President’s Greeting: Jan/Feb 2014

Skirball Campus with Moshe_Safdie and Uri_Herscher

Standing with my friend and architect Moshe Safdie in front of a wall-sized reproduction of a photograph of our location on the Sepulveda Pass, before we started construction on the Skirball. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

The year 2014 is like no other year in the history of the Skirball Cultural Center: for the first time since our birth, we are no longer under construction. Our campus, Moshe Safdie’s first architectural project in the United States, is now complete. Our buildings and courtyards are built; our gardens and arroyos are planted. Our current exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, celebrates our architect and his magnificent achievements. It is glorious to behold.

And yet, in the most important sense, our building is not finished. It can never be finished. For what we are seeking to build is a community where no one is a stranger, a society both just and compassionate, a world where all can live in freedom, dignity, and safety. That is the mission of the Skirball Cultural Center. It is a construction project that has only just begun, and has very far to go. And if it is ever to be achieved, in any measure, it will take each of us, and all of us, to build it. Continue reading

Winter To-Do List: Part 2

Building upon yesterday’s post, our curators have two more recommendations for your winter break excursions. Erin Curtis, who is managing our current retrospective, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, visited the Autry’s new permanent exhibition. And Erin Clancey, who is herself hard at work on a Skirball exhibition about a rock legend (to be announced soon!), ventured to the Grammy Museum to see an exhibition honoring rock music icon Ringo Starr. Read below for two more exhibitions to add to your list. And don’t forget—any well-planned winter break museum crawl should also include our Global Citizen, so we hope to see you at the Skirball this month. Happy museum-going!

 

Once upon a Time

Art of the WestI had been planning to visit Art of the West, the new permanent exhibition at the Autry National Center, since it opened on June 15. I’ve long enjoyed the Autry’s exhibitions about the American West, in part because I find “the West” to be a fascinatingly imprecise concept (each person has different ideas about exactly who and what comprises the West). I was looking forward to seeing a new display of art from the Autry’s collection that examines, in the words of the Autry’s website, “how shared values and interests have inspired artists from different cultures and times to create distinctive, powerful works that speak to their experience of the West as both a destination and a home.” Also, I too like cowboys.

War Music II by Mateo Romero, on display with a 1948 Indian Roadmaster motorcycle.

War Music II by Mateo Romero, on display with a 1948 Indian Roadmaster motorcycle.

The pieces in the exhibition are organized around three simple yet powerful themes: “Religion and Ritual,” “Land and Landscape,” and “Migration and Movement.” Grouping diverse objects together in broad categories allows for unusual, eye-catching, and often provocative juxtapositions of pieces from different places, cultures, and periods. In the “Migration and Movement” section, a 1948 Indian Roadmaster motorcycle sits beneath Mateo Romero’s War Music II.

Around the corner, in the “Religion and Ritual” section, a totem pole from the Pacific Northwest stands near a crucifix of roughly equal height. These often unexpected pairings are one of the show’s strengths.

David Levinthal’s The Wild West series.

David Levinthal’s The Wild West series.

I was also particularly drawn to the exhibition’s photographs, including David Levinthal’s six-part series The Wild West, for which the artist photographed toys in order to depict the West as he imagined it in his childhood. There is also a lovely display titled “Yosemite after Adams,” dedicated to the challenges that contemporary landscape photographers face in capturing Yosemite National Park years after it was so famously and definitively documented by Ansel Adams. Okay, there weren’t any sharks (as a visitor requested in my photo above), but a visit to the Art of the West is my winter break recommendation nonetheless.

Read the Los Angeles Times review of Art of the West.

Erin Curtis

 

 

“Don’t Pass Me By”

Ludwig black pearl drum set with Beatles logo

Ludwig black pearl drum set with Beatles logo

If you are a fan of The Beatles (who isn’t?), don’t pass on the exhibition Ringo: Peace & Love, currently at the Grammy Museum until March 30, 2014. 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!

Varda-1

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

Rockin’ Out with Kids

Seeing a child arrive at the Skirball for his or her first rock concert is a perk of my job; knowing they’re getting that jittery feeling you get when you’re about to be in the presence of those voices you’ve spent hours with, at home or in the car, memorizing every word and drumbeat.

In my experience, the people in these amazing bands are always just as excited as the kids to rock out together in person. In just a few weeks, our special Winter Family Concerts bring two creative, kid-friendly acts to the Skirball: two-time Parent’s Choice Award winner Jambo on Saturday, December 28, and 2013 Grammy nominee for Best Children’s Album The Pop Ups on Sunday, December 29. I thought it would be interesting to find out more about these groups as they prepare for their upcoming performances, and they were kind enough to oblige.


