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Jewish Journal

‘Chai’ Time to Celebrate

by Ruth Weisberg

January 30, 2003 | 7:00 pm

In Lita Albuquerque's serene "Particle Memory," a constellation of gold disks swirls in an intense blue void. In Peter Shire's cheekily futuristic "Torso Teapot," a tiny central pot sprouts gangly limbs.

These wildly diverse works are among 100 vital, eclectic pieces in "The Chai Show: 18 Years of Exhibitions" at the University of Judaism's (UJ) Platt and Borstein Galleries through Feb. 9. The artists range from historical figures such as the late sculptor-painter Leonard Baskin to gifted contemporary artists such as Barbara Drucker and Maddy Le Mel. The show celebrates a gallery that has offered one of the most sustained programs of Jewish art in Los Angeles, alongside institutions such as the Skirball Cultural Center and the Museum of Tolerance.

Uniquely, it has persevered and thrived through the efforts of an all-volunteer fine arts council.

The program began in 1985 when the UJ's esteemed Dr. Max Vorspan asked art collector James ("Jimmy") Jacobson to form a council that would select exhibits with "a general but not exclusive orientation to Jewish art and ... artists."  Within a year, the group had organized a solo show of the iconic California architectural photographer Julius Shulman.

Subsequent exhibitions included a Holocaust-themed installation by visual artist Deborah Lefkowitz; a show by renown 20th century illumination artist Arthur Szyk; and exhibits to, in the words of Jacobson, "give exposure to young, upcoming artists." Along the way, the artist-friendly gallery earned dozens of laudatory newspaper reviews.

As ethnic and political conflicts fractured the city in recent years, the council also focused on community bridge-building. A 2002 show was devoted to the noted Chicano muralist-print maker Wayne Alaniz Healy, whose work often depicts the Boyle Heights neighborhood once heavily populated by Jews. His "Veteran of Brooklyn Avenue, 1999, now in the "Chai" show, depicts a dapper gentleman on the street that was the Fairfax Avenue of its day.

Today, the gallery is regarded not just as a Jewish venue, but as an artist's haven in the multicultural landscape of Los Angeles. The "Chai" show pays tribute to this institution's unique history -- and to the volunteers who made these exhibitions happen season after season for 18 years.

15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. For more information about the show, co-curated by artists Victor Raphael and Max Finkelstein, call (310) 476-9777, ext. 201.  

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