conditions as a 1944 gift of her friend Walter Arensberg’s modern art collection. Arensberg’s donation required UCLA to dedicate a building to his collection within five years; Scheyer additionally wanted the school to publish a catalogue of her collection.

When UCLA reneged on the Arensberg agreement, his collection went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while a committee donated Scheyer’s collection of 450 works by the Blue Four and other modern artists to the Pasadena Art Institute, which evolved into the Pasadena Art Museum. The late Norton Simon took over that facility in 1974 and fulfilled Scheyer’s provisions by publishing a catalogue of the collection. The Norton Simon Museum has since shown the work as part of its permanent collection and in several previous exhibitions.

What comes through most in “Maven of Modernism” is the deep friendships Scheyer forged with artists of her time. Maynard Dixon dedicated a pen drawing to Scheyer and called her “Madame Moderne Kunst,” or “Madam Modern Art.” The show includes several portraits of Scheyer. A Peter Krasnow painting depicts her lecturing an audience about modern art. And Edward Hagedorn painted her sitting on a crate, clapping her hands and looking up in rapt attention as a disheveled artist shows her his latest work.

“Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California” is on display at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena through Sept. 25. More information is at https://www.nortonsimon.org.

Auschwitz really happened — and this artsy architecture exhibit proves it


It’s been more than 50 years since the Nuremberg trials, yet proving the Holocaust actually happened remains an ongoing project.

Why? For one, the Nazis covered their tracks, deliberately leaving gaps in the historical record. (In the death-camp blueprints that survive, for example, gas chambers were often labeled as morgues or “undressing rooms.”) As the years pass, survivors and eyewitnesses are dying or suffering dementia. Add in social media — including the rise of the “alt-right” — and it creates an ideal environment for neo-Nazis to swiftly disseminate claims that the Shoah is a fiction.

Filling the breach in our understanding of the Holocaust is a relatively new discipline called forensic architecture, which analyzes renderings, documents, videos and photographs of buildings and infrastructure and uses them to re-create atrocities, ranging from drone strikes on apartment buildings in wartime to the gassing of millions of Jews at Auschwitz.

An example of how forensic architecture can be used to set the record straight is on display at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Titled “The Evidence Room,” it runs though Nov. 27.

An exhibit about Auschwitz might seem out of place in an international gathering that typically showcases state-of-the-art architecture and cutting-edge building materials. (The massive show features the work of 88 architects in the main exhibition, plus works by architects representing their counties in 63 national pavilions.) However, this year’s Biennale is titled “Reporting from the Front” and the show’s curator, Alejandro Aravena, indicated that his agenda is to highlight how architecture can be utilized to further humanitarian aims.

Case in point: Robert Jan van Pelt, the curator of “The Evidence Room” and a professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo, tells JTA he considers Auschwitz’s crematoria “the most important building of the 20th century.”

But his assessment isn’t based on aesthetic merits. It’s “for the simple reason that it had changed the course of history,” he explains.

“The Evidence Room,” in which van Pelt aims to address the ethical responsibilities of architects, re-creates some of the definitive evidence used in a landmark British court trial 16 years ago that pitted the American Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt against the Holocaust-denying British historian David Irving. The trial — soon to be dramatized in a major motion picture — is viewed as a watershed in the ongoing campaign against Holocaust deniers because it relied on actual physical evidence as opposed to anecdotal accounts.

“The Evidence Room” (Fred Hunsberger)

Some of this evidence is on display in van Pelt’s exhibit, which is located in a 500-square-foot space at the Biennale’s Central Pavilion. The walls are white plaster and adorned with bas reliefs that depict blueprints for the gas chambers, photographs and illustrations based upon eyewitness accounts, including an image of a kneeling naked Jewish woman being shot in the back of the head by a German officer.

What makes the exhibition stand out from familiar Holocaust museum exhibits, however, are three full-scale models of gas chamber apparatus designed by the Nazis. There’s a mechanical gas canister delivery system encased by sturdy metal grillwork; a rough-hewn door with a grill-covered peephole, and a wood ladder propped against a wall with a small, locked hatch. These items, designed and fabricated by University of Waterloo students and faculty based on photos and eyewitness testimony, are also painted white.

The intention is to use this aestheticized architecture exhibit to enable visitors to better visualize subject matter that has been relegated to history books and courtrooms.

“The forensic study of architecture was able to show that Irving had deliberately misrepresented historical evidence,” Aravena writes in his essay on “The Evidence Room” in the Biennale’s catalog.

Van Pelt, who curated “The Evidence Room” with fellow professors Donald McKay and Anne Bordeleau, along with arts producer Sascha Hastings, has spent decades studying the architecture of Auschwitz and gathering physical evidence to show the workings of the Nazis’ systems. Thanks to his research, many myths have been definitively debunked — including that deadly gas emanated from shower heads. (It actually came from gas canister delivery systems like the ones represented in the exhibit.)

Van Pelt, 60, who is Jewish and is named after an uncle who was murdered at Auschwitz, says his initial inspiration to study Auschwitz came in the 1970s, when a line in the film 1955 French documentary “Night and Fog” resonated deeply with him: “The architects calmly plan the gates through which no one will enter more than once.”

A decade later, as a graduate student, he decided that the study of Auschwitz was just as important to the history of architecture as the study of the Chartres Cathedral.

Van Pelt discovered many of the documents and plans for Nazi death camps in archives in Eastern Europe that were opened after the fall of communism in 1989. Later, in 2000, he used some of the materials during testimony he gave as an expert witness in the Irving-Lipstadt trial. Van Pelt’s research subsequently became the basis of his 590-page book titled “The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence from the Irving Trial,” which Aravena read several years ago and led him to invite van Pelt to the Biennale.

Robert Jan van Pelt, a professor at the University of Waterloo and the curator of “The Evidence Room.” Photo by Siobhan Allman

As it happens, near “The Evidence Room” is another exhibit featuring forensic architecture — this one by Eyal Weizman, an Israel-born professor at Goldsmiths, University of London. Unlike van Pelt’s work, which confirms accounts of events that Jews have long known to be unassailable, Weizman uses tools of the discipline to raise much more controversial questions about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

At the Biennale, Weizman’s exhibit is in part about the impact of Israeli drone strikes on buildings in Gaza and their occupants. His work has been used in investigations by organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International into state-sponsored violence.

Weizman, who coined the term forensic architecture and credits van Pelt as an inspiration, got his start documenting what he calls illegal occupations in Israel. The discipline comes from his efforts to implicate Israeli architects for violations of international law and and human rights.

“Many neighborhoods in the occupied parts of Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank are designed to control Palestinian communities and to generate material harm,” he says.

During a tour of his exhibition at the Biennale’s opening, Weizman explains that forensic architecture has become more critical to documenting contemporary war crimes because modern warfare increasingly involves the targeting of buildings in dense urban environments. As a result, in places like Gaza, “the home has become the most dangerous place for people to be,” he says.

As for van Pelt, his pioneering forensic research on Auschwitz has made him into a world authority on methods of mass murder. Recently he aided Mexican prosecutors investigating the incineration of the bodies of dozens of murdered students. Having studied how corpses were burned in open-air pits at Birkenau — as well as having researched a Nazi unit that was tasked with opening and burning mass graves, with the goal of erasing physical evidence of the Holocaust — van Pelt helped challenge the Mexican authorities’ version of the students’ abduction and murder.

These days, however, aside from assisting in occasional forensic investigations, van Pelt says he’s mostly focused on academic research and educating his students.

He says the history of Auschwitz serves as a warning for architects to be socially conscientious about the impact of the buildings they design. One example: the refugee housing being built in parts of Europe that van Pelt says “is starting to approach concentration camp conditions.”

“Architects should get the equivalent of the oath of Hippocrates,” van Pelt says. “When I teach my class, I tell them the story of Auschwitz — and I say whatever you do with your career, don’t do this.”

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Aug. 3-9, 2013


SUN AUG 4

“>ncjwla.org.

CALIFORNIA STRING QUARTET 

Coffee? Check. Cookies? Check. Concert? Check! The Music Guild presents the California String Quartet as part of its 2013 Summer Festival. Playing since 2002, these four artists hail from Hungary, Bulgaria, the former Soviet Union and Solana Beach. With two violins, a cello and a viola, this award-winning ensemble promises rich sounds, passion for the classics, and a warm and intimate performance. The program includes selections from Haydn, Mendelssohn and Beethoven. Sun. 3 p.m. $50 (general), $45 (seniors), $12 (full-time students), $7 (children, 17 and under). University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 558-3500. “>museumoftolerance.com.


MON AUG 5

PHISH

While it might not be your usual cantorial music resource, the band has had a long relationship with Hebrew and Judaism. Not only are Phish’s drum and bass players Jewish, the band as a whole has spent time covering and repurposing traditional Jewish songs. While we can’t promise you’ll hear “Avinu Malkeinu” or “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” we feel pretty confident that the evening will be an eclectic showcase of a veteran band. Mon. 7 p.m. $57-$74. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. THU AUG 8

THE DANIEL ROSENBOOM GROUP

JazzPOP and Creative Underground LA present Daniel Rosenboom. Trumpeter, improviser, composer and record producer, Rosenboom skillfully fuses genres and collaborates with peers to create sounds that feel both classic and innovative. Having founded the collective Creative Underground LA in 2013, Rosenboom is not just passionate about his music, but the art and expression of creative types throughout the city. Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. “>skirball.org.


FRI AUG 9

BEN GLEIB

“Saturday Night Live” is on hiatus for the summer, so we have to get our laughs somewhere else. Spend your evening at the Improv, where stand-up comedian, actor and TV host Ben Gleib performs. A roundtable regular on “Chelsea Lately” and a podcaster for the SModcast Network, Gleib guarantees a funny Friday and a medley of material. Ages 18 and over. Fri. 8 p.m. $15, plus two-item minimum. Hollywood Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. (323) 651-2583. “>cinema.ucla.edu

Munich 11 remembered at Budapest exhibit opening


One minute of silence was observed in memory of the Munich 11 during the opening of an exhibit at the Hungarian Jewish Museum in Budapest.

The tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972 came spontaneously at the request of an audience member during the opening ceremony of the new exhibit.

The new exhibit, created by the Hungarian Jewish Museum in conjunction with the Hungarian Sports Museum, features the lives of Hungarian Jewish sportsmen, who once won Olympic gold medals for Hungary, but were then deported from the country and killed during the Holocaust.

The one minute of silence was held in the presence of the Israeli Ambassador to Budapest, David Admon, who was an invited guest to Monday’s opening, timed not by chance for the day after the London Olympic Games ended.

‘Women and War’


Growing up in Beverly Hills, Marissa Roth remembers her father and mother, both European refugees, as parents who repressed their emotions and personal suffering, and forbade their children to cry.

So there is some irony, or perhaps compensation, in the title of Roth’s one-woman photo exhibition, opening Aug. 16 at the Museum of Tolerance, titled “One Person Crying: Women and War.”

The exhibit consists of 88 gelatin silver prints, culled from some 27,000 photos taken over 28 years in a dozen countries torn by fighting, massacres and natural catastrophes.

Almost all the subjects of Roth’s lens are women, in order “to reflect on war from what I consider an underrepresented perspective,” she said. “The project brought me face-to-face with hundreds of women who endured and survived war and its ancillary experiences of loss, pain and unimaginable hardship.”

There are photos so eloquent that no explanations or commentaries are needed, such as the picture of Sara Duvall, holding a flag and a photo of her Marine Corps son killed in Iraq.

Or the two fully veiled Afghan women, who make Roth wonder what lies under the burqa. Also, the 12-year-old Pakistani girl, her head completely shaved, who, Roth said, “implored me to continue my project and kept me going.”

Los Angeles Times international correspondent Carol J. Williams, who has seen her share of wars, commented, “Marissa Roth’s images of women who’ve survived war are alternately disturbing, inspiring and illuminating of the staggering burdens borne by those fighting with their hearts and minds to protect home and family.

“The battle to restore normalcy drags on for years after the shooting stops, and women’s forced roles as provider and protector forever transform their relationships and family status when the men, whether victorious or vanquished, stagger back home.”

Marissa Roth Photo by Iris Schneider

Over nearly three decades, Roth and her 35mm Nikon FE2 camera have portrayed women’s lives amid war and the aftermath in Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Albania, Japan, Northern Ireland, Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia and The Philippines.

In parallel, she had covered on-the-spot news stories across the globe for major publications and was part of the Los Angeles Times photo team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

And, particularly in the early 1980s, there was Roth, the commercial photographer, who shot high society fashions and red carpet Oscar receptions, as well as the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

By inclination and family background, Roth seemed fated to become a roving witness to history in the making.

