About Doris Berger

Doris Berger is Curator at the Skirball, where she has a wonderful time planning new and engaging exhibitions with her colleagues. Prior to this, she was a fellow at the Getty Research Institute and organized quite a few exhibitions in Germany and Austria. Her heart beats faster at the movies, so she tries to bring the emotional power of moving images into her curating. As a woman from a country without ocean, she loves the beach as well as the hills of L.A. and cannot resist a good meal with friends.

Orly Olivier’s Pandora’s Box

SkirBlog_Petit Takett recipe box

Photo by Orly Olivier.

Years after her father’s passing, Orly Olivier, the artist behind Petit Takett, opened a small wooden box. This neat little box contained handwritten notes with small drawings by her father Sylvain Olivier, who had scribbled down some of his favorite recipes in a mix of English, French, and Arabic. Unlike published recipes, which carefully list all the ingredients and instructions for a dish’s preparation, these notes were cryptic, with only enough information to remind Sylvain of his favorite dishes. Finding these recipes brought back memories to Orly Olivier of large Shabbat dinners with her Sephardic father, Ashkenazi mother, and sister in Los Angeles. It reminded her of intricate smells, flavors, and colors, and joyful feelings of sharing delicious food and good company.

Olivier needed to open this box, not only for memory’s sake but also for the sake of her artistic practice: it was the spark that launched her project Petit Takett (“little Takett,” named in honor of her grandmother’s restaurant, Takett’s, in Tunisia).

The artist explains, Continue reading

Hollywood: The War Years

Austrian émigré Fritz Lang’s potent anti-Nazi film Hangmen Also Die!, co-written with eminent playwright Bertolt Brecht, came out in 1943. After Jan-Christopher’s Horak’s illuminating lecture on German exile cinema, stick around to watch a screening of the film.

In anticipation of the opening of the new exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, we asked Dr. Jan-Christopher Horak, UCLA Film & Television Archive Director and expert on German exile cinema, a few questions about how and why Europe’s exiled filmmakers (most of whom were fleeing Nazi persecution) made such an indelible impact on Hollywood’s history, throughout the war era and afterward. Arriving from their war-torn countries, filmmakers like Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, and Ernst Lubitsch found American audiences to be a receptive market for their perspectives on the dangers of German Fascism. The unique styles they brought to the States, influenced by both the dark and light aspects of their experiences, directly affected the development of the film noir genre. The enduring effects of that genre are explored in the complementary exhibition The Noir Effect. 

Learn more about the relationship between Hollywood and European émigrés at Horak’s informative talk “Hollywood: The War Years,” on Thursday, October 30, at 7:30 p.m. The talk is followed by a screening of Austrian émigré Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die! (1943).

You are a veteran in anything concerning German exiles in Hollywood. Can you talk a bit about the notion of German exile cinema?
German exile cinema refers to films made by German-speaking—mostly Jewish—refugees who were blacklisted after 1933 in Germany by the Nazis and then moved abroad, producing work in France, England, Holland, Italy, Spain, and, of course, Hollywood. In Germany they lost everything, usually having to forfeit all their personal wealth, and often had to start from scratch in their new homes. Some, like Robert Siodmak, reestablished themselves in France, then had to flee again when World War II broke out.

Continue reading

Winter To-Do List: Go Behind the Lens

Winter is a great season to spend a cozy afternoon experiencing any one of the amazing museums L.A. has to offer, including the Skirball! We asked our curators to recommend some of their favorite exhibitions currently on display around town. Doris Berger and Linde Lehtinen, who are busy curating the upcoming Skirball exhibition Light and Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, took some time to check out a few fascinating film and photography exhibitions. Check back tomorrow for recommendations from Erin Clancey and Erin Curtis!


Zoom into a Film Shack

Varda-2The French filmmaker Agnès Varda (b. 1928) is a hero of mine. Many years ago, her films opened my eyes to the fact that it is possible to be personal, political, and playful all at once. Varda has been making films in that vein since the 1960s, reaching a diverse audience with narrative and documentary films alike.

The movie industry has changed a lot in the past decades, as have museums, and the worlds seem to be blending together. Varda’s more recent visibility pays tribute to that; her place is not only in cinema anymore. Agnès Varda in Californialand, a small exhibition currently at LACMA through June 22, 2014, showcases films that Varda made in California when she spent time here with her family in 1967–69 and 1980–81. One of the highlights of the exhibition, which features a sculptural installation and a selection of her photographs, is a film shack containing thousands of images from the shooting of Varda’s 1969 film LIONS LOVE (… AND LIES). Continue reading

Let Us Show You Around


Photo by Bebe Jacobs


Photo by Bebe Jacobs

When I began my job as a curator at the Skirball in summer 2012 I was asked to rethink the exhibition program in the Ruby Gallery, which is not only an exhibition space, but also the most communicative and communal space at the Skirball. I thought that we should find ways to work with these parameters and not against them. When I began to reflect on my own experiences at the Skirball, I remembered that I immediately felt welcome and, to my surprise, I found out that the notion of welcoming is an important part of the Skirball’s mission statement. So it seemed like a perfect first idea—to create a large piece about welcoming as seen through the eyes of insiders and outsiders. By “insiders,” I mean everyone who works here (staff, docents, volunteers) and by “outsiders,” I mean artists that weren’t familiar with the Skirball. I had already worked with Antje Schiffers and Thomas Sprenger a few times before in Germany and knew they would be a perfect fit for such an open yet specific idea. So I contacted them and asked if they could imagine developing a project about the idea of welcoming that includes all the people who work here. They were excited about the idea. Antje and Thomas spent two weeks in residency at the Skirball, interviewing the “insiders,” and then they returned home to process everything they’d learned. The final result is a smile, they said, a mural consisting of wall painting, text, and paintings on wood, now up in the Ruby Gallery through September 1. The exhibition has been up for a few months now, so I felt it was time to catch up with Antje and Thomas, and reflect on the fascinating process that led to this wonderful mural.