Jambo 1
JAMBO

The mission of musical group Jambo has always been to get people of all ages up and dancing. For years, husband-and-wife team Steve Pierson and Melinda Leigh have been using their imaginative performance style to transport audiences through the roots of American music. They’ve made several appearances at the Skirball’s Family Amphitheater Performances series, and they’ve always been a big hit. I spoke with Steve Pierson about Jambo’s beginnings and what inspires him to keep performing.

How did you get started in performance?
I always played music and performed as a kid. I studied piano when I was young, but when my older brother taught me some chords on the guitar, I never looked back. I started out playing acoustic guitar in coffee houses and small venues; playing James Taylor, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers, as well as my original songs. I was always heavily into blues music and played in a few different local blues bands till I put together my own band, Steve Pierson & Blues Head, and started touring around the country playing large blues festivals and small roadhouse bars.

What is one memorable moment from your performing career that stands out?
There have been a few shows that have really stuck with me over my career as a performer, but as it relates to Jambo, one of my first shows was very memorable. I wrote these songs for my own daughter and had no intention of performing them outside of our own home. We played a show at a local elementary school and the experience blew me away. The kids had such unbridled enthusiasm for the music and everyone was having so much fun. The kids were so loud that we couldn’t hear ourselves on stage! jambo2I had a blast and it clicked for me that I could play the music I love for these families and it didn’t have to be “dumbed down.” It became my mission to present young kids with really great musical experiences.

What music inspires you?
Dan Zanes was the first person I heard playing “real” music for kids, and I also really loved the Jack Johnson Curious George record. These were songs for kids that adults really liked listening to as well, and that’s what I wanted to make. After that, my music borrows from my musical heroes: The Band, The Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, anything Stax or Muscle Shoals, and of course the blues greats including, but not limited to, the three Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie), Taj Mahal, Albert Collins … the list goes on.

How did you come up with your group’s name?
I was trying to come up with something that would sound fun, groovy, and inviting. “Jambo” is a combination of “jam,” as in a jam session or party, and “gumbo,” a delicious Louisiana dish that is a combination of rich flavors and ingredients. I felt like the name was kind of like a “roots music stew” where I could stir in influences from Chicago, New Orleans, Texas, and the Mississippi Delta. Of course, Jambo also means “hello” in Swahili, which I love because it is so welcoming and evocative of the cultural diversity that I try to bring to the music.

What influence has your family had on your art?
My family has been a huge influence on my art. I never would have written these songs for children if it hadn’t been for the inspiration my own daughter brings me. I have always tried to write from her perspective and about things that she likes or issues she has struggled with. I wanted these songs to be helpful to her as she is growing up, and it has been a blessing to be able to pass that along to all the kids and families that hear my music. It’s been so great to be able to share this project and perform with my wife as well, making it a true family affair! It’s our mission now to bring “real roots music” to kids and do a little part to fill the void left by diminished school budgets and dwindling music programs.

 

dsc_0098THE POP UPS

The Pop Ups are not your typical children’s band. The duo’s incorporation of puppets, props, and colorful sets into their show has garnered praise from the Wall Street Journal and a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Album. We’re excited for The Pop Ups to bring their high energy and wildly inventive tunes to the Skirball. I spoke with Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein about their influences and what we should expect from their upcoming performance.

How did you get started in performance?
We both started very young. Jacob’s father had a kids band called Dino Rock, Continue reading

Dancing with the Skirball

This Friday, December 6, Brooklyn-based indie rock band/dance troupe People Get Ready will perform at Into the Night: Progression, a late-night party taking place at the Skirball.

People Get Ready fuse music and modern dance in a combination that’s as arresting as it is unexpected. After attending one of their shows, Bob Boilen, host and creator of NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” dubbed it his favorite show of 2012: “No single show took my breath away the way this one did—part rock concert, part performance art, part dance, all perfectly melded together. … It felt like a band creating a music video for every piece of music performed.” Below, check out a live video of People Get Ready’s performance for the song “Middle Name,” followed by a collection of six music videos in which unexpected dancing is the name of the game—including a few videos featuring artists with ties to People Get Ready.

 

1- In this music video for Blonde Redhead’s “Top Ranking,” artist and filmmaker Miranda July contorts her body in a series of one-second-long poses. [Interesting connection: People Get Ready’s Steven Reker served as choreographer for July’s 2011 film, The Future.]

 

2- Bay Area–based art-rock band Deerhoof enlisted People Get Ready members Steven Reker, Jen Goma, and James Rickman to dance in their video for “Fête d’Adieu.” Check out Reker’s solo around 1:36.

 

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Richard Meier Designed the Getty… and This Hanukkah Lamp

The designs of Hanukkah lamps often incorporate architectural forms. In 1985 the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, invited leading architects to submit designs of Hanukkah lamps for an exhibition entitled Nerot Mitzvah: Contemporary Ideas for Light in Jewish Ritual. The hanukkiah pictured below was designed by Richard Meier, the architect of the Getty Center just down the road from the Skirball.  An original is on view in the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America

Each of the chess piece–like candleholders represents architecturally a place where Jews have experienced major crises. These historical events are arranged chronologically by branch from left to right.