Both parents separately fled the gathering European storm clouds in late 1938, her actress mother from Budapest, and her father from Novi Sad, then part of Yugoslavia and now Serbia.

They met during a trans-Atlantic voyage aboard the Queen Mary, but then lost sight of each other after landing in New York. Five months later, they bumped into each other in — where else? — Times Square, and the shipboard meeting eventually culminated in marriage.

Roth’s paternal grandfather had been a textile manufacturer in the old country and her father followed up in the new California home by establishing a clothing line in West Hollywood.

Another member of the family was Roth’s uncle, violinist Feri Roth, founder of the famous Roth Quartet.

Born and raised in Beverly Hills, Roth went through the city’s renowned public school system, augmented by private finishing school classes.

At 10, she was given a Brownie camera and started snapping pictures of family and friends and taking photo classes in school. At 17, she got her first 35mm camera, “instantly taking to it,” she said, and set up her own darkroom.

“Afghan Kite,” Los Angeles, California 2002

However, showing an early rebellious streak, she said she “loathed Beverly Hills as soulless and phony, the whole status thing. I was conscious of the civil rights movement and very aware of Vietnam and the woman’s movement. I yearned to be a hippie. I was wild inside but a good girl outside.”

Another factor was the impact of the highly popular illustrated magazines of the time, such as LIFE, Look and National Geographic. Through them, she said, “I began to understand visual language, and the magazines’ coverage of world events probably turned me into a journalist, rather than an artist.”

After high school, she left “phony” Beverly Hills for the real world and people at the University of Colorado, but after two years found Boulder a bit too “small townish.”

She transferred to UCLA and launched her future career as a staff photographer on the Daily Bruin, covering the campus but also the Hollywood film and rock scenes.

Twice married and divorced, Roth is quite open about her age (55) and personal relationships.

“Photography saved me when I was in my early 20s and I met a lovely guy, who was killed in a plane crash,” she recounted. “That event changed my life and shattered my innocence. It pushed me to live my life flat out, to seize life’s moments.”

Among Roth’s emotional impressions during her career, a few stand out.

“In late 1984, I went with my father to his birthplace of Novi Sad, and we found the house where he grew up,” she recalled.

“Beckie Dixon.” Beckie Dixon’s son Christopher was the youngest Marine killed in Iraq in August 2005. He had just turned 18 a few months earlier. Photographed on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 12, 2005, at the moment that she found his memorial flag, in Columbus, Ohio.

That was also the house where her grandfather and great-grandfather were killed by rampaging Hungarian troops, who staged their own pogroms of Jews and Serbs in January 1942, dragging bodies across the ice and dumping them into the Danube.

A few years later, she traveled to Afghanistan and met some of the 100,000 women widowed during the nine-year war (December 1979 to February 1989) between their country and the Soviet Union.

“Something happened to me there,” Roth said. “I found a completely different world, where women were completely segregated.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Roth photographed the bombing of Kosovo, wedged between Serbia and Albania, and atom bomb survivors in Hiroshima.

After reading the book “A Woman in Berlin,” which described the mass rapes by Soviet troops immediately after the conquest of the city in the spring of 1945, Roth traveled to Germany in 2008 to meet and photograph some of the victims.

“I had seen Warsaw and Auschwitz, and it was hard for me to go to Berlin. I kept seeing the ghosts of the past, but I tried to be as nonjudgmental as possible,” she commented.

The Museum of Tolerance also hosted Roth’s 2005 photographic exhibit of 70 Holocaust survivors serving as volunteer guides and lecturers.

“One Person Crying: Women and War,” curated by Howard Spector, opens Aug. 16 and is scheduled to run through Oct. 18 at the Museum of Tolerance. For more information, call (310) 553-9036 or visit jewishjournal.com.

Children’s art exhibit gives expression to illness


Artwork created by children with serious illnesses will be auctioned off, along with works by professional artists and celebrities, at Chai Lifeline’s “Through the Eyes of our Children” on May 21.

Chai Lifeline West Coast provides support to 325 seriously ill children and their families, and most of the 40 works being exhibited were created in art therapy programs. In addition to the children’s work, celebrities such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jamie Lee Curtis and David Beckham have created works specifically for this event, and more than 20 internationally and nationally acclaimed artists, including Kim Abeles, Lita Albuquerque, Doni Silver Simons and Ruth Weisberg, have donated works to benefit Chai Lifeline West Coast.

Entry to the exhibit is free. To RSVP, contact westcoast@chailifeline.org, call (310) 274-6331, or go to

Why the Museum of Modern Art’s curators wanted to meet my husband


When the curators from Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) came calling two years ago, my husband, Ron Magid, had prepared for them a veritable smorgasbord of art by the gothic filmmaker Tim Burton. Among the fare sprawled across our dining room table was a pointy-eared cowl from “Batman,” Jack Skellington storyboards from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and puppets from “The Corpse Bride,” whose ghoulishly charming heroine sprouts a maggot from her eye. 

At the time, the MoMA curators, Ron Magliozzi and Jenny He, were on a global treasure hunt for work to include in “Tim Burton,” a career retrospective that would become the third-most-attended show ever at the museum — and is now on display, through Halloween, in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) new Resnick Pavilion.

Magliozzi and He had tracked down my husband through an archivist at Warner Bros. who knew Ron as a collector and purveyor of high-end movie memorabilia, specializing in horror and science fiction. To us, the prospect of entertaining curators from one of the world’s most prestigious museums sounded daunting, especially since, as Ron put it, “We’re not exactly Norton Simon.” 

Yet Magliozzi and He — who arrived with another museum colleague — did not prove to be art snobs. Rather, with the enthusiasm of youngsters in a macabre kind of candy store, they admired Ron’s Burton memorabilia, as well as the grisly décor in his office. They even made a faux-horrified remark or two about the 1933 “King Kong” shield that was carelessly stashed in a corner. 

But, to our surprise, they bypassed the cowls and the corpse puppets and began snapping photographs of a rather unobtrusive (or so we thought) prop from Burton’s 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes,” that was sandwiched between some looming “Apes” warrior manikins. The “scarecrow head,” as Magliozzi calls it, is an approximately 3-foot-tall rustic structure, whose skeletal, simian visage sprouts shocks of twiglike hair. 

Entrance to MoMA’s Special Exhibition Gallery. Entrance designed by TwoSeven Inc.. Photo by Michael Locassiano

“That wonderful scarecrow head is very ‘Burtonesque,’ Magliozzi told me recently on the phone from London, where he is now researching an exhibition on the stop-motion animators, the Brothers Quay. “It’s almost like a fright, but it’s also appealing at the same time. It ties in with Tim’s visual theme of the carnivalesque: a liberating mix of the grotesque with the humorous in defiance of the status quo.” 

As it turns out,  we are one of only a few private collectors represented in the exhibition; the more than 700 items on display reflect not only Burton’s films but also his non-cinematic artwork. The curators had intended to focus the show on his movies, props and such, but decided to spotlight his two-dimensional work when they discovered Burton had already catalogued thousands of his drawings, dating from childhood and including numerous personal projects, in his archives in London.

Ron’s scarecrow head is one of relatively few props in the exhibition; he came to own it in a fashion anomalous for one in his profession, and it was, essentially, a gift. Actually, the head at one time had been for sale at a price of several thousand dollars, but hadn’t sold, and the owner, a friend of Ron’s, didn’t want to bother with picking up the enormous artifact at the auction house’s remote warehouse. He told Ron to feel free to take the piece — and so Ron did — although he was disappointed he would have to leave the work’s 20-foot-high base behind because he had no room to store it.

At LACMA, visitors enter the show through the mouth of a giant monster, which also sprouts twiggy hair, inspired by a film project Burton hasn’t yet brought to life. A lolling red-carpet tongue leads into the galleries, which display drawings, cartoons, short films, props, sketchbooks, ephemera and storyboards organized in three sections: work Burton created in response to his alienated childhood in Burbank; pieces he rendered while attending CalArts and as an animator at Walt Disney Studios; and works completed after his first cinematic success, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” which in 1985 launched his career as Hollywood’s reigning morbid auteur.

Tim Burton “Untitled” (Edward Scissorhands), 1990 Private Collection. Edward Scissorhands © Twentieth Century Fox. © 2011 Tim Burton

Burton’s inspiration often returns to what Magliozzi calls “the Burbank muse,” the suburb as a mind-numbing place the young artist “hated and acted against and survived through his creativity.” Likewise, Burton’s protagonists, like Burton himself, tend to be sensitive misfits and misunderstood youths battling a repressive, cookie-cutter world, from the sad-eyed Edward Scissorhands to characters in his 1997 book, “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories.”

“[Burton’s] attention to the creaturelike qualities of his characters is a way for him to access their humanity,” Magliozzi wrote in his catalog essay. “The cartoon concept art for Batman and the Joker emphasizes their damaged psyches; the drawings of Edward Scissorhands’ sinister bondage gear and Jack Skellington’s freakish emaciation translates to their soulfulness on screen.”

My husband — who is a movie journalist as well as an entrepreneur — identifies with Burton’s characters, as well as with Burton’s disaffected childhood. “I felt pigeonholed as a nerd who liked monsters and hated sports,” Ron told me when I wrote about Ron’s love for the 1933 film “King Kong” in 2006. Ron views Frankenstein as an abused child; he also came to understand that there was something distinctly Jewish about his bond with monsters — Jews have also been reviled and accused of unspeakable crimes. “Planet of the Apes” — Burton’s version, as well as the original — could serve as a metaphor for the Third Reich: “When you have a master race enslaving people, what does that remind you of?” he asked, rhetorically. 

Actually, it was the original “Apes” that launched my husband’s career as a buyer and seller of memorabilia, in the nascent days of that profession. At 12, he once walked into downtown Long Beach wearing a gorilla mask and wielding a prop rifle from the film, both procured through friends at a science fiction convention. His mission on that hot summer day was to hand out fliers advertising “Apes” goods for sale. But when he became tired and chanced to sit down in front of a bank, he was stunned when police cars screeched up, cops drew guns and ordered him to take off his mask, mistaking the already 6-foot-tall preteen for a would-be bank robber.

“When they saw I was a kid, they laughed and drove me home,” recalled Ron, who was more embarrassed than frightened by the incident.

Fast forward to 2009, when Ron — like Burton — had parlayed his childhood obsessions into a career as well as a collection that was threatening to overtake our Westwood home.

The author’s scarecrow head from “Planet of the Apes.” Photo by Dan Kacvinski

“Actually, your house reminds me of Tim’s place,” Magliozzi told me when I complained about the mess. “Tim’s house [in London] is rather what you’d expect after seeing the exhibition — it’s like a big toy chest. I was more surprised by the fact that Ron has a whole exhibition going on in his office — that was intense.”

Magliozzi and He chose more than 500 pieces from Burton’s home and archives for the exhibition, which they organized with Rajendra Roy, MoMA’s chief curator of film. “We wanted to trace the current of Tim’s visual imagination from childhood to his feature films,” Magliozzi said. “In our gallery exhibitions, we tend to treat filmmakers as artists.” 

Not everyone has been so enthusiastic. A New York Times reviewer who lauded Burton’s films critiqued what he perceived as a “sameness to all Mr. Burton’ two- and three-dimensional output that makes for a monotonous viewing experience.” 

“That critic didn’t get it,” Magliozzi said of the review. “All artists have recurring themes in their work. And MoMA has been doing gallery exhibitions for cinema artists since the museum opened. I think the fact that Tim has created so much art that is not necessarily from his films has been more challenging for critics. But it’s art that speaks to a large audience and has influenced so many other artists, and that alone is enough to bring it into the museum. Our mandate is to put Burton next to Picasso, in the sense that viewers come for Burton and they go to see Picasso — that’s the kind of dynamic we want.”

Britt Salvesen, LACMA’s curator for the exhibition, agrees. “The show’s opening in New York was not only full, but undeniably all kinds of people were talking to each other,” she said. Salvesen has also organized a parallel exhibition, “Tim Burton Selects,” which consists of art from LACMA’s holdings that resonate with the filmmaker — it’s heavy on the Symbolists and German Expressionists.

In an e-mail, she called the scarecrow head “a real highlight” of the main exhibition, which proved thrilling for Ron. And even more exciting was the possibility of meeting Burton at the opening reception.

“Back when I was a special effects journalist, I had hoped to write about Tim Burton’s movies, and finally got the chance with “Planet of the Apes,” even though I didn’t get to interview Burton himself,” Ron said.