Let’s start by talking a bit about the process, about how this project gained shape.
Thinking about the Ruby Gallery, our first impulse was to work with its functions, not to insist on it being just an exhibition space. We knew very quickly that we wanted a big mural. And it was clear that we would include the voices of all the insiders—all the people who work here—in that mural.

welcoming-officeWe talked to people from the security department and administration as well as to Museum curators, docents, and volunteers. For that purpose we opened a ‘welcoming office,’ which most of the time was a physical office in the Museum department. But it also was a traveling office; we met the kitchen staff in the kitchen, Continue reading

How Visions Connected with Voices: An Interview with Arnold Schwartzman

Arnold Schwartzman, Master’s Series 2012. Quote: Susan Sontag. Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA.

Arnold Schwartzman, Master’s Series 2012. Quote: Susan Sontag. Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA.

Arnold Schwartzman is the creative director of the Voices & Visions poster exhibition, in which compelling Jewish texts are graphically visualized by contemporary designers. The program was initiated and produced by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and we at the Skirball Cultural Center are excited to be the first institution to show this engaging poster series. In curating this exhibition for our Ruby Gallery I had the chance to meet and talk to Arnold Schwartzman about this project.

Arnold, you have two functions in the Voices & Visions exhibition: you are the creative director and you also designed a poster. Let’s talk about the poster first. You chose the quote by Susan Sontag, “Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech,” and came up with a simple, yet complex image of silent speech. How did you find the visual language for it? And why did you choose this quote?
As the creative director of the Voices & Visions project I had the advantage of being able to choose the pick of the crop of quotations prior to offering them to the other artists. I decided to select the Susan Sontag quotation as I realized that there are many ways to visually interpret speech. The challenge was which direction I should take, other than displaying a zipped-up mouth!

I have always been intrigued by sign language of one sort or another. I was once invited to design a poster for the revitalization of the city of Naples, Italy, in which I incorporated an engraving of the Neapolitan hand gesture for “beauty.” On another occasion I designed the cover of the house magazine of a television network. I created the magazine’s name in nautical flag semaphore, a nod to the company general manager’s naval background. Or for the opening title sequence to my documentary on World War ll, Liberation, I spelt out the letter V for Victory in Morse code. I recall, as a child during the war, seeing the dot-dot-dot-dash painted on many of London’s street walls and air raid shelters.

After finally arriving at my concept, my next step was to decide on the technique and medium. At first I contemplated drawing the hands realistically, or perhaps in a more decorative style, then serendipity stepped in during a visit to my local art store—I finally found the answer when I noticed a display of wooden articulated hands. “Bingo, I’ve got it!”

How did your collaboration with the Grinspoon Foundation actually come about?
My wife, Isolde, who is my collaborating partner, and I had the opportunity to meet with philanthropist Harold Grinspoon and Madeline Calabrese, the campaign’s project manager, in New York City in March 2011. But my involvement with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation began earlier with a telephone call from venerated graphic designer and educator Louis Danziger. He was one of the artists who visually interpreted well-known quotations for the landmark advertising campaign Great Ideas of Western Man that was produced by the Container Corporation of America (CCA) between 1950 and the 1970s. Harold Grinspoon’s idea was to take the CCA concept and translate it to a Jewish perspective by selecting significant quotations by Jewish luminaries throughout history, each representing a Jewish value, and have them interpreted by Jewish artists. And it was Danziger who asked if I was interested in the project as he wished to recommend me as creative director.

Our first task was to come up with a name and logotype for the project. I finally proposed the name Voices & Visions as it not only expressed the coming together of the two entities of words and images, parallel to this I discovered that by strategically placing the two Vs together they form a Star of David.

Indeed, that is a wonderful “coming together.” Could you talk a bit more about the process, about the making of Voices & Visions?
Certainly. A team of scholars chose the quotations, after which copyright clearance was obtained prior to sending invitations to the prospective participants. With the knowledge of the unique styles of each of these artists, we carefully chose quotations that we thought would stimulate their style and thinking. This approach produced unexpected results—some predictable, some surprising.

In June 2012 Isolde and I spent a week in Springfield, Massachusetts, supervising the print check on the large run of the eighteen V&V posters, printed in several formats. After a period of eighteen months we now find it most gratifying to see the fruits of our labor so beautifully displayed at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Isolde and Arnold Schwartzman in front of Arnold’s Visions & Values poster. Photo by Doris Berger.

Isolde and Arnold Schwartzman in front of Arnold’s Voices & Visions poster. Photo by Doris Berger.

Actually, the title Voices & Visions makes me think of the Skirball’s permanent exhibition called Visions and Values, for which you created an amazing audiovisual kaleidoscope of Jewish contributions to humanity as well as graphic decade panels of notable events. Both of those works feature a multi-perspectives approach­­, and so does Voices & Visions. Continue reading