Each of the chess piece–like candleholders represents architecturally a place where Jews have experienced major crises. These historical events are arranged chronologically by branch from left to right.

Branch 1
The obelisk on the far left represents Egypt—historically the period of slavery culminating in the Exodus story.

Branch 2
Second is a column of Roman style, representing the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

Branch 3
The third branch is a castle-like tower representing England, from which there was an expulsion of Jews in 1290. Specifically it may be the Tower of York where there was a massacre of Jews in 1190. Continue reading

The Power of Memory

“I remember.”

These words begin many of the most powerful stories we hear. The first-person telling of an experience is one of a kind; it includes details that can only be recounted by the individual who lived it. Passing stories on from generation to generation and from community to community is central to our mission here at the Skirball. Simply put, it’s a place where people’s histories—and a people’s history—matter.shoah gallery

As of this fall, visitors to our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, now have the opportunity to view testimonials of Holocaust survivors provided by USC’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. Since I oversee the development of programs for school groups, it fell to me and my staff to create a Visions and Values gallery tour for high school students that not only includes the video testimonials, but that gives teenagers an understanding of the socio-economic and political context that led to national socialism in Germany and the atrocities of the Holocaust.

It has been a daunting task.
Continue reading

Architectural Centerpieces (Florals Are So Last Year)

At a recent donor dinner at the Skirball, these sculptural centerpieces showcased beautiful photographs of our campus, designed by Moshe Safdie. You can also spot one of the vivid green metal art panels off the Taper Courtyard, created by Vera Ronnen.

At a recent donor dinner at the Skirball, these sculptural centerpieces showcased beautiful photographs of our campus, designed by Moshe Safdie. You can also spot one of the vivid green metal art panels off the Taper Courtyard, created by Vera Ronnen.

A common feature of Moshe Safdie’s projects is his integration of open-air spaces into his very monumental concrete and granite buildings. [In this ArtInfo interview, Safdie explains how the landscape influenced his design for the Skirball campus.] Here at the Skirball, Safdie created a series of courtyards that harmoniously link each building so that as you work your way from Winnick Hall (home to Noah’s Ark at the Skirball™) at the south end of our site toward Ahmanson Hall and Herscher Hall at the north end, you encounter blue skies and lush landscapes. As the Skirball’s founder, Uri D. Herscher, has said, Safdie “married his architecture to the hills.” The natural is as important as the architectural in creating the open, welcoming environment we have at the Skirball.

Recently the Skirball hosted an evening gala for our founding donors to celebrate the completion of our campus. The sculptural centerpieces we produced for the event are a love letter to the Skirball’s architecture. We worked with designer Gabe Gonzales at Astek Wallcovering—the firm that created the whimsical wallpaper for our recent exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open—to develop the build of the sculpture. Essentially each centerpiece features thirty-four interlocking round disks. Twenty-six of them display a different image on each side. Depending on how you look at the double-sided disks, you can see four different sets of images. Here are the other three views of the centerpiece: Continue reading

Do It Yourself at diy days

diy days @ the Skirball is inspired by Moshe Safdie’s design strategies for the future of the global city. Here is one of his proposals for quality, affordable housing for the new millennia. The scale model is on view in the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

diy days @ the Skirball is inspired by Moshe Safdie’s design strategies for the future of the global city. Here is one of his proposals for quality, affordable housing for the new millennia. The scale model is on view in the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

I first met Moshe Safdie around 1990 when the Skirball Museum staff began to work in earnest on the planning of this cultural center. Over the years of our collaboration with him, he would mention in passing his work in Canada, Israel, and India, and I was always amazed at how he could juggle so many projects at once—no doubt due to the talented team he has assembled.

As I prepared for the opening of Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdiea recent Domus story describes the exhibition and Safdie’s architecture very well—I began to consider how to address topics at the heart of his design philosophy. [Moshe Safdie’s “first principles” include Humanizing the Megascale, Building Responsibly, and Responding to the Essence of Place.] I didn’t want to offer yet another lecture course on architectural history. Instead I wanted to engage our audiences Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Nov/Dec 2013

This November 28, we mark a once-in-a-lifetime coincidence in Jewish and American life: Hanukkah begins on the same day as Thanksgiving. Actually, that’s once in many thousands of lifetimes. It won’t happen again for 80,000 years!

This year’s calendar can help us appreciate the meanings of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. Both holidays are occasions of gratitude, and both are celebrations of freedom.

In the original proclamation of George Washington, dating to 1789, Thanksgiving Day is set aside to appreciate “the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.” In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving for “continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

Hanukkah is the Jewish echo of American ideals: the courage to resist tyranny, the struggle for religious liberty, the dedication (which is the meaning of the word “Hanukkah”) Continue reading