“I had hoped that ‘Planet of the Apes’ would bring us together, and of course, now it has — it just took an additional 10 years.”

For more information about the exhibition and related events, and to purchase tickets, visit lacma.org.

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through Feb. 2009


ALTTEXT

Robert Dowd — Pop Art Money — See Jan.17 listing

DECEMBER

Fri., Dec. 12
“Laemmle Through the Decades: 1938-2008, 70 Years in 7 Days.” It must have been an extraordinarily difficult task to select only seven films to represent the rich and diverse history of the Laemmle Theatres chain. But someone did it. For the next week, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles will screen the seven most iconic foreign-language films to have graced the company’s silver screens, each one representing a different decade of its existence. The lineup includes “Children of Paradise” (1945, France), “La Strada” (1954, Italy), “Jules & Jim” (1962, France), “The Conformist” (1970, Italy, France and West Germany), “Fanny & Alexander” (1982, Sweden), “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988, Spain) and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001, Mexico). Films will screen several times a day. Through Dec. 18. $7-$10. Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-5581. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ecogift.com.

Sat., Dec. 13
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” With a long list of Top 40 favorites, such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand by Me” and “On Broadway,” this musical mishmash of Leiber and Stoller hits is ideally jubilant for the holiday season. Since its 1995 premiere on Broadway, the 39-song revue has been nominated for seven Tony Awards, won a Grammy Award for the legendary duo’s songs and featured special appearances by megastars such as Gladys Knight, Gloria Gaynor and Rick Springfield. Starring in this NoHo production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are DeLee Lively, Robert Torti and a host of other talented stage veterans. Special performances include tonight’s opening night gala and two New Year’s Eve shows, one with a champagne reception, the other followed by an all-out party with the cast. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Through Jan. 4. $25-$150. El Portal Theatre, Mainstage, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.benjamintrigano.com.

Sat., Dec. 13
“Moonlight Rollerway Holiday Jubilee.” Charles Phoenix is addicted to thrift store shopping. Luckily for us, Phoenix has put together a collection of the goodies he has found. Now, Moonlight Rollerway, which calls itself Southern California’s last classic roller rink, is presenting Phoenix and his quirky, retro holiday slide show. The viewing event will be followed by a roller-skating revue spectacular, featuring 75 championship skaters and celebrating the entire year’s holidays, including Cinco de Mayo and Valentine’s Day. Snacks and an after-show skating party are included. 8 p.m. Also, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. $35. Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale. (818) 241-3630. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mbfala.com.

Sun., Dec. 14
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus Annual Winter Concert. There is an Academy Award-nominated documentary about this choir. It has toured Brazil, China, Italy and Poland, among other nations. And since its inception in 1986, the chorus has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Approximately 250 talented and dedicated children between the ages of 8 and 12 make up the LACC. The angelic voices of these preteen choristers will bring to life works by composers such as Aaron Copland, Pablo Casals, Randall Thompson and J.S. Bach in a winter concert inspired by literary luminaries Robert Frost, William Shakespeare and others. The program follows the 2008-2009 season theme, “The Poet Sings,” and features a varied selection of classical, folk and contemporary pieces. 7 p.m. $24-$42. Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 793-4231. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lamoth.org.

Mon., Dec. 15
Reel Talk: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Stephen Farber, film critic for Hollywood Life magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, has been treating audiences to sneak previews of the industry’s hottest films for more than 25 years. The veteran film buff concludes this year’s preview series with a fascinating film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backward. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, the odd tale is already making waves and is set to hit theaters during prime-time movie-watching season, Christmas. The screening will be followed by a discussion with members of the filmmaking team, including Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West. 7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lacma.org.

Tue., Dec. 16
Carrie Fisher presents and signs “Wishful Drinking.” It’s not easy being an action figure before you can legally drink a beer, but that didn’t stop Princess Leia from having one, or two, or many more. Fisher’s first memoir, adapted from her one-woman stage show, is a revealing look at her childhood as a product of “Hollywood in-breeding” and her adulthood in the shadow of “Star Wars.” After electroshock therapy, marrying, divorcing then dating Paul Simon, a drug addition and a bipolar disorder, Fisher still manages to take an ironic and humorous survey of her bizarre life. Meet Fisher and get a copy of her book signed at this WeHo book haven. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Fri., Dec. 19
“Peter Pan.” Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, pirates, Indians — we know the cast of characters well. But how many of us have actually seen a full production of J.M. Barrie’s classic fantasy play, “Peter Pan” — especially one that features the complete musical score by Leonard Bernstein? Composer Alexander Frey — who helped reconstruct portions of Bernstein’s score that had been previously lost for a special CD — is flying in from Berlin to conduct the live orchestra. 7 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 28. $30-$70; $10 (seniors and students). Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. (805) 963-0761. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Wed., Dec. 24
“49th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration.” Los Angeles’ biggest holiday show, featuring 45 groups and 1,200 performers, is a proud tradition — and it’s absolutely free! Running approximately six hours, the holiday extravaganza features the county’s cultural diversity. This year’s highlights include hip-hop group Antics Performances, South Bay Ballet and Grammy-nominated Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. Audiences will have the opportunity to listen to sounds and see sights from the world over, including Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. For those of you who can’t make it to see the event in person, KCET-TV will also be airing the event live. Sponsored by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and produced by the County Arts Commission. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099. http:www.holidaycelebration.org.

Photographer documents life in Darfur


“When I first got to Iridimi and saw there was nothing, I asked myself: Is this really a place where a person can live?”

So confided one Darfuri refugee to photographer Barbara Grover, who visited the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad last year to document the lives of those displaced by the genocide in Darfur. The collection of images Grover brought back offers a tentative answer: Her portraits depict a people traumatized by war, yet able — through the aid of relief agencies and the sustaining human spirit — to maintain a measure of hope.

The 25 photographs that compose “Refuge(e): Moments with the Darfuri of Iridimi,” Grover’s exhibit now on display at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery in Santa Monica, offer fresh insight into an ongoing crisis to which many Americans no longer relate, the award-winning artist said.

“One of the problems with world conflicts of this scale is that people hear about the fighting and the killing, and at some point, they become immune to this situation that goes on and on,” said Grover of Silver Lake. “At some point, I believe people become almost combat fatigued. People need to reconnect to these issues on a human level. Until people understand the struggle that refugees go through every day, they won’t understand the severity of the situation.”

About 2.7 million people in Darfur have been driven from their homes by government-sanctioned Arab militias since 2003, according to the nonprofit Jewish World Watch (JWW), a coalition of Los Angeles-area synagogues that advocates against genocide globally. At least 400,000 non-Arab Muslims have been killed, and women are routinely beaten and raped. More than 17,000 refugees who have fled the violence in Darfur live at Iridimi, an arid desert camp just across the Chadian border from the strife-torn region of Sudan.

In May 2007, Grover obtained a grant from JWW and special permission from the United Nations to spend an unprecedented seven weeks in Iridimi. She wanted to explore the crisis beyond the genocidal atrocities exposed by other photographers and humanize the situation for a wider audience, she said.

“I felt that by spending an extended period of time in a refugee camp, I could bring back stories and images that you can’t possibly get when you’re just there for a couple of days,” Grover said. “After so many years, refugees have to find a way to continue each day. I wanted to show how they’re rebuilding their lives.”

During her time in Chad, Grover stayed at the U.N. compound or with the relief organization, CARE International, but spent each day in the sun-parched, 4-square-mile Iridimi camp, where temperatures often hovered at 115 degrees. The refugees eventually warmed to her presence and allowed Grover to point her lens at the most mundane details of their lives.

“They knew I was there because I wanted to give them a voice and tell their stories,” she said. “Day after day, they got used to me, and they were very taken that someone really wanted to get to know them that well and bring their struggle to the world.”

Skirball photo exhibit shows Pope John Paul II’s lifetime of outreach to Jews


A large photo in the exhibition “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” shows a smiling Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome, warmly welcoming the pontiff to Rome’s Great Synagogue in 1986.

Today, when interfaith meetings and celebrations are routine, it is difficult to imagine the impact of the first papal visit to the synagogue after 2,000 years of Catholic antagonism and persecution of Jews.

John Paul II, who once worked in a stone quarry, seemed destined by history and background to smash a large opening in the wall that had separated the two faiths for centuries.

As richly illustrated through text panels, documents, photos and videos in the Skirball Cultural Center exhibition, which continues through Jan. 4, the pope’s 84-year lifespan is divided into four chronological segments.

The first section introduces the young boy, born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, about midway between Krakow and Oswiecim (Auschwitz).

In contrast to most Polish towns, Catholics and Jews mingled freely in Wadowice. The Wojtyla family lived in a predominantly Jewish apartment building, many of Karol’s classmates were Jewish, and he played goalie on a Jewish soccer team.

Next comes Karol’s young adulthood, when the Nazi invasion and occupation closed the Krakow seminary attended by the future pope. He and 800 other students organized underground classes and continued their clandestine studies.

In the third section, with the war over, Wojtyla rises from priest to bishop, cardinal and archbishop of Krakow. He participates as a junior member in the Second Vatican Council, which opens a new chapter in the church’s attitude toward other faiths. At the same time, he renews ties with the surviving Jewish community of Poland.

The final and climactic section, both in the exhibit and in Wojtyla’s life, is his papacy, from his election in 1978 to his death in 2005.

This period included his visits to Auschwitz and to the Rome synagogue, and his formal repentance for his church’s past antagonism toward the Jewish people. Earlier, in 1993, John Paul II commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in words imprinted in the exhibit’s title:

“As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to first be a blessing to one another.”

In 2000, the pope undertook a pilgrimage to and formally recognized the State of Israel, inserting a note between the stones of the Western Wall.

In commemoration of this visit, a replica of part of the Western Wall stands near the exhibit’s exit. There visitors can write their own notes and prayers, which will be transferred to the actual Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Across from the simulated wall is a bronze casting of the pope’s hand as “a symbolic expression of the power of John Paul II’s personal touch in reaching out to people across the globe,” said Skirball senior curator Grace Cohen Grossman.

The Skirball center is making a special effort to attract Catholic visitors and members of the Polish community in Los Angeles to the exhibit, said museum director Robert Kirschner.

A large number of parochial schools have signed up for tours and the regular Skirball docents will be supplemented by guides drawn from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Given the large number of non-Jewish visitors, who may not be too familiar with the Holocaust, the exhibit also includes information on the extermination of Poland’s and Europe’s Jewry.

Two areas not covered in the show are the generally conservative doctrine and theology of John Paul II, and the attitudes and transgressions by past popes toward Jews.

“Our focus is on the remarkable outreach toward Jews and other peoples by John Paul II, his charisma and personal connections with people, and how the experiences of his early years led to his later accomplishments,” Kirschner said.

The exhibition was created and produced by Xavier University, a Jesuit institution, and the Hillel Jewish Student Center, both in Cincinnati, together with the Shtetl Foundation. The local showing is supported by the Polish consulate in Los Angeles and private donors.

Several related public programs will complement the exhibition during its nearly four-month run. Included are concerts, films, classes, lectures, family workshops and gallery tours. For more information, call or phone (310) 440-4500 or visit www.skirball.org.

Photo exhibition reveals challenges, dreams of teen immigrants


Arsim Mustafa, a 14-year-old boy who immigrated with his parents from Kosovo to the United States, is leaning against a paint-spattered wall, arms loosely crossed as they rest on the oversized T-shirt he is wearing. He looks like any American teen, wearing baggy pants and high-top sneakers, his boyish face framed by close-cropped dark hair, his gaze meeting the camera with apparent equanimity.

But when documentary photographer Barbara Beirne asked him about his homeland, he told her how scared he had been before he came to America.

“In my country, it was always war. I saw people dying. I saw people without arms, eyes, hands — without heads,” Mustafa said. “We finally got away, but I was upset.”

On a winter day, just four months after arriving from Ukraine, a 15-year-old girl stood beneath low-hanging gray clouds on a deserted stretch of Coney Island Beach, amusement park rides visible far behind her. Engulfed in winter garb, holding a scarf to her neck against the wind, her eyes are fixed on a point in the distance over the ocean. She told Beirne that she missed “Ukraine and nature,” where everyone in her village worked in the fields, then picked and ate apples together.

“Is it true that you can’t pick apples from trees here?” she asked.

