Jewish Journal

Creativity for a cause

by Robert David Jaffee

Posted on May. 3, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Esther Netter, CEO of the Zimmer Children's Museum, speaks with infectious enthusiasm about her museum's upcoming exhibition, "Show & Tell: The Art of Harmony," which opens Sunday, May 6.

"Look at what artists can do!" she says in the museum's storage room as she points to the wide array of objects, each based upon a musical instrument.

She is gearing up for the third "Show & Tell" exhibition, following previous ones in which artists produced sculpture, painting and mixed-media forms based upon a clock or a telephone of their choice. The shows have always been remarkable, not only for the personalities who provided their phones or clocks -- including Ariel Sharon and Elizabeth Taylor -- but also for the artwork's deeper resonance related to the themes of time, communication and now music.

The musical connection seems a perfect one for artist Robert Rauschenberg, whose "White Paintings" -- canvases with all-white surfaces -- famously influenced composer John Cage to produce his so-called "silent" music.

In "Show & Tell," Rauschenberg has provided a mixed-media work titled, "Fugue." A pigment transfer on paper, "Fugue" suggests a polyphonic composition in that it features drawings of piano keys in black and white juxtaposed with metronomes, painted red and looking almost like miniature pyramids. With its layers of piano keys on top of one another headed toward infinity, "Fugue" induces the kind of hypnosis one might experience listening to certain fugues, which can transport the listener into a trance.

Rauschenberg, who signed his work with his initials and thumb print, his signature since his stroke some years ago, was brought into this project by his friend, Barbara Lazaroff, the restaurateur and architectural designer.

Lazaroff has contributed a work bearing the title, "If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On," the opening line from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." As one might expect of a restaurateur who partnered with Wolfgang Puck, she includes a series of colorful dinner plates beneath this verse, each with its own mini-theme, such as love, betrayal, marriage and cowardice. In a statement about her work, Lazaroff writes, "Both music and cuisine are art forms that evoke our visceral and cerebral memories."

Proceeds from the sale of the works will raise funds for youTHink, the Zimmer's outreach program for students, and while the show includes some famous contributors, many of its works come from lesser-known figures.

Peter Schulberg, for instance, wittily comments on the architects of the Iraq War with a set of drums marked by the images of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld beneath paintings of the American flag. The images are displayed on a curved side of a pair of drums, presenting museumgoers with the temptation to beat the faces of Rumsfeld and Bush.

Los Angeles-based artist Alison Saar comments on domestic concerns in a manner more dissonant than harmonious, depicting Yemaja, the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the sea, in a turquoise hue. The goddess' eyes are obscured by the keys of a kalimba, an African thumb piano -- we cannot see them, and they cannot see us.

Work such as that by Schulberg and Saar reflects the Zimmer's mission over its roughly 15-year existence, which is to educate children of all backgrounds and instill in them progressive values. As Netter says, "We want to teach them how to be a mensch."

"Show & Tell: The Art of Harmony" opens May 6 at the Zimmer Children's Museum. For information, call (323) 761-8989 or visit http://www.zimmermuseum.org/

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