Wednesday, June 28
Finegood Gallery at the Bernard Milken Community Campus offers a well-rounded exhibition as their latest. “Elements” presents works by five female artists, with each woman exemplifying one of five graphic elements. For color, look to Adria Becker’s floral subjects. For line, view Susan Gesundheit’s watercolors. For texture, Dafna Gilboa’s landscapes resonate. For shape, see Jeanne Hahn’s collages. And for value, take in the nuances of Helen Kim’s paintings on canvas.
Through July 25. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3218.
Thursday, June 29
Nonagenarian Enrico Donati has been featured before at galerie yoramgil. In fact, the gallery has made an annual project of displaying works from each decade of the artist’s career over the last six years. This month, they’ve presented a culminating event: a major retrospective of Donati’s seven decades’ worth of art, with an example piece from each series of Donati’s career. Catch “Enrico Donati: One of Each” before it closes this week.
Through June 30. 462 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-2641.
Friday, June 30
Warmer Shabbat nights are upon us, so head to the beach to commune with God and maybe some dolphins. Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue hosts Summer Sunset Services in the sand, tonight. Bring a picnic dinner, something to sit on and a sweatshirt in case it gets chilly.
Also July 14 and 28. 7 p.m. Westward Beach, Westward Beach Road, Malibu. (310) 456-2178.
Go Go G-dzilla
Sondheim Knows How to Book ‘Em
Some people begin collecting because they’ve coveted certain objects for as long as they can remember. Others collect as an investment. And, of course, there are poseurs who hire prestige dealers to buy them trendy art because they want to be viewed as taste mavens.
Harry Sondheim, a retired criminal prosecutor for the L.A. County D.A.’s office, started to collect Judaica for none of those reasons. He was traveling in Holland when he simply noticed an artifact that appealed to him: “They had a museum, Der Weg, which means the Weighing House. They had an artist named Bicart. I bought some postcards with depictions of Jewish ceremonies on them. You can’t buy those postcards any longer.”
Reflecting his legal training, Sondheim answers questions methodically. Even his decision to focus on rare books, as opposed to art, shows a judicious attitude.
“It’s pretty hard to falsify a book,” he said, adding, “they’re not as likely to be stolen. If you have a thief in the house, they’re more likely to steal a silver menorah.”
Maybe it matters, too, that Sondheim attended the University of Chicago in the era when that institution still featured the Great Books courses.
Sondheim will be speaking at the 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair’s “Collecting Your Roots” panel on Sunday, Feb. 19.
He especially likes rare manuscripts that include illustrations or, as he says, “depictions” of Jewish ceremonies and customs.
Sondheim has never taken a vacation specifically to collect books, but has purchased manuscripts at synagogues, museums and bookstores around the world, including Germany, where he can trace his genealogy back to around 1760. His family fled Germany in 1938, several months before Kristallnacht. The tomes he favors are typically printed in German, their existence all the more remarkable because of the Nazis’ program of burning Jewish books.
The best deal he ever got was a work by Arthur Szyk, a Polish Jewish artist from the first half of the 20th century who specialized in political caricatures and miniature painting. Given Sondheim’s background in the law, it is not surprising that he bought the “Statut of Kalisz.” The book is Szyk’s interpretation of a 13th-century manuscript that has been called the “Jewish Magna Carta,” a decree by which a Polish king gave Jews civil rights. Szyk illustrated the manuscript while also relating the statute to some other events in Jewish history.
“One page shows different occupations a Jew might have had, weaving, baking, a cobbler,” Sondheim said. “I acquired that at a reasonable price, around $17,000. Someone else’s copy was recently auctioned off for $64,000.”
Sondheim does not use eBay though he’ll search through an auction house’s Web site, which he calls “the equivalent of having their catalog.”
Collecting, he says, is “a sort of continuum. There are pictures of chuppahs from hundreds of years ago, and you have chuppahs today. You live the present through the past.”