These teens’ impressions of their homelands — from Mustafa’s wartime horrors to the young Ukrainian woman’s pastoral idyll — are just two examples of the wide-ranging sentiments expressed by 59 teens included in the exhibition, “Becoming American: Teenagers and Immigration,” opening Oct. 17 at the Skirball Cultural Center. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), “Becoming American” premiered March 10, 2007, at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and will travel to various venues around the country through 2011. The teenagers’ stories, as told through their own words, appear alongside Beirne’s evocative photographic portraits, drawing viewers into a maelstrom of the teens’ hopes, fears and dreams as they face a new life in a foreign land.

Beirne, who studied photography with Philip Perkis and Robert Mapplethorpe, has amassed an impressive body of work over the past 25 years. She has worked in India, Nepal and Ecuador; has documented the lives of children in war-torn Belfast, Ireland, and has had a prior exhibition, “Serving Home and Community: The Women of Appalachia,” tour the United States from 1999-2003, also through SITES.

Beirne first became interested in teenage immigrants while on a magazine assignment in her home state of New Jersey in 1999. More than 3,000 Kosovar Albanians had been brought to the United States in a humanitarian response to the crisis in Kosovo; hundreds of them were housed at Fort Dix, N.J., awaiting resettlement assistance. Visiting them weekly, Beirne discovered that of the refugees, it was the teenagers who were the most willing — excited, even — to talk to the news media.

” title=”www.skirball.org”>www.skirball.org.

All photos by Barbara Beirne

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through November 2008


SEPTEMBER

Fri., Sept. 12
“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.” Angelenos can explore the legacy of one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved popes in a new Skirball Cultural Center exhibition. Through artifacts, photographs and audiovisual recordings that first appeared at Cincinnati’s Xavier University only weeks after the pope’s death in 2005, visitors can explore the life of Pope John Paul II and the historical and personal circumstances that led him to aggressively reach out to Jews worldwide. Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to enter a synagogue, recognize the State of Israel and formally apologize for the Catholic Church’s past treatment of the Jewish people. The Skirball will also offer several public programs related to the exhibition: an adult-education course on “Jesus and Judaism” and film adaptations of biblical epics, among others. Through Jan. 4. $10 (general admission), free to all on Thursdays. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thenewlatc.com.

Sat., Sept. 13
“Speech & Debate.” The town is Salem, Ore., and, as in countless other American cities, teenagers are on the prowl for like-minded adolescents via the Internet. However, the three teenagers who find one another in “Speech & Debate” don’t just bond over music, books and movies, but are linked through a sex scandal that has rocked their community. The three adolescent misfits do what anyone else would to get to the bottom of the scandal: form their school’s first speech and debate team. Check out the West Coast premiere of the play, which critics are calling “flat-out funny.” 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Through Oct. 26. $22-$28. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 661-9827. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.plays411.com/ragtime.

Sat., Sept. 13
Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival. Camarillo is offering visitors a one-day extravaganza filled with music, artists and gourmet food, all culminating in an evening concert under the stars. The 2008 Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival will include gospel and bluegrass music, a farmers’ market and more than 50 artists showcasing their work. By evening, retro-band Royal Crown Revue will warm the stage for a secret, Grammy-nominated headliner. 8 a.m. (farmers’ market), 10 a.m. (music and art walk). $20-$60. 2400 Ventura Blvd., Old Town Camarillo. (805) 484-4383. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.apla.org.

Fri., Sept. 19
“Back Back Back” at The Old Globe. There’s nothing poignant about professional athletes using steroids. Or is there? Old Globe playwright-in-residence Itamar Moses delves into the controversial topic and takes the audience beyond the newspaper headlines and congressional hearings to the sanctuary of sports — the locker room. With humor and insight, Moses unfolds the stories of three major league baseball players who struggle to compete in the unforgiving world of professional sports, as well as balance their personal lives and professional images. The up-and-coming playwright has “clearly demonstrated tremendous talent along with a willingness to tackle complex ideas in his plays,” said The Globe’s Executive Producer Lou Spisto. Moses’ other works include “The Four of Us,” which won the San Diego Critics’ Circle Best New Play Award last year and “Bach at Leipzig.” 8 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Oct. 26. $42-$59. Old Globe Arena Theatre, James S. Copley Auditorium, San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park, San Diego. (619) 234-5623. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.nhm.org.

Sun., Sept. 21
KCRW’S World Festival. A remarkable, eclectic lineup marks the last week of KCRW’s World Music Festival. Ozomatli toured the world, engaging audiences with its blend of Latin-, rock- and hip-hop-infused music, as well as its anti-war and human rights advocacy. The multiethnic group headlines this special night at the Hollywood Bowl, along with Michael Franti, a former member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his latest band Spearhead. Mexican singer Lila Downs as well as Tijuana’s premiere electronic band, Nortec Collective and its members Bostich and Fussible, will make it impossible for anyone not to get something out of the mix. If you haven’t had the chance to catch this spectacular summer concert series, don’t miss this last opportunity. 7 p.m. $10-$96. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lfla.org/aloud.

Wed., Sept. 24
Brad Meltzer signs “Book of Lies.” The New York Times best-selling mystery writer is back with a riveting new thriller that links the Cain and Abel story with the creation of Superman. Young Jerry Siegel dreamed up a bulletproof super man in 1932 when his father was shot to death. It may sound like a strange plotline, but trust Meltzer, who has written six other acclaimed page-turners as well as comic books and television shows, to produce a great read. The novel is already receiving major buzz and you can get in on the action in a variety of ways: By watching the trailer on Brad Meltzer’s Web site (yes, the book has a movie trailer), listening to the book’s soundtrack (yes, the book has a soundtrack) and by coming to a reading and book signing by the author. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 380-1636. ” target=”_blank”>http://arts.pepperdine.edu.

Sat., Sept. 27
“Skinny Bitch: A Bun in the Oven.” If there is one thing that doesn’t ever get old, it’s mocking our own culture. Authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin do just that in their newly released “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven,” a sequel of sorts to their best-selling cookbook “Skinny Bitch.” The book is a guaranteed laugh riot and today’s in-store reading and signing could offer a sassy twist as the two authors show up in the flesh to dish about expecting mothers. And don’t be fooled, just because the subjects of this book are in a more fragile state of mind, Freedman and Barnouin refuse to make any exceptions to their insightful and illuminating critiques. 2 p.m. $14.95 (book price). Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jamescolemanfineart.com.

Sat., Sept. 27
“Jack’s Third Show.” Long hair, dramatic eye shadow and electric guitars return for an ’80s afternoon. Billed as a benefit for autism education, radio station JACK-FM stages an edgy blend of retro and new wave rockers. Billy Idol joins Blondie, The Psychedelic Furs and Devo for a musical bash that will have you dancing all day long. 2 p.m. $29-$89. Verizon Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. (213) 480-3232. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.931jackfm.com.

Sat., Sept. 27
Museum Day. Art and cultural institutions are hoping to attract folks from all walks of life by making them an offer that’s hard to refuse: free admission to museums across Southern California. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, this event gives art lovers and art novices alike the opportunity to visit venues from the Getty Center to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, free of charge. Natural history and science museums, like the California Science Center are also participating in the event. Regular parking fees do apply and advance reservations are recommended for some exhibitions. For a complete list of participating museums, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.museumsla.org/news/asp.

Sat., Sept. 27
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 40th Season Opening Gala. L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director, Sir Neville Marriner, will conduct its current director, Jeffrey Kahane, in a piano solo to celebrate its 40th year. A symbolic bridge between the orchestra’s past and its future, expect to hear classical masters Beethoven, Schumann and Stravinsky, followed by dinner, dancing and a live auction for patrons. 6 p.m. $35-$125 (concert only), $750 (full package). The Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. Saint John Ave., Pasadena. (213) 622-7001, ext. 215.

The Dead Sea Scrolls . . . via La Jolla


If you’re tired of the drumbeat of negative publicity Israel has received lately — i.e., the Israel Lobby, the headlines — visiting the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum is the pro-Israel equivalent of a spa vacation — refreshing, relaxing and rejuvenating.

That’s because the 27 ancient scrolls, 10 of which have never before been exhibited, are presented in a much larger context that offers viewers an overwhelmingly positive, even moving, depiction of ancient and modern Israel and the gift of the Israelites to world civilization. The underlying theme of the exhibit, which closes Jan. 6, is that the scrolls, and the culture that spawned them, are the world’s treasures.

The other huge upside in a visit to the scrolls is that it involves a trip to San Diego and La Jolla.

We left Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon, and within three hours we were happily standing on the balcony of our room at the La Jolla Shores Hotel, facing a crashing surf and sandy beach.

The Spanish-style hotel sits directly on a stretch of beach popular with sunbathers, kayakers — you can arrange guided visits to many local sea caves — and surfers. Close to Los Angeles, it still feels worlds away, even more laid-back and resort-like. The hotel features two tennis courts, a heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, fitness center and children’s wading pool.

The grand mission-style dining room, whose arched windows look directly at the surf, serves high-end California cuisine with a substantial California wine list.

But the hotel’s biggest draw is its unbeatable location. You can spend the day strolling the long beachfront boardwalk, visiting the campus of nearby UC San Diego, strolling the restaurant- and boutique-laden village of La Jolla and catching one spectacular view after another.

Shabbat here is a pleasure, because some of the greatest pleasures cost nothing. One highlight was a walk to see the sea lions, dozens of whom congregate naturally on a local beach to loll in the warm shallow surf or sunbathe. Don’t get too close because: a) it’s illegal and b) they stink.

Sunday, of course, belonged to the scrolls.

The San Diego Natural History Museum sits among the Moorish-style masterpieces of Balboa Park, San Diego’s leisure and cultural heart.

The exhibit begins with stunning photographs of Israel and proceeds through a cultural and political history of the Jewish presence there. One interactive map shows Israel among all the countries in the Middle East.

“Man, it’s tiny,” said one man standing nearby.

The scrolls themselves occupy a large, darkened exhibit space. You’ll need to shoulder through some bodies to get close, but the documents and their translations are deeply moving. They are presented in context with the relics and recreations of the lives of the Jews who, between 250 B.C.E. and 68 C.E., wrote and kept them.

Finally, the exhibit leads to modern Torahs, the scriptural descendants of those scrolls. Visitors are asked to reflect on the lasting resonance of their ideas and their diffusion into other religions. The effect is to be informed and uplifted, and if the comments in the visitor book are any indication, one can’t help but be moved by the Jewish story.

“It made me really, really want to go to Israel,” wrote one visitor.

Not bad for a weekend in La Jolla.

San Diego Resources

The Exhibition
For information visit the museum Web site at www.sdnhm.org, or call (619) 232-3821.

Food
Most of San Diego’s kosher restaurants are around 60th Street and El Cajon Boulevard, a neighborhood with several Orthodox synagogues.Link to acomplete list of kosher groceries, bakeries and restaurants at www.jewishjournal.com/local/KosherEats.php.

Lodging
La Jolla Shores Hotel
8110 Camino del Oro
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 459-8271
www.ljshoreshotel.com

Photography: A ‘Vanished’ Berlin through Roman Vishniac’s lens


Shortly after famed photographer Roman Vishniac died in 1990, his daughter Mara checked through his New York apartment. In the bottom drawer of a file cabinet she found a bundle of folders and envelopes labeled “Berlin.”

The discovery was a surprise to Mara and her mother, Luta. Vishniac had gained worldwide renown for his masterful photographic record of Jewish life in the shtetls and urban ghettoes of Eastern Europe, shortly before they were extinguished in the Holocaust.

Later, this collection of photos was exhibited and published under the apt title, “A Vanished World.”

But the Berlin photos were practically unknown, or were presumed to have been left behind when Vishniac fled Berlin, his home for 20 years, in 1939.

Vishniac hadn’t given much thought to his Berlin photos either. Many were found at the end of long sequences of pictures of plant and insect microorganisms. A pioneer in microphotography, Vishniac had apparently snapped the Berlin scenes to finish up rolls of film.

Some 40 of the Berlin photos, first curated by Aubrey Pomerance at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, are now on exhibit through Dec. 14 at UCLA Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts.

Most of the photos were taken in the 1920s, shortly after the Russian-born Vishniac settled in Berlin, then the center of a vibrant art and music renaissance.

Vishniac seemed most interested, however, in the lives of ordinary people, the distinctive “Berliner” types who now represent a vanished world of their own.

Or, as UCLA Hillel director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller put it at the exhibit’s opening reception, “You are standing in front of history.”

There are working-class pub patrons, chimney sweeps, bus conductors, booksellers and rotund beer wagon drivers.

After the Nazi takeover in 1933, Vishniac’s attention turned toward the increasingly embattled Jewish community, with Jewish children in separate schools, petitioners seeking help to leave the country, placards extolling Hitler, and young Jews on training farms preparing for kibbutz life in Palestine.

