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...

  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.