The 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair will be held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, 2025 Avenue of the Stars, from Friday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19. Harry Sondheim will speak at the “Collecting Your Roots” panel, a free seminar, on Sunday at 2 p.m. For information, call (800) 454-6401.
Artful Solution to Nazi Looting
After six years of litigation and diplomatic battles over Nazi-looted art, in a legal case stretching from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to Vienna and back, the Austrian government has agreed with Maria Altmann, an 89-year old widow, to let arbitration decide who now owns masterpieces that once belonged to her family.
At stake are six works painted by Viennese artist Gustav Klimt, valued at $150 million and considered treasures of early 20th-century art.
The most famous among them is a gold-flecked portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a member of a prominent Viennese Jewish family and the aunt of Altmann, a Cheviot Hills resident.
In 1938, the paintings were confiscated by the Nazis and eventually ended up at the Austrian National Gallery, where they are on display.
A major break in the litigation came last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected pleas by both the Austrian and American governments and ruled that Austria could be sued in a U.S. court.
The Supreme Court decision helped Austria “to finally see the light,” said E. Randol Schoenberg, Altmann’s lawyer, and encouraged the country to consent to arbitration, which Schoenberg had first proposed in 1999.
Under the agreement, announced May 18, both sides have appointed one representative, who will jointly name a third member to the arbitration panel. All three will be Austrian legal experts, who are to render a nonappealable decision by Nov. 1.
The longtime court opponents reacted to the new agreement, hammered out over the last two months, with considerable relief.
“I feel very good that the case will finally be resolved, after waiting, waiting and waiting some more,” Altmann said. “We could have had this result six years ago, when I wrote a letter to the Austrian authorities offering just such a resolution, but they never even sent a response.”
Altmann said she had complete confidence in the fairness of the Austrian arbitration panel. She indicated that if the decision goes her way, she would not insist on the physical return of all the paintings, but consider a monetary settlement.
Martin Weiss, the Austrian consul general in Los Angeles, hailed the agreement as heralding “a very good day.”
He and attorney Scott P. Cooper, representing the Austrian government, expressed satisfaction that the case will be decided in Austria and under Austrian, rather than American, law.
The arbitration panel will have to resolve two key points: The first is whether, under conflicting wills written by the Bloch-Bauers, the paintings rightly belong to Austria or to Altmann. The second is how a 1998 Austrian law on restitution of Nazi-looted art applies to this case.
The Austrian decision to submit to arbitration could have considerable impact on other countries. Many of their museums have been reluctant to settle cases of paintings in their possession that were originally taken by Nazis from their Jewish owners outright, or through forced sales.
A current case involves a painting by impressionist Camille Pissarro hanging in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. The painting was sold by a German-Jewish family under Nazi pressure for a fraction of its value.
For five years, Claude Cassirer, 84, of San Diego, a descendant of the painting’s former Jewish owners, has sought the painting’s return.
Spain will host an international Conference on Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance on June 8 in Cordoba, and advocates for Cassirer are hoping to draw wider attention to the dispute over the Pissarro painting.
“The government of Spain would be well advised to follow the Austrian model,” Schoenberg said. “The claimants are getting very old and it is unconscionable to drag out the cases any longer.”
Twice Upon a Time
It’s not every day a grown woman gets her cheeks pinched by another woman who’s tickled pink to see her eating, but then Yvonne Haller is no ordinary French restaurateur.
She’s one of the handful of honorary Jewish mothers — actually elegantly coifed and no doubt WASPy grande dames — who make the winstubs (wine bars) of Strasbourg so special; even heads of state gather to discuss business at their crowded trestle tables rather than somewhere more private.
Chez Yvonne has hosted European leaders, while members of the rock group, Radiohead, were equally unlikely guests at Le Clou, round the corner. These convivial hostelries and dozens like them provide a disarmingly homely counterpoint to the grave institutions that bring so many suits — politicians, lawyers and lobbyists — to the European city.
