Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Gary Baseman and The Jewish Home “The Door Is Always Open”

May 5, 2013 3:52 am 1 comment

This weekend, a retrospective of the works of Gary Baseman titled The Door Is Always Open, opened, at the Skirball Cultural Center. ‘Door’ recreates the artists’ childhood home filled with famous Baseman characters and Jewish subjects peppered about.

2

Gary Baseman's characters seated at a Shabbat Table.

Baseman has had a long and successful career with iconic characters and big clients to fill his CV, but recent works are the first time he is dealing directly with his Jewish identity and the value that it holds for him now. This exhibition represents a major step in the artist coming to terms with his past and the many travels that he has taken exploring his art and identity.

His work uses cute characters typical of animation to discuss serious issues. The paintings are imaginative and representational, with renderings of characters that look like they came straight out of a stuffed animal collection, except with an adult seriousness and more bodily fluids. Baseman’s work is indicative of the West Coast art scene identified as Pop-Surrealism or Lowbrow Art. This Los Angeles stylistic homecoming marks an appropriate meta commentary on the work’s themes.

Baseman_Emet_by-IsaacB2.JPG

Diverging into editorializing, upon hearing about the exhibition without seeing any of the works, I was skeptical that there would be an obvious showing of Jewish identity in the art. We have previously posted works that Baseman created with Jewish themes, but I was doubtful that there would be enough of an emphasis on Jewish practice and identity in his life today that would be so apparent as to emerge this strongly.

Many Jewish Museums celebrate famous artists who “happen to be Jewish” and have fond memories of growing up in a Jewish household. However, the connection to their heritage in the work itself is many times a stretch of the imagination. If this model is used to set an example of what is “Jewish art” then we may have already lost a battle for authentic expressions of tradition through art. We already have a plethora of famous artists of Jewish descent who don’t have any day-to-day experiences that cause them to interpret the world within a Jewish context. What’s more, many young artists growing up today in secular American society have less and less “Jewishness” permeating their households, so even that tenuous connection is disappearing.

With all this preloaded skepticism, it was a breath of fresh air to be proven wrong about the Baseman show. What convinced me that there was an acknowledgement of authentic Jewish practice (going beyond gefilte fish in the exhibition) came when I found out there was a mezuzah hanging in the “house”. Naturally it was of the artist’s own design. And true to practice, it was dedicated at the opening of the show to serve as a sign on the doorway for all who enter. This is a Jewish home. A sacred space. To see so many people participating in this ritual, to be engaging with Jewish tradition in this way, was a true spectacle.

Baseman_mezuzah_by-IsaacB2.JPG

Brynjegard-Bialik. Photo: Isaac.

The use of Jewish symbolism, drawing from the Golem, and even the forest settings, are drawing from the lessons and histories passed down by Baseman’s parents, who sought salvation in their escape from Europe and new life in the land of opportunity. In a review by Tom Teicholz for the Jewish Journal, Baseman describes a passionate trip to Europe to connect the story of his parents, a personal art project he conducted where he nailed framed images of his grandfather to trees in the cemetery where his grave should be. Then Baseman adorned a costume of his own creation, “a giant magi with a cone-like head with one giant all-seeing eye, and wearing an apron with the Hebrew word for truth, emet, printed across his chest.” The photographs of Baseman dressed up in these environments was meant to “let people know there and everywhere that you can’t hide the truth,” he said, and to remind them “that [there are] souls there.”

Baseman_TruthAndDeath_by-IsaacB2

Jewish artist Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik was inspired by seeing Baseman’s Jewishly inspired work on exhibit, filled with Hebrew letters, ritual objects, and traditional Jewish foods, alongside photos of him at his Bar Mitzvah and with his family for Passover seders. It is rare for an established contemporary artist to spring into a Jewish phase of their work. Most Jewish artists who work with religious themes from their early careers on get pigeon-holed and largely ignored by the art world at large. Is this perhaps a path to follow for a later career turn towards tradition? Or the opening up of acceptance thanks to this artist’s own renown?

Baseman’s inventive way of evoking his family’s past, and finding his own place in Judaism in the present, hopefully will spark other artists to express themselves by bringing their own culture and history to their work. Perhaps The Door Is Always Open will open doors for other artists on their own paths to expression.

“Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open” continues at the Skirball Cultural Center through Aug. 18. For more information, visit here.

Baseman_Shabbat-Table_by-IsaacB2

1 Comment

  • Putting a religious symbol into a work of art does not necessarily imply the religiosity of an artist.. Besides, who cares what religion – if any – ANY artist practices? It’s about as important as how many times this guy eats a peanut butter sandwich!!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →