Contemporary Artist Gary Baseman Goes Back Home Through Los Angeles Museum

August 1, 2013 10:58 am 1 comment

Contemporary artist Gary Baseman with the mezuzah he designed, based on the one from his parents' home, for his show at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Edmon J. Rodman.

JNS.org - Inviting the museum visitor down hallways and through rooms of rendered memories and memorials, the Gary Baseman show at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles uses a design based on the artist’s Jewish childhood home to offer up a retrospective of his extended family of characters, related artworks, and family memorabilia.

The show’s title, “The Door is Always Open,” is taken from a remark Baseman’s Yiddish speaking father made while explaining his attitude about hospitality: “Gary, the door is always open.”

Just how open? The night of the show’s opening, Baseman dedicated and helped hang a mezuzah based on the one that hung at his parent’s home—it has the head of one of his characters—as he welcomed a crowded museum full of fans and family to the show.

The retrospective, which runs through Aug. 18, is the first major solo show for the Los Angeles artist at an American Jewish museum. Baseman, who is the creator of the Emmy-winning Disney cartoon series, “Teacher’s Pet,” about a dog who dresses up as a boy, and the artistic designer of “Cranium,” a popular board game, has also given lectures and workshops at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Israel.

Baseman used his parents’ real dining room set—they have both passed away—for the show.

“I wanted people to feel comfortable and develop a rapport with the art work and a feel for the alien or distant,” Baseman, who even designed slipcovers and wallpapers for the show, said in an interview from his studio.  “I wanted people to feel enchanted with my world.”

Unlike the usual museum environment, Baseman pointed out that people do come in and sit on the furniture.

The artist, whose work skirts a line between fine art and art toys, has also created covers for the New Yorker and illustrations forTime, as well as ad campaigns for Nike and Mercedes-Benz.

His smiling but oddly menacing characters, who you also might suspect commit acts of mayhem and worse while you’re not looking, are available online and in gallery shops in hipster neighborhoods around the country—even Beverly Hills, as Lladro recently released a porcelain version of a design he created for them there.

Baseman is also on a mission “to make being Jewish cool,” and one of his creations, “Gefilte,” a multi-headed green and finny character, is pictured on the aprons that docents wear as they give museum visitors the tour. On the other hand, another of his characters, “Pupik,” is not in the show.

“He’s got an outtie,” Baseman said of Pupik, who is festooned with erect orange appendages. Museum officials passed on including that character in the family-friendly show.

With photos and family videos intermixed with his art, the show invites the visitor to enter and respond to the inner world of a Jewish family.

Seated in the show’s “dining room” at his mother’s table, including china and silverware set for a Jewish holiday meal, is the fez-wearing life-size Toby, Baseman’s all-seeing character, who has a huge eye painted on his middle. In another show of the artist’s work, Toby is described as “Your shadow. Your mirror. Your best friend in the whole wide world.”

Toby is “the keeper of your secrets,” said Baseman.

Posing amidst a setting evocative of the Jewish Fairfax district where Baseman had his bar mitzvah and his mother worked in the famous Canter’s deli, the grinning Toby prepares the visitor for a house tour of glimpsed Baseman memories.

There is a living room, where Baseman remembers drawing as a child—he has added cushions with his characters on them to the chairs. A study is filled with elements of pop culture that inspired him, and a den where his TV show is playing on a vintage set. On display in the backyard is Baseman’s childhood take on a Superman costume, with the Hebrew letter “Shin” replacing the “S.”

On display in the bedroom are darker works, where Baseman’s fantasies merge with older established Jewish folklore. A tale with which Baseman recently became familiar, the golem—the story of a man made of clay who protects the Jews of Prague—bridges the gap between the two mythologies.

The golem, who came alive when the word “Emet” (truth) was written on his forehead, and died when the letter aleph was erased, leaving “Met,” (death), is referenced in Baseman’s work, “Beverly (In memoriam).”

According to Aaron Rosen, the author of the show’s catalogue, the work that shows a little girl wearing a homemade ghost costume with the word “Met” appearing on her forehead memorializes “the children who perished during the Holocaust.” The other figure in the piece, Beverly, Baseman’s favorite cousin who met an untimely death, has the word “Emet” on the front of her cap.

“Truth is big theme for me,” said Baseman, who wants visitors, especially the younger adults who make up the base of fans to relate to his parents’ experience in the Holocaust. During World War II, his father, who escaped from a camp into the woods, became a partisan and fought against the Nazis.

“My parents protected me from that burden,” said Baseman, who has traveled to Poland and the Ukraine on a Fulbright Fellowship to recapture his parents’ history.

But once his parents were gone, how did the door stay open?

“Once their physical home was no more, the creative door is always open,” Baseman said.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    JNS.org – Many young Jewish artists struggle to define who they are personally, artistically, and religiously. Against the backdrop of that struggle, the recent Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat provided a space for some 70 young Jewish artists to explore Jewish ideas, to build community and a culture of reciprocity, and to learn skills to assist their career development. “We are trying to encourage and excite people to engage in Jewish themes,” says Rebecca Guber, director of Asylum Arts. [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    JNS.org – Has the era of large-scale biblical epics returned? Not since “The Ten Commandments” has there been so much torrential water on the big screen (not counting weather-related disaster films such as “The Impossible”) than in “Noah,” the latest blockbuster from writer and director Darren Aronofsky. “Noah” takes the traditional tale and splices it in an eco-friendly and psychologically driven plot. After Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden of Eden and after Cain killed Abel, mankind [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.