Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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...

  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships World Researchers Say Women Less Likely Than Men to Kill Hitler, if They Could Travel Back in Time

    Researchers Say Women Less Likely Than Men to Kill Hitler, if They Could Travel Back in Time

    Women are less likely than men to want to kill Nazi leader Adolph Hitler if given the ability to travel back in time, a recently published research paper revealed. The paper analyzed 40 studies involving 6,100 respondents in a time-travel thought experiment, the New York Post reported on Friday. While 60 percent of men said they would theoretically be willing to kill Hitler, only 55 percent of women said they would be comfortable doing the same. The paper was published in the Personality and […]

    Read more →