Jerusalem and L.A. join forces for Biennale

When the Jewish Artists Initiative, the Los Angeles-based arts collective chaired by Ruth Weisberg, decided to participate in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale, Georgia Freedman-Harvey knew she’d be accumulating a lot of frequent-flier miles. Along with co-curator Anne Hromadka, she has created an exhibition titled “7,567mi,” a reference to the distance between Los Angeles and Jerusalem. Although the cities may be far apart geographically, the art in “7,567mi” shows they have a lot more in common than might be first assumed.

Speaking on the phone after returning from an international odyssey during which she was delayed on the East Coast, turning an already-long flight from Europe into a marathon, Freedman-Harvey was nevertheless excited to talk about the Biennale. “We were picked as one of the two North American entries in the Jerusalem Biennale … in part, because we were proposing this sort of unusual exhibition strategy of not just in Jerusalem but also in L.A., and having this East-West connection,” she said.

The exhibition’s East-West partnership exists not only between Jerusalem and Los Angeles, but also within the city of Los Angeles. American Jewish University (AJU), where Freedman-Harvey regularly curates, is one host site, while Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and USC Hillel, where Hromadka curates, are also host sites. 

“It’s an interesting collaboration because we come together and we bring all of our artists to the table, and we see who’s going to be the best fit,” Freedman-Harvey said. “In this case, Anne and I literally co-curated all four locations.”

Hromadka and Freedman-Harvey made all the decisions about the exhibition together, from which artists to showcase to where their work would be displayed. And they worked together at each site to stage the work. “Anything we had to do, we did entirely as a team,” Freedman-Harvey said.

“7,567mi” features the work of 39 artists from the Los Angeles area. Included among them are familiar names in the L.A. art world such as Weisberg, Bill Aron, Carol Goldmark, Soraya Sarah Nazarian and Carol Es. The works in the exhibition include photography, sculpture and paintings. Some artists chose to depict desert landscapes; others take a more literal look at the land, depicting, for example, a map; and some artists have depicted work so abstract it might be difficult at first glance to find the Israeli connection. 

One of the things that intrigued Freedman-Harvey about the show was the opportunity to reach a wide variety of audiences within the city. “USC Hillel, we know that’s much more of a student audience. … AJU, we have the most outside community that comes in. HUC has really more of the graduate [audience], conferences.” 

Josh Feldman, AJU’s consultant for arts and culture, is happy to have the Biennale work on display in the school. “In a moment of great political turmoil, there is an entirely different narrative happening in Israel,” Feldman said. “Tel Aviv specifically, but Jerusalem as well, has such a vibrancy of artists and creators making contemporary work.

“The gallery is very strategically placed in the university so that students every day are walking by this space,” Feldman said. “The doors are open during all of [the] university hours. We hope professors will take advantage and bring their students in.

“There are many ways we think about sanctuaries and holy spaces in Jewish life,” Feldman said while looking around AJU’s gallery. “This is a holy space as well. It’s a place for ideas and for us to grapple with the dilemmas of our day.”

On Dec. 13, AJU will host a panel discussion with Freedman-Harvey, Hromadka and many of the artists whose works appear in the exhibition. “We really see it as a real gathering to reflect on that East-West connection,” Freedman-Harvey said.

“On the 13th, we’ll show the video of everything in Los Angeles and all the pieces in Israel,” Freedman-Harvey said. She hopes many people will take the time to visit all three sites in L.A. “It’s all about connection, and I think Dec. 13 will really be sort of a culminating thing to bring that connection together and really celebrate that we were able to be a part of the Biennale.”

“7,567mi” is on display at USC Hillel through Dec. 5; at AJU through Dec. 20; and at HUC-JIR through Dec. 31. The curator and artists’ panel will be held at AJU from 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 13. For more information, click here.

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