Scattered throughout are photos of Vishniac’s extended family, taken mostly at party reunions, which resemble, to the unschooled eye at least, the stiff-posed pictures spread across any family album.

The master’s touch is more apparent in a series of remarkable portraits of Vishniac’s friends, among them the Russian pre-Bolshevik leader Alexander Kerensky and the great tenor Joseph Schmidt.

Mara Vishniac Kohn, who is the keeper of her father’s legacy and a living link to his work, was at the opening reception and talked at some length to The Journal.

Now living in Santa Barbara and the wife of Nobel Laureate Walter Kohn, she said that as a youngster in Berlin she was largely unaware of the momentous changes happening around her and that the family was at first partially shielded by holding Latvian passports.

However, Vishniac Kohn recalled one unusual assignment. While her parents listened to illegal radio broadcasts from Moscow and London, young Mara was stationed outside to warn of any approaching strangers.

“Roman Vishniac’s Berlin,” a handsome book of the exhibit with commentary by Vishniac Kohn, has been published by the Jewish Museum Berlin in English and German.

The exhibit is at UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave. in Westwood, and is co-sponsored by Germany’s Goethe Institut and the local consulate general, Club ’33, and the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For additional information, go to www.uclahillel.org, or phone Hillel artistic director Perla Karney at (310) 208-3081, ext. 108.

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 www.CharlotteSalomon-la.com.

Charlotte Salomon art

UCLA Hillel exhibition recounts the legacy of America’s Jewish pioneers


Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz wants to correct what he sees as a major misunderstanding about the history of Jews in this country.

“There’s a misconception that Jewish life in America started after World War II,” he said. “But Jewish life existed more than 100 years before there even was a United States.”

Horowitz, the founder of American Jewish Legacy, a nonprofit historical organization, has created an exhibition to chronicle Jewish life dating back to the first recorded landing of Jews in North America.

“From the Mountains to the Prairie: 350 Years of Kosher and Jewish Life in America” details the experience of American Jews since 23 Jewish immigrants sailed from Brazil to New York in 1654. The show will be on display at UCLA Hillel until early February.

It consists of 20 panels, divided into three sections. The first segment focuses on Jewish life in the colonies, the second describes the Gold Rush and prairie experience and the third displays advertisements produced by mainstream American companies to court Jewish customers.

“The purpose of this exhibit is to salute the Jewish men and women of the United States who … practiced their traditions and beliefs … in the harshest environments and under the most difficult circumstances,” the introductory panel states. “The farmer behind a plow, the banker behind his desk, the peddler carrying his pack, the storekeeper selling his wares, and the soldier serving his country — in all these roles and in others, traditional Jews served their God and country.”

Jews played a critical role in the development of this country, and they did so without sacrificing their religious culture or traditions, Horowitz said. Jews in remote villages kept kosher, even when they had to wait hours or days for a shochet, or ritual slaughterer, to arrive on horseback. Women used local rivers as a mikvah, despite sometimes frigid temperatures. Workers took Shabbat off at the risk of getting fired, Horowitz said.

One panel of the exhibition includes the accounts of two Civil War soldiers — one Confederate, the other Union — who went to great lengths, paying exorbitant fees and seeking out ingredients, to stage seders on the battlefield. Another panel includes a note written by a man chasing gold in Mokelumne Hill who explained that he would celebrate Passover whenever the matzah arrived from San Francisco.

The first American Jewish congregation was established in New York in 1695, according to the show’s documentation. (Other scholars point to Shearith Israel as the nation’s first congregation, and the synagogue’s Rabbi Marc D. Angel writes that it began in 1654.) Soon after, Jews set up communities in Rhode Island, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.

Until the 1840s, most American Jews were traditional in their religious observance, or what we would call Orthodox, Horowitz said. Keeping kosher played a central role in the community. Synagogues earned much of their income from selling their congregants kosher meat and matzah. When Jews settled a community, right away they would engage a shochet, who typically also served as cantor, teacher and mohel. It was the slaughterer, not the rabbi, around whom the congregation revolved, Horowitz said.

One panel describes a celebration after Pennsylvania ratified the Constitution at which officials prepared a kosher table especially for Jews.

The final section showcases advertisements from the 1900s targeted at Jews. Use Pillsbury flour for “delicious Chollah for the Succoth table” one ad exhorts. Drink “Pepsi Cola — kosher for Passover,” says another. In an ad for Borden milk, Elsie the cow says in Yiddish, “The Buba [grandmother] never dreamed of such milk!”

Horowitz, a 50-year-old, fourth-generation American Chasidic rabbi, created the exhibition in 2003 to celebrate 350 years of Jewish life in America. What sets this display apart from other commemorations is the focus on religious observance, said Horowitz, who, for his day job, oversees kosher food programs for Manischewitz, Rokeach and other brands of the R.A.B. Food Group.

Perla Karney, artistic director at UCLA Hillel, said she mounted the show because “this emphasis on traditional Jewish life hadn’t been done.”

She added: “This history is so obscure to most American Jews. I don’t think anyone knows that in the prairies and in the mountains and the smallest communities of the United States, there were Jews who tried to have a kosher lifestyle.”

Horowitz said he felt an urgency to collect the material, because archives documenting Jewish American history are being tossed out of attics and basements daily. If American Jews do not preserve the history of their predecessors, then who will?

“These are real American heroes,” Horowitz said. “It’s incumbent upon us to remember their stories.”

UCLA Hillel will host a free, public reception for the exhibition on Wednesday, Jan. 10, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. “The American Jewish Legacy” is on the third floor of UCLA Hillel at 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. It is open to the public from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday, through Feb. 7, 2007. For more information, contact Perla Karney at (310) 208-3081 ext. 108 or e-mail perla@uclahillel.org.

Life at 85: what a trip!


I was born in Chicago some 85 years ago. My home was Jewish Orthodox and consisted of my mother, her two brothers and their father, my grandfather. I specify
my grandfather because, in those days, nobody ever thought of placing their old father in an old folks’ home.

My closest friend while growing up was Alan, who lived across the street. Each evening, we would go for a walk — generally lasting about two hours. He and I really liked each other, but this walk was a very silent one, neither of us had much to say.

In 1943, I left Chicago and moved to Los Angeles. It was during the war, and I became a flight test engineer and copilot on the airplane known as the B-25. From then on, Alan and I spoke on the phone but also had personal visits during the years.

The other day, I got a call from Alan, who is now 87 and a widower.

Now, not as before, there was ongoing conversation. Not silent anymore. But what did we have to talk about? The talk ran easy. We spoke for a long time about his hip problems and my back and other health problems. The opening, “How are you?” was for one minute, and the health conversation lasted for one hour.

Now you may ask, why I am telling you the story of my friend? It has to do with my past. When he and I were growing up, how in the world would we ever know or think about hip problems at the age of 87? We would have asked: What do you mean by “the age of 87?” It was another world. A world of which we had no knowledge.
My reaction to our long conversation was very emotional. I was in tears when it was time to say goodbye. I said, “Alan, you have my love.”

BR>
But this is what the past does for you — it is really another life; it’s gone but never forgotten. That thought will always put a tear in your eye.

The goodbye was so different than our youthful, nonspeaking days.

The conversation with Alan opened the door of my brain. I suddenly realized I am 85 and part of another world: It’s called the present. I have gone through the youth time, the middle time when I was 40 to 60 and, now, I find myself in the third stage. What a trip! Really unbelievable.

We look back on the past because it was another era. In our youth and young years, life included activities you chose. Your responsibilities were minimal compared to those as you grew older. Being young and thinking young allowed you to exist in a world that is the start of the middle age.

Of course, there are exceptions, and some people are required to give more of themselves as required by family obligations. But those times somewhat establish the makeup you will carry the rest of your life.

From the middle age, we enter what is called the old-age era. Old age is intended to slow the flow of time so we can get back to the real “hopefully pleasant” moments of the past.

How do I handle belonging to the senior group? How do I accept the present? It is very, very hard to say to myself: “You are old.” Stepping into this stage is not easy; it’s difficult to accept the number 85.

At 85 I have given up driving. I just can’t see well enough. There are two other “loves of my life that also went by the wayside: tennis and jogging. My eyesight also contributes to hardship in reading the newspaper. I find it difficult to really accept the fact that I can no longer do all of the middle-life chores or continue with many of my chosen activities. I find myself thinking about the activities that came so easily in my middle life.

But in the “old age” category, one must force oneself to realize the here and now. Activities must conform to the present place you are in life, both physically and mentally. When you come to accept the present position, time wise, I think you can then enjoy what you have — and prosper with all the good things that are there.

You can take advantage of the knowledge of the past, an example of which is the seven-member men’s club I belong to. It used to be that each time we met, the opening welcome was a cordial handshake. The past brought me to ask this group of men, a gender that often refuses to show hidden emotions, “Are you glad to see each other?”

The answer was, of course, “Yes.”

So I suggested a hug in place of a handshake — and the hug has taken over.
I find others, friends not in their 80s, display emotional tenderness to me and my wife, who is 84. I detect my friends thinking that age brings great knowledge not present in the early years. Another great experience is having our family close by and the joy they exhibit at having us with them.

The past is very important; it contributes to the actions of the present. Look back and enjoy your thoughts, but the present is here and now. Live it up, take pleasure in your friends and do not feel bad thinking about who you are today. Tell your thoughts and become a charter member of “Senior Time.”


Red Lachman is a short-story writer.

British theater group Stan’s Cafe uses piles of rice to bring statistics to life


It’s nearly impossible to comprehend very large numbers. Take the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. How does one go about understanding the magnitude of 6 million?

One way would be to visit the Skirball Cultural Center, where the British theater company, Stan’s Cafe (pronounced “kaff”), will perform its latest piece, “Of All the People in All the World,” from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1.

Upon entering the museum, visitors will receive a grain of rice, representing themselves. Then, they will walk into a room filled with 300 million grains of rice – one for every person in the United States. The rice will be divided into piles, each one illustrating a statistic, such as the number of people who have walked on the moon or the millions of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. One grain of rice will stand for one person.

And there it will be, among all the piles: a large mound with 6 million pieces, representing each individual Jewish life lost in the Holocaust.

The performance piece will take place during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time of reflection known as the Days of Awe.

“We specifically chose to do it in the Days of Awe,” said Jordan Peimer, director of programs at the Skirball. “What better way to understand your place in the world, your role in life, than to begin to understand the fabric of life on earth?”

The piece will open with 150 labeled piles of rice, illustrating serious statistics, such as the millions of people with HIV in Africa, as well as pop culture trivia, such as the number of people who watched the last episode of “Cheers.”

Over the course of the show, five actors, dressed as factory workers, will manipulate the piles to illustrate various truths, including the number of passengers on the Mayflower and the number of people per police officer in Los Angeles.

Visitors will be encouraged to interact with the actors, to share their own stories and discuss the demographics to which they belong. Occasionally, the performers will measure statistics suggested by visitors on the spot.

Peimer said he had been following the innovative Stan’s Cafe troupe for a while, waiting for the right time and the perfect piece to bring to the Skirball. When he saw the rice performance at a festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, last year, he knew he had to bring the show to Los Angeles.

The performance will be the second stop, after Portland, on the troupe’s first U.S. tour. Since premiering in Coventry, England, in 2003, the show has toured throughout the United Kingdom. It has also traveled to Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain and Germany, whose daily newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, praised the show, saying “The knowledge gained is astonishing.”

The actors tailor each performance to the country, city and building in which they perform. They decided the Holocaust representation would be just right for the Skirball.

“To hear the statistic of the number of people who died in the Holocaust is one thing,” Peimer said. “To see all of those people represented and to have you [represented as a single grain of rice] in relation to them is a very potent thing.”

The troupe will also lead workshops for students from Brawerman Elementary School, Robert Frost Middle School, La Ballona School and Thomas Starr King Middle School. The children will research statistics and build mounds of rice to illustrate their findings.

James Yarker, artistic director of Stan’s Cafe, who co-founded the group 15 years ago, said he came up with the idea for the piece when he was on tour with another performance in 2002.

“Each time we touched down, we found another city full of people bustling about their business, for whom it would be no appreciable loss if the U.K. and its 59 million inhabitants, including Stan’s Cafe, didn’t exist,” Yarker wrote in an essay on the group’s Web site.

“This parochial small island boy was beginning to get a sense that the world was far, far bigger than he had ever imagined it to be,” Yarker continued, speaking about himself in the third person, “and he was starting to wonder if he would ever be able to understand how many people he shared the planet with.”