Perhaps the haimish ambiance is the result of Jewish influence — the community may have been decimated during the war, but Alsace has a phenomenally strong Jewish heritage reaching far beyond city limits. More than 200 historic sites document a shtetl system to rival Eastern Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the region was home to half of France’s Jews. All but a quarter were wiped out by the Nazis, but Strasbourg remains a Jewish haven thanks to an influx of Sephardim from North Africa who have been enthusiastically embraced by the remaining Ashkenazim.
The blood link makes a visit to one of the prettiest parts of France particularly resonant for the Jewish visitor, who will find antique synagogue furnishings of magnificent quality in Strasbourg’s exquisite Musee Alsacien. There are also a host of other museums, synagogues and other testaments to Jewish life across the region.
Strasbourg, which has a host of magnificent museums, houses medieval Jewish tombstones in its Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame; there is also a third-century mikvah that can be visited, the inevitable Rue des Juifs and two restaurants specializing in Jewish Alsatian cuisine. Although the magnificent Gothic synagogue was destroyed by the Germans in 1940, many beautiful shuls (Moorish in Thann, neoclassical in Haguenau, neoromanesque in Struth) still stand in the countryside, notably the 1791 temple in Pfaffenhoffen with its matzah oven and superb painted ark.
Even without the Jewish sites and heritage tours on offer, Alsace would be a delight and Strasbourg its crown jewel. The most decorated city in France, where every wooden surface seems to be exquisitely carved, every piece of cloth embroidered, every wineglass etched and every piece of pottery hand-painted, the riot of ornament somehow comes across as far from sweet, more a celebration of life.
To get an overview, take immediately to the water; bateaux-mouches (river boats) await in front of the Palais Rohan, where a teenage Marie-Antoinette came to be married. You will float through the picturesque ancient quarter of La Petite France into the handsome harbor and upriver to see the breathtaking buildings that are Strasbourg’s modern raison d’etre — the elliptically elegant European Parliament and swirly, swaggering Court of Human Rights designed by Richard Rodgers.
Once off the boat, your first stop in the engrossing Old Town should be the world’s prettiest and most engaging cathedral. Reminiscent of a pink wedding cake on the outside, the interior boasts a magnificent 16th-century astronomical clock whose 12:30 p.m. performance is not to be missed. The clock portal outside the cathedral is remarkable, too, not the least because it is flanked on one side by a piece of ancient synagogue statuary. Around the cathedral lies a warren of streets rich in winstubs and fine shops. The best shop for regional products is the large emporium on the square where you disembark the bateaux-mouches, lying in wait for the discerning tourists with fine linens, painted cookware and the carved iron for which the region is also famous.
Strasbourg is rich in well-priced, comfortable hostelries like the Tulip Inn-Hannong, where elegant rooms range from $60 to $125 per night. In a smart shopping street only a five-minute stroll from the Old Town, it offers a quieter alternative to the Maison Kammerzell, a hotel-restaurant famous for its ornate medieval exterior, and other lodgings close to the cathedral.
Although there is enough in the city to command a dedicated weekend trip, it would be a shame to miss the riches of the surrounding region. Colmar is another handsome town packed with fine museums and Jewish heritage sites. The Musee Bartholdi, dedicated to the creator of the Statue of Liberty, contains a collection of artifacts and works amassed by the Historical and Contemporary Jewish Art Fund, but the town’s most justly famous museum is the Unterlinden, a former Dominican convent with 13th-century cloister, packed with fabulous mediaeval art and a famous altarpiece.
Like Strasbourg, a river runs through it, and it’s delightful to have lunch by the water during summer; head for the Tanners’ District and Little Venice. Although Colmar does have a luxurious riverside hotel, it is more pleasant yet to stay in one of the surrounding villages on Alsace’s delightful Route des Vins.
While picnics are a good reason to summer in Alsace’s rolling hills, December is when the region, famous for its Christmas markets, is at its most atmospheric and entrancing. Strasbourg’s festive lights are simply unforgettable.
Shanghai Shuls 2nd Wind