One West 4th Street
New York, New York
The L.A. Story investigates the impact of place and the search for artistic community on the creativity of artists who share a religious, cultural, and spiritual heritage by presenting a selection of work from ten contemporary Los Angeles Jewish artists. Working in diverse styles and mediums, with each expressing an individual voice, their range of subject matter addresses politics, myth, memory, spirituality, surrealism, Kabbalah, and historic narrative. Techniques include metal collage, oil painting, drawing, photography and digital manipulation.
"A commitment to Jewish issues and values is pervasive and from a personal perspective," says Laura Kruger, exhibition curator. "The sprawl of Los Angeles impedes a physically close art community and so they meet informally with other Jewish artists to study texts, discuss current issues, world affairs, and maintain a collegial rapport. At the same time, their physical environment - the endless, cloudless skies, the vast, sere desert and the sea at the edge of the earth are repeated elements in many of their works."
The art historian Simon Schama, in his book, Landscape and Memory, notes that the land shapes artists' internal lives and imbues their art with a distinct sense of place. In his exhibition catalog essay, Matthew Baigell elaborates: "The work of these artists is much more free-wheeling and wide-ranging, that is, quite distinctive from that of the old cultural core of the New York art world with its pervasive Eastern European influences. In fact, one might even argue that the center of gravity of Jewish American art has shifted to Los Angeles and that it is currently the most important center in the country for the production of such art. This exhibition at HUC-JIR marks a comprehensive look at a group of artists who are in process of contributing to a broad spectrum of styles and subjects that have already begun to form new chapters in the history of Jewish American art."
Bill Aron, in a new body of work, captures the zest for life and the celebration of each moment by individuals, each of whom is a Holocaust survivor. Their searing history and memories are not forgotten but their positive choice of embracing family and life to the fullest is captured by Aron's sympathetic, joyous photographs, titled Holocaust Survivors: The Indestructible Spirit.
Memory, history, and persecution are the dominant theme of Eugene Yelchin's masterpiece, the Section Five: USSR Jewish Passport Portraits oil paintings. In these stylized images Yelchin forces us to confront the anti-Semitism directed against Russian Jews, and the resulting internalization of a flawed sense of identity.
Ruth Weisberg also remembers the thwarted history of Jewish lives in peril. In her oil on canvas painting, Harbor, against a background of the sea, an embracing couple is poised amidst war and separation. Fire and Water captures the anxiety of ship board refugees, Holocaust survivors bound for Eretz Israel but turned away to languish in Cyprus.
Metal collage, the inventive medium for Tony Berlant's The Jew in the Desert (Journey #81), is used to great effect to create an epic desert landscape with writhing, stylized foliage. The desert is a major factor in the lives of all Los Angelenos and this work is a metaphor for creativity turning an arid wasteland into a flourishing garden.
Magical, manipulated computer images overlaid with fused metals are presented like glowing jewels by Victor Raphael. Raphael looks beyond the night sky into distant galaxies to capture these exquisite images. Bonita Helmer, a student of Kabbalah, studies the skies to approach spirituality through her art. Prelude is an exploding galactic image that draws us in to its vortex.
The diorama and surrealist collages by Elena Mary Siff capture this special place called L.A., the land of self invention, Watts Towers, Hollywood, glamour, glitter, and tinsel. Siff questions reality and discards it in favor of the fantasy of movie memories.
Sam Erenberg playfully expounds on his name and has created silk screen 'memories' of possible relatives, all named in varying spellings of Erenberg. His Los Angeles artist portrait series links these creative individuals together by posing them each holding a volume (made by Erenberg) bearing a title of Roland Barthes's writings.
Joyce Dallal, rightfully concerned with peace in the Middle East and the continued safety of Israel, has massed crumpled texts of various United Nations Resolutions, the contorted paper paralleling the struggle of the peace initiatives. Patricia Berger, painting in a large, narrative scale brings our thoughts back to the Biblical epoch and connects archetypical women to contemporary Judaism.
The artists in The L.A. Story, from diverse geographical backgrounds and different Jewish ethnic heritages, have joined together with others to form the Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California, an artist-run advocacy organization committed to fostering visual art by Jewish artists - originally conceived in 2003 by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles in partnership with the University of Southern California Casden Institute and the USC Roski School of Fine Arts.
This exhibition and catalog have been made possible by the support of Steven Fogel, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, and the Angell Foundation.