After considering sand, sugar, salt, pebbles, peppercorns, spices and more as a way to represent large numbers of people, Yarker settled on rice. “We needed grains that were small, cheap, robust and which wouldn’t roll around,” he said on the Web site. Rice “also has powerful resonance, being a staple food for much of the world and looking vaguely humanoid in close up.”

For piles with fewer than 200 grains, the group typically counts each grain. For larger piles, it weighs the rice. The Skirball will provide not only the scales for weighing the five and one-half tons of rice that will be used during the performance but also the rice, which it bought for less than $2,000 from local wholesalers. The grains will be recycled for animal feed when the exhibit concludes.

“We’ve never done anything like it,” said the Skirball’s Peimer. “I hope it makes people think about their place in the world, and I hope it makes people pause to remember the grain of rice that they are.”

The exhibit will be open during regular museum hours (12 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 12 to 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday). Admission will be free on Thursday and Sunday. Other days, general admission will be $8, $6 for seniors and free for members, students and children under 12. For advance tickets call (866) 468-3399.

Americans fighters in Israel get overdue thank you


Grandfathers and grandmothers looked at the photos on the wall and saw themselves again as young, strapping soldiers, sailors and pilots, far from home andclose to the face of history.
 
They were the American and Canadian volunteers who had fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1947-1949 and manned the “illegal” Aliyah Bet ships carrying refugees to the Jewish state.
 
The veterans, their bodies aged but memories undimmed, brought their children and grandchildren to the University of Judaism last Sunday to inaugurate the first permanent West Coast exhibit to honor their services.
 
Film producer Lou Lenart and attorney Mitchell Flint marveled at the silhouettes of patched-up Mustangs and Messerschmitts from which they “bombed” Egyptian armies advancing on Tel Aviv with hand grenades lobbed out of their cockpits.Norman Zimmerman of Sun City, Ariz., and I saw again the jam-packed refugee ship Pan York, which had brought us from Marseilles to Haifa, despite a United Nations ban on the entry of men of military age.
 
The exhibit consists of cabinets framing eight large and eight small panels. In documents, graphics and text, the display documents the history of Zionism and American support, arms acquisition, recruitment of volunteers, Aliyah Bet and navy service and Machal (the Hebrew acronym for Volunteers from Abroad) service in the Israel Defense Forces.
 
One of the panels commemorates the 40 North Americans, among them seven Christians, who were killed in action. Another focuses on the specific contributions of some 450 volunteers from the West Coast, as well as of those who risked prison by smuggling desperately needed arms and aircraft to the embattled state.
 
The dedication program was exemplary in the brevity of its speeches, and the high spirits of the songs from the 1948 and 1967 wars, presented by vocalist Ayana Haviv and pianist Amir Efrat.
 
UJ President Robert Wexler welcomed the audience of 200 and said that the exhibit will remind future generations of the linked destiny between Israel and American Jewry.
 
Yaron Gamburg, Israel’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, noted that the Machal spirit of 1948 was revived during the recent fighting against Hezbollah in Lebanon, when his office was swamped with calls from volunteers seeking to help Israel.
 
Max Barchichat, president of the Los Angeles-based Machal West, lauded the service of his fellow volunteers by paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s tribute to the Royal Air Force that “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”Keynote speaker was Dean Ralph Lowenstein, director of the Machal Archives and Museum at the University of Florida, who created the original exhibit at his university’s Hillel House, with the support of the New York-based American Veterans of Israel.
 
He paid tribute to Jason Fenton, who initiated the West Coast version of the exhibition, Sharona Benami of Machal West and a Yom Kippur War veteran, and Iris Waskow of the University of Judaism.
 
Some 1,400 North American volunteers, mostly World War II veterans, participated in the War of Independence, and played particularly crucial roles in the nascent Israeli air force and navy, Lowenstein said.
 
A joyous dedication is usually not the time for critical analysis, but as a combat infantryman in World War II, a squad leader in an anti-tank unit in Israel, and an army editor during the Korean conflict, I ask the reader’s indulgence if I step out of my reportorial role.
 
Without diminishing the contributions of the volunteers from abroad and the arms “smugglers,” it must be said, first, that it was the Israelis who won the war itself and paid by far the highest price in military and civilian casualties.
 
Secondly, the role of the American Jewish community was perhaps the least glorious among the 43 nations who provided volunteers,In proportion to the size and power of their Jewish communities, every other English-speaking country sent much larger, and better prepared, contingents than the biggest Jewish community in the world, and it was one of the few to emerge from the war with greater strength than before.
 
The difference lay mainly in the communal attitude and civic courage of the different Diaspora communities. South Africa’s Jews, and Britain’s to a slightly smaller degree, set up their own selective service systems, complete with physical and psychological testing, and rallied fully behind their young men and women heading for the battlefield.
 
By contrast, organized American Jewry, fearful of accusations of double loyalty, generally averted its collective eyes and prayed silently that those crazy kids going over would not prove an embarrassment.
 
Happily, the flip side of this sorry record is that in the last half century, American Jewry has largely left behind the shameful timidity of the 1940s and the Holocaust era. It is my hope that should American Jewry ever face a challenge similar to 1948, we will acquit ourselves with greater honor.

Gunter Grass Admits to SS Past


Gunter Grass Admits to SS Past

Nobel Prize-winning author Gunter Grass’ admission that he was an SS member has drawn both rage and defenses of the writer.

While some say the revelation devalues his life’s work, others are showing more understanding for the pressures faced by the teenager who later would write such modern German classics as “The Tin Drum.”

Grass, 78, whose autobiography is due out this fall, told the Frankfurter Allegmeine Zeitung in an interview published last Friday that he was drafted into the Waffen SS in the final months of World War II.

The Waffen SS was the elite fighting force of the SS, the Nazi Party’s quasi-military unit, and was declared part of a criminal organization at the Nuremberg Trials. Grass was interned briefly in a POW camp in Bavaria after the war.

Literary critic Helmuth Karasek told the radio program BDR that Grass should have revealed the truth sooner, and suggested that the Nobel Prize committee might not have honored someone “whom they knew had been a member of the Waffen SS and had long denied it.” Grass won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

Grass biographer Michael Juergs said he was “personally disappointed,” and has called into question the validity of Grass’ life work. But German writer Erich Loest told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that Grass’ admission should be “accepted without condemnation. He was very young and there was no one to influence him in the opposite direction,” he said.

Grass told the Frankfurt paper he was drafted as a 17-year-old following a stint in a support unit for the German air force, and was brought to serve in a Waffen SS tank division in Dresden. In the forthcoming autobiography, “While Skinning an Onion,” he writes that the past had “oppressed him. My suppression of this through the years was among the reasons why I have written this book. It had to come out, finally.”

Grass said he originally had volunteered to serve in a Nazi submarine unit, which was “just as crazy.”

Until now, his biography has shown that Grass was drafted in the support unit for the air force in 1944, then served as a soldier. In the new book, he writes about how he was 15 when he tried to volunteer with the submarine corps and was rejected because of his age. He was called up in 1944, as were all boys born in 1927.

He was assigned to the Waffen SS, which “in the final year of the war took draftees, not only volunteers,” he said in an interview with the German Press Agency.

Grass said he never had tried to hide the fact that as a youth he was vulnerable to Nazi propaganda. He also told the Frankfurt paper that he never actually served in the Waffen SS division to which he had been assigned. He ended up behind the Russian front on reconnaissance patrols, witnessing what he described as gruesome scenes and surviving by pure chance. During his brief internment as a POW, Grass says he met the similarly interned Joseph Ratzinger, who now is Pope Benedict XVI.

Israelis Arrested for Allegedly Running U.S. Hooker Ring

Two Israelis are under arrest for allegedly running a sophisticated, multi-million-dollar prostitution ring in four Western states, employing up to 240 women.

Boaz Benmoshe, 44, and Ofer Moses Lupovitz, 43, the alleged leaders of the ring headquartered in Palm Springs, are now in a local jail, Sheriff Bob Doyle of Riverside County announced Monday.

Also arrested were two Russian nationals, Moti M. Vintrov, 33, and Eliran Vintrov, 28, together with their spouses.

According to authorities, the two Israelis ran the sex ring under the cover of Elite Entertainment, an adult escort business, which dispatched prostitutes to clients in California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon.

The Press-Enterprise news service in Riverside described the ring’s Palm Springs headquarters as a glass-walled office in a quiet open-air business complex, which also included the district office of U.S. Republican Rep. Mary Bono.Elite Entertainment allegedly operated 80 phone lines, over which clients ordered sexual services through their credit cards. Rates varied from $200 to $2,000, “depending on what you’re getting done,” Doyle said.

Local authorities and U.S. Secret Service agents arrested the suspects after a two and a half year investigation and seized $5 million in assets and more than a dozen computers.

The suspects used their income to fraudulently obtain loans to buy luxury homes in the Palm Springs area, authorities alleged.

An arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 21.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

AIPAC Judge Won’t Broaden Case

The judge in the classified information case against two former pro-Israel lobbyists rejected a prosecution attempt to broaden the indictment. Prosecutors had sought to redefine as classified a document described as unclassified in the original indictment.

Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected the request last Friday, saying it would unconstitutionally alter the indictment.

Keith Weissman, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former Iran analyst, asked Larry Franklin, a Pentagon Iran analyst who since has pleaded guilty, for the document in June 2003.

It’s the only document that Weissman or his former boss, Steve Rosen, actively solicited, according to their August 2005 indictment.

In pre-trial rulings, Ellis has made clear that at trial he will expect a higher bar of evidence to prove that defendants knew they were hearing classified information in conversations, as opposed to receiving documentation.

Holocaust Cartoon Exhibit Opens in Iran

Iran opened a competition for the cartoons in reaction to last year’s controversy over the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper about the Islamic prophet Muhammad. One of more than 200 cartoons displayed shows the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in one hand and giving a Nazi-style salute in the other, The Associated Press reported.

Scandal Over General’s Stocks

Israel’s military chief drew fire following revelations that he sold an investment portfolio when the Lebanon war erupted. Within hours of a Hezbollah border raid July 12 in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two abducted, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz sold off some $25,000 worth of stocks, Ma’ariv reported Tuesday. Halutz confirmed the sale, which came shortly before markets tumbled at the prospect of major unrest in the Middle East, but said he did not know at the time that there would be a war. Ma’ariv’s revelations further stoked Israeli ire at the military’s handling of the offensive against Hezbollah, which ended this week in a cease-fire. Lawmakers from across Israel’s political spectrum called for Halutz’s resignation, and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was asked to investigate whether the stock sale constituted a criminal breach of trust.

Jewish Greeks Advocate for Israel

Jewish fraternities and sororities are launching an Israel advocacy push on college campuses this fall. Alpha Epsilon Pi and Alpha Epsilon Phi, the two largest Jewish Greek organizations, brought 90 students to Louisville, Ky., from Sunday through Tuesday to learn about building support for Israel.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 29th

The most avant-garde comics find a gorgeous forum, once again, with the release of the sixth edition of editor Sammy Harkham’s anthology, “Kramer’s Ergot 6.” Geeks celebrate its release tonight at the Hammer Museum, which features performances by Kites and The Mystical Unionists, films by Paper Rad and a presentation by painter and “Raw” contributor Jerry Moriarty.

9 p.m. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.tlc.discovery.com.

Monday the 31st

“Look, but don’t touch” is the unspoken challenge to viewers of the Gatov Gallery’s new exhibit, “Soft Art.” On view are the vibrant textile works of Israeli artists Udi Merioz and Johanan Herson, created with a technique employed by only four known artists in the world. Pieces come together by applying brilliant colored textiles onto a soft canvas, and pressing them into one another with a special needle. The gallery at the Alpert JCC hosts the show through Aug. 15.

Open daily, times vary. Free. Alpert JCC, Weinberg Jewish Federation Campus, 3601 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601.

Tuesday the 1st

Our interest in, and relationships with varied species of the animal kingdom makes up Fahey/Klein Gallery’s new show, “Not All of Man’s Best Friends Are Dogs.” Photographers Richard Avedon, Garry Winogrand, Shelby Lee Adams and Steve Schapiro are a few of the contributors who depict people’s interactions with bird and beast.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). Through Sept. 2. 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.yicc.org.

Thursday the 3rd

Multiple loveless affairs, a lustless marriage and in-vitro pregnancy are some of the bigger manifestations of one young woman’s fear of abandonment. Her journey to lead an emotional life appropriate with her age is the subject of Jessica Bern’s one-woman comedy, “Days of Whine and Roses.” It opens today.

