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. 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 →