"Show & Tel: Art of Connection," the Zimmer Children's Museum's exhibition of 179 telephones decorated and deconstructed by painters, sculptors, politicians, athletes and others, features an array of artworks ranging from the whimsical to the confrontational.
Grouped by such themes as sports and color schemes, the often funky and always surprising phones fill several rooms at the Zimmer. Taken together, they show that a little imagination can go a long way toward transforming a prosaic object into something compelling and original.
All the phones are up for sale. Proceeds will go to youTHink, a Zimmer program for students that uses art to discuss important social issues.