8 p.m. (Thursdays). Through Aug. 31. $20 (in advance). Elephant Lab Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles. (323) 960-1056.

Friday the 4th

Neil Simon laughs for all this month. In the Valley, the Secret Rose Theater offers the classic “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Simon’s homage to the time in his career spent writing for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” takes us into a 1950s TV writer’s room. Or, head to the 90212 for “Rumors,” in which hilarity ensues when an anniversary party goes awry; the host shoots himself in the head (a flesh wound), his wife goes missing and the guests must entertain themse
lves.

“Laughter”: Through Aug. 20. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. (866) 811-4111.

“Rumors”: Through Sept. 3. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. (310) 364-0535.

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.

 

Israel Launches First Underwater Museum


It was the largest, most impressive port in the Roman Empire when it was inaugurated in 10 B.C.E. And some 2,016 years later, the ancient port of Caesarea — along the Mediterranean coast of Israel — was inaugurated again last month, this time as the world’s first underwater museum.

Divers can now don their wetsuits and tour the sign-posted remains of the magnificent harbor built by King Herod to honor his Roman patron, Caesar Augustus. The site has been excavated over the last three decades by a team led by the late professor Avner Raban of the University of Haifa’s Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies.

It’s not your ordinary museum tour. Visitors float from one “exhibit” to the next, marveling in silence at the untouched remains of a once-glorious harbor: a Roman shipwreck, a ruined lighthouse, an ancient breakwater, the port’s original foundations, anchors, pedestals.

“It’s a truly unique site,” said Sarah Arenson, a University of Haifa maritime historian and participant in the project. “This port was built as the state-of-the-art port of the Roman Empire, and made the other ports of the time, including those of Rome, Alexandria and Piraeus, look small and out-of-date by comparison.”

Arenson notes that the port is also unique today: “There are no other ancient ports in the world that are accessible to ordinary divers,” she said.

Some such ports are restricted to authorized scientists. Others may be open to any diver, but would be meaningless to such visitors “because,” Arenson explained, “all you would see is a bunch of stones.”

At Caesarea, divers view some 28 different sign-posted sites along four marked trails in the sunken harbor covering an area of 87,000 square yards. Divers are given a waterproof map that describes in detail each of the numbered sites along the way (currently maps are in English and Hebrew; within a few months they will be available in six additional languages). One trail is also accessible to snorkelers; the others, less than eight yards below the surface, close to the beach, are appropriate for any beginner diver.

And what does the visitor see?

In a sense, an abrogated history of this once prominent port town — from its entrance at sea (about 100 meters from the current shoreline) to the Roman shipwreck that signaled the demise of the port — probably due to an earthquake — about a century after its construction, researchers believe. And, in between, divers can view the remnants of the original foundations that made this harbor one of the wonders of the Roman Empire.

“This port was built using the knowledge and technology of Roman engineers,” said University of Haifa maritime historian Nadav Kashtan, a member of the team that excavated the site.

The port was built with a type of hydraulic cement, invented by the Romans, known as pozzolana.

“The Romans found that when they take the volcanic powder found around Mount Vesuvius and mix it with lime and rubble, the substance hardens in water,” Kashtan said. “This hydraulic concrete was imported to Casearea and used to fill wooden frames which were then lowered into the water to lay the foundations for the port.”

Two such frames were found, one almost perfectly intact, and are on view today.

Kashtan noted that thousands of men were recruited — both from Rome and locally — to build the port in the course of 12 years. Among them were many divers, who descended simply holding their breath, or possibly in a diving bell.

The Roman city of Caesarea was built on the ruins of a decaying Phoenician town called Straton’s Tower. Its builder, Herod, who also built the Second Temple of Jerusalem, was considered one of the most magnificent builders of the Roman era, Kashtan notes.

The Jewish king built the town — given to him as a present by Augustus — into a grand, fortified city that served as the capital of the Roman province of Judea for about 600 years.

The underwater park was developed with the financial support of the Caesarea Development Corporation.

Israel has long been known as a diver’s mecca because of the rainbow of corals and exotic fish found off the coast of the Red Sea resort of Eilat. But the country has more than two-dozen other diving sites along the Mediterranean coast — from the unique maze of chalky white caves of Rosh Hanikra in the north, to a collection of shipwrecks dotting the coast as far south as Ashkelon.

The sunken port of Caesarea — with its ancient sites and modern explanations — is sure to become one of the top underwater attractions.

Leora Eren Frucht is an associate editor of Israel21c.

 

Show Decodes Early Years of 2 Religions


Whether it’s good luck or good planning, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in the Cleveland area has hit the exhibition jackpot with its current show, “Cradle of Christianity,” which runs through Oct. 22. Because while the film version of “The Da Vinci Code” is generating buzz over a purported tale of Jesus, here’s an exhibition with tantalizing real objects that provide an actual glimpse from the years of early Christianity.

The exhibit’s revelations are more subtle than, say, an uncovering of a liaison between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but there is evidence of fascinating links between the older and newer religions: Judaism and Christianity.

That is especially evident in items used in liturgical contexts — two Byzantine oil lamps — one with a menorah and the other with a cross. The fact that both lamps are otherwise virtually identical is a useful reminder that, even in our own time, it’s often the decorative motifs rather than the object’s basic form that identifies the group using it — as, for example, in the case of drinking vessels or candlesticks.

Such a case is even more forcefully made with two almost identical chancel screens. The chancel is the area of the church (or early synagogue) where the bimah was placed. The bimah was (and is) a platform on which the clergy stand. And the chancel screen delineates its separation from the rest of the church, to keep it “inaccessible to the multitude” (as Eusebius of Caesarea wrote).

Each of the two Byzantine stone chancel screen panels on display has a central wreath sitting on a kind of scrolled form that ends in a heart-shaped arrow. But on one there’s a menorah in the center of the wreath, while on the other, the wreath is flanked by a pair of crosses. The similarity between the two suggests that the carvers of these reliefs could have been either Jewish or Christian.

This interplay between traditions should not be surprising; it’s probably a permanent feature of cultural intersection. Many of our most treasured Jewish ritual objects were made by non-Jews.

Yet there’s something magical about coming into direct contact with these works. A first century ossuary (bone box) bears the inscription “Jesus/Jesus son of Joseph, Judas son of Jesus.”

Maybe it would feed your appetite for Dan Brown’s inventions, but more important, it’s eloquent testimony to the fact that Jews were commonly using these names at the time. In other words, the Jesus/Judas reference is likely meaningless, in so far as the Jesus and Judas that people want most to know about.

That’s not the case with another artifact, the stone inscription, 26-36 C.E., found in Caesarea and originally part of a building constructed there by Pontius Pilate to honor the Emperor Tiberius. The Latin writing on stone bears Pilate’s name and title, the only such archaeological find.

Traditional Western Christian iconography developed early on; there’s a Byzantine pottery pilgrim’s flask with a worn but recognizable, depiction of the Annunciation and a small ceramic blessing token from the sixth or seventh century, showing the adoration of the Magi.

As for Jewish symbols, the menorah is the most important Jewish signifier in this exhibition, not the Magen David, whose common usage is much more recent.

The time of early Christianity also was a rich era for Jewish history. And this exhibit, put together by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, offers a rare opportunity to perceive this coexistence, contrast and clash through objects from that epoch. The Israel Museum’s co-curator of this exhibition, David Mevorah, said that it was this convergence of familiarities that made the exhibition such a hit in Jerusalem.

It ought to be exciting for Jews and Christians to see their earlier visual traditions in this kind of exhibition face-off. It’s enough to make one put down the fictional potboiler and discover the revelations to be found in museums.

Tom L. Freudenheim is a retired museum director who writes about art and cultural issues.

Time to Watch and Learn at the Zimmer


Clocks and watches can do far more than simply tell time. A new exhibit at the Zimmer Children’s Museum shows that when sliced, diced and deconstructed by artists and humanitarians, timepieces can edify, entertain and even inveigh against social injustice.

“Show & Tell: The Art of Time” features 74 works ranging from whimsical clocks decorated with painted pink bunnies to clocks that comment on race, class and even the wretched state of California’s youth prisons. Several high-profile artists, including Charles Arnoldi and designer Paul Frank, submitted works, and all the timepieces are on sale for $500 to $15,000. Nearly half the works already had sold during the exhibit’s April 30 to May 6 preview. Proceeds will go to youTHINK, a Zimmer program for public-school students that uses art to teach fourth- to 12th-graders to think critically about issues of social justice.

“The art is over the top, and the community response has been incredible,” said Esther Netter, the Zimmer’s chief executive. “This is a grand slam for the museum.”

“The Art of Time” is a successor to “Show & Tell: The Art of Connection,” a 2004 exhibit that showcased 179 phones decorated by artists, humanitarians and entertainers. That exhibit raised more than $125,000 for youTHINK. However, the challenges of gathering and displaying so many works led Netter and her staff to curate fewer works this time around and not seek submissions from athletes, actors and most others in the entertainment industry.

Given “The Art of Time’s” early success, said Netter, Zimmer has plans afoot to unveil another ambitious collection in May 2007. “Show & Tell: The Art of Harmony,” will feature musical instruments as works of art.

Los Angeles artist Kingsley said nonprofit groups regularly ask him to contribute works for worthy causes, but that he turns down many requests. He agreed to donate a clock for the current exhibit and a refashioned musical instrument for next year’s show, because he supports the Zimmer’s mission of touching young people’s lives through art.

“This is an opportunity for us artists to give back to the community,” said Kingsley, whose “Gramps,” a grandfather clock wrapped in pieces of canvass painted in red, blue and green, fetched $10,000 before “The Art of Time” officially opened.

Other works on display also make a strong impression. Kenan Malkic’s stark “I Can Still Work” depicts a shattered, albeit still operational, clock held together with tape. Like his clock, Malkic’s a survivor: He lost both his arms and a leg after stepping on a land mine in Bosnia at age 12.

“My clock proves that it is what’s on the inside that counts, ” he says in a note running adjacent to his work.

In a more fanciful vein, designer Frank created a black-and-red animal-like figurine with its face fashioned out of an alarm clock. The piece, called, “Tor Tor,” resembles Pokey, the claymation pony from the “Gumby” cartoons of the 1960s.

In a plea for racial unity, lawyer/artist Stephen Frank Gary’s “Isn’t It About Time” features a large clock surrounded by branches, trees and wires. Gary has replaced the clock’s numbers with painted white, red, brown and black human hands

“Isn’t it about time,” he asks in the program notes, “that we join together as one?”

“Show & Tell: The Art of Time” exhibit will run from May 7 to June 9 at the Zimmer at 6505 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. Admission is free. For more information, call 323-761-8992, or visit www.zimmershowandtell.org.

 

Robot Dances Off With Award


Don’t have time to shlep to a museum? Too tired to remember if the free museum day is the first or second Tuesday of the month? Want to conquer a large, overwhelming exhibit in small, 15-minute intervals? Then bring the museum to your desktop and browse at your own pace.

The Jewish Women’s Archive has launched “Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution,” an inspirational and evocative online exhibit. It’s an innovative way to introduce today’s generation of Jewish women to the pacesetting leaders who paved the way before them.

“‘Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution’ brings the story of Jewish feminism into the story of American feminism for the first time, connecting their histories in a landmark project,” curator Judith Rosenbaum said.

The brightly colored site is easy to use and fun to surf. Complete with video clips, documents, posters, flyers, photographs, art, radio news reports and first-person statements, the exhibition explores Jewish women’s significant contributions to the American and Jewish feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. How did these times change the lives of Jewish women, and how did Jewish women create change during the times?

The site organizes material by themes, timeline, people and medium and covers topics like women’s health, female rabbis, sexuality, arts, education and spirituality.

The exhibition features artifacts from the private collections of 74 notable women, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Gloria Steinem, pioneering activist and founder of Ms. Magazine; and feminist artist Judy Chicago.

Also featured are three Los Angeles women: Rachel Adler, feminist theologian and professor of modern Jewish thought and Judaism and gender at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; UCLA history professor Ellen DuBois, feminist author and scholar of 19th century women’s history; and Reform Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, director of the Pennsylvania Council of the UAJC and founding director of the American Jewish Congress Feminist Center in Los Angeles.

The exhibition can be found at www.jwa.org/feminism.

 

Feminist Desktop Revolution


Don’t have time to shlep to a museum? Too tired to remember if the free museum day is the first or second Tuesday of the month? Want to conquer a large, overwhelming exhibit in small, 15-minute intervals? Then bring the museum to your desktop and browse at your own pace.

The Jewish Women’s Archive has launched “Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution,” an inspirational and evocative online exhibit. It’s an innovative way to introduce today’s generation of Jewish women to the pacesetting leaders who paved the way before them.

“‘Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution’ brings the story of Jewish feminism into the story of American feminism for the first time, connecting their histories in a landmark project,” curator Judith Rosenbaum said.

The brightly colored site is easy to use and fun to surf. Complete with video clips, documents, posters, flyers, photographs, art, radio news reports and first-person statements, the exhibition explores Jewish women’s significant contributions to the American and Jewish feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. How did these times change the lives of Jewish women, and how did Jewish women create change during the times?

The site organizes material by themes, timeline, people and medium and covers topics like women’s health, female rabbis, sexuality, arts, education and spirituality.

The exhibition features artifacts from the private collections of 74 notable women, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Gloria Steinem, pioneering activist and founder of Ms. Magazine; and feminist artist Judy Chicago.

Also featured are three Los Angeles women: Rachel Adler, feminist theologian and professor of modern Jewish thought and Judaism and gender at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; UCLA history professor Ellen DuBois, feminist author and scholar of 19th century women’s history; and Reform Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, director of the Pennsylvania Council of the UAJC and founding director of the American Jewish Congress Feminist Center in Los Angeles.

The exhibition can be found at

Exposing the ‘Truth’ of Life at Warsaw


“Scream the truth at the world, so the world may know all,” Dawid Gruber, 19, wrote in his final testament.

The place was the Warsaw Ghetto, the time August 1942, and Gruber placed his testament with thousands of other papers and documents on daily life under Nazi rule into 10 tin boxes and buried them in the cellar of the Borochow School.

Gruber’s last desperate cry has become the title of an exhibition, “Scream the Truth at the World: Emanuel Ringelblum and the Hidden Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto,” which opens Feb. 19 at the University of Judaism.

In a time of interactive, multimedia museums, there may not be much obvious drama in displays of ration coupons, mortality statistics, schedules of classes, official notices of executions, candy wrappers, armbands, and densely written letters in Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew and German.

But with the least imagination and historical memory, the tragedy and courage inherent in these papers, and how they were saved for posterity, evoke powerful emotions.

Within a week after Hitler’s troops entered Warsaw, the German Security Police set up the first Judenrat (Jewish council) and within a month issued an edict for the first forced labor draft.

Day by day, the Nazis tightened the noose around the necks of Warsaw’s Jewry, from such petty deprivations as forbidding them access to public parks to mass executions of hostages.

In late 1940, the ghetto was established, but still with access to the Polish part of the city. In November of the following year, 11 miles of wall surrounding the ghetto were completed, cutting off up to 500,000 Jews from the outside world.

In the same month, Ringelblum, a 40-year-old historian, teacher and social worker, organized a group of some 60 academicians, journalists and artists to record life and death in the ghetto.

Members met regularly on Saturdays and as a code name the group chose Oyneg Shabbes (Oneg Shabbat), or Sabbath Delight.

Initially, the participants hoped that their journals, reports and memorabilia would be the basis of their future books and scholarly works after the war.

When it became clear that the Nazis were bent on the extermination of all Jews, a truth the outside world refused to accept, they decided to leave the archive as a legacy for posterity.

A second portion of the archives was buried later in two milk cans. This and the earlier cache were found and dug up in 1946 and 1950, respectively, thanks to directions from one of the surviving Oyneg Shabbes members.

A third cache, buried in a location that later became the site of the Chinese embassy in Warsaw, was never found even though the Chinese permitted an extensive digging effort.

What surprises is that amidst the degradation, starvation, forced labor, mass executions and deportations, the Jews of the ghetto did not give up in utter despair but retained a semblance of “normal” life:

• Some 50 newspapers and bulletins in Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew were published between 1940 and 1942;

• Socialist, Communist, Zionist, Bundist and Orthodox parties continued their political activities and heated infighting;

• Small Jewish factories produced sugar, candy and metal products for the Polish market;

• Authorized and clandestine secular and religious instruction never ceased, nor did worship services, including those for 2,000 converts to Christianity, who maintained their own church in the ghetto;

• An astonishing 63 cabarets and nightclubs flourished in 1940 and 1941, attended by Poles and even Germans before the ghetto was sealed off. Until the end, there were theater, concert and revue performances by some of the most talented Jewish artists in Poland. Curtain time was usually between noon and 5 p.m. to beat the evening curfew;

• Polish gentiles, despite their general anti-Semitic reputation, often risked their lives by setting up an underground organization to aid Jews, funneling information and some food into the ghetto, and hiding Jews;

All of this came to an end in April and May 1943, when some 750 ill-armed and starving men and women of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) and the Revisionist Jewish Military Union (ZZW) battled 2,000 German troops in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The furious Nazis leveled the ghetto to the ground, although about 80 Jewish fighters escaped through sewers and formed a partisan group in the forest.

Ringelblum himself was persuaded to escape from the ghetto shortly before the uprising, but returned to be with his wife and son. He survived the fighting, was sent to a forced labor camp, escaped again, and with his family and 35 other Jews was hidden in a bunker on the “Aryan” side of Warsaw by a Christian Pole.

An informer betrayed the bunker’s location to the Germans and all the Jews and their Polish protector were taken to the ruins of the ghetto and executed.

In American novelist John Hersey’s “The Wall,” Ringelblum is the obvious model for the book’s narrator, Noach Levinson. In 1999, UNESCO published its “Memory of the World Register” and included three Polish contributions: the astronomical observations of Nicholas Copernicus, the compositions of Frederic Chopin, and the archives of Emanuel Ringelblum.

The “Scream the Truth” exhibition, culled from the Ringelblum archive’s 30,000 pages, plus photographs, drawings and watercolors, was organized by the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and has been a long time coming to Los Angeles. Major supporters of the exhibit are the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, American Society for Jewish Heritage in Poland and the Polish Consulate in Los Angeles.

It might never have arrived here but for the persistence and dedication of Alex Lauterbach, an 83-year-old retired chemist and business executive living in Encino with his wife, Ann.

Lauterbach, a one-man lobby, fundraiser and project director for the local showing, was born in Krakow and lived in Warsaw when Nazi troops invaded Poland.

His escape stories deserve a book of their own, but he arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 1941. Always active in the Jewish community, he continues to organize exhibitions and lead other volunteer projects at the University of Judaism, Skirball Cultural Center and Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

Among the aspects of the Warsaw Ghetto history that particularly intrigue him are the constant moral dilemmas faced by its inhabitants.

For instance, at one point the Nazi authorities ordered all Jews to hand in their fur coats to warm German soldiers fighting in Russia. In return, the Nazis offered to release a number of Jewish prisoners, depending on how many fur coats were collected.

“What was the right thing to do?” Lauterbach asks. “Burn the fur coats so as not to help the German army? Or turn them in and free as many Jewish prisoners as possible?”

“Scream the Truth at the World” will be at the University of Judaism’s Platt Gallery from Feb. 19 through May 7. On Feb. 19, there will be a reception from 2-5 p.m. and a program starting at 3 p.m., featuring Holocaust scholar Dr. Michael Berenbaum and Shana Penn, director of the Jewish Heritage Initiative Poland. A concurrent exhibit of woodcuts by the late Polish Israeli artist Jacob Steinhardt will be shown in the adjacent Borstein Gallery. For additional information, call (310) 476-9777, ext. 201.

 

The Grit Behind the Glamour of L.A. Life


Despite having a population of far more than 3 million and a cultural and economic diversity rivaled by very few places, Los Angeles is not quite viewed as a real city by much of the outside world. Ever since large-scale irrigation and the movie business put the city on the map in the first decades of the 20th century, Los Angeles has been romanticized — and reviled — for its iconic lifestyle: sun, surf and the casual debauchery of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. It is a city that has always lived much more vividly in the imagination than on the ground, even to its natives, and the best-known pictures of it tend to reflect that eternal tension between aspiration and reality, dreams and dreck, shiny self-invention and tawdry self-destruction. That tension created the noir that Los Angeles is also known for, yet that element, too, quickly became as mythologized as the sun and surf, a comic-book approximation of Los Angeles’ darker side that was immortalized in stylish movies (of course) like “Blade Runner” and “L.A. Confidential.” Entertaining as those movies were, Los Angeles the city has pretty much gotten lost in so many translations. I gave up looking for a good one long ago.

Joe Schwartz’s photographs, on view at the Skirball Cultural Center, restored some of my faith that Los Angeles can be clearly seen. Schwartz is a self-described folk photographer who pointedly calls his exhibit “L.A. Unstaged” — that is, it looks at L.A. beyond the overly familiar, irony and Hollywood-ized images, and into the streets where people actually live. This retrospective spans 30 years, from the 1950s through the 70s, and through it Schwartz also gives a sense of local history that we almost never see. Interestingly, many of the 53 photos on display are set on the Westside — Venice, Santa Monica — but a wholly ordinary, blue-collar Westside well before it was established as a bastion of political elitism and beachside chic. That documentation alone is worth the price of admission (which, by the way, is nil — the exhibition is displayed on the walls outside the Skirball café, before you even get to the admissions desk. Nice touch.).

As you might suspect, Schwartz is a photographer with a bent for social justice; he was once a member of a photography collective that included luminaries such as Dorothea Lange and Weegee. But revealing the social and economic injustices of Los Angeles is a more nuanced matter than revealing those of the Dust Bowl Midwest or New York, where they were stark and longstanding. Los Angeles is relatively new, and its lines of fortune blurrier, especially 40 years ago. Schwartz wisely acknowledges this. He doesn’t try to create false divisions or over-sentimentalize the poor, ethnic and working class. He simply chooses his subjects and shoots them with care, allowing the larger context of Los Angles’ myths and contradictions to fall where they may.

Sometimes context and reality align, and the results — far from being noir — are buoyant, if only for a moment in time. In “Acting Out,” a shot from the 1960s, three young Latina girls in East Los Angeles strike a playful pose that can only be called movie star. “Synanon Rehabilitated Residents” is a generically titled shot, also from the 1960s, depicting a black man on the Santa Monica boardwalk cradling his infant child (Schwartz has several photos related to Synanon — it is this exhibition’s favorite motif of transformation).

Yet it’s the specifics, including the L.A. context, that make for contrasts and elevate a competent photo into an eloquent commentary: a black man battling drug addiction sitting at the white-sand beach with a few carefree sunbathers and the endless Pacific in the background. This photo reads as less tragic than hopeful: The man is nattily dressed, he is sitting upright, and it is a brilliantly sunny day, not foggy as Santa Monica is inclined to be; the ocean is close to him, not eternally beyond his reach. “Angeles Child” echoes that optimism with a portrait of a young black girl on a Watts schoolyard in the ’60s. The girl’s smile is as wide and inviting as any child’s — or movie star’s — and we get something very different from, and oddly complementary to, the racial isolation and urban grit that became almost synonymous with Watts even before the riots of ’65 put it on the map of L.A. imagination.

Schwartz is after inequality, but also humanity, and he captures both in most of the work here. He has the no-nonsense eye of a journalist and the inclinations of a poet, and in the end both things prove necessary to render L.A. fully, to show the glittering ounces of truth in the clichés and the pounds of truth everywhere else.

Schwartz also has a sense of humor, something no serious chronicler of this city should be without. “Only in L.A.: Stocking Factory” is an irresistible shot of a giant stocking atop a building, a little-seen example of the architectural kitsch that once existed all over town, not merely in the exclusive environs of the Brown Derby. Nor does Schwartz resist L.A. celebrity-ism, though he does it with a common touch: “Henry Miller and Friend” has the famous writer chatting with a young woman in a nondescript place in the 1970s; he looks tired and she looks half-bored, half-amused — noncommittal in an L.A. kind of way.

“Perfume Model” from the 1950s depicts a woman of no celebrity at all, a department-store working stiff who nonetheless projects an aura of glamour and possibility that is uniquely and stubbornly L.A. Ultimately, Schwartz finds our glamour useful, even in the smallest moments where his subjects are doing nothing more than hunting for their glasses, clambering atop street signs or moving their belongings on a makeshift dolly. “Thirty Years of Folk Photography” is a testament to the transcendent powers of dreams and of spirit that still make Los Angeles a destination for so many, a place to come to rather than simply be from. We have not lived up to that promise, Schwartz cautions, but the promise is here.

Still.

“L.A. Unstaged: Three Decades of Folk Photography by Joe Schwartz,” is at the Skirball through April 2: noon-5 p.m (Tuesdays-Saturdays); noon-9 p.m. (Thursdays); 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sundays); closed Monday. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a regular Op-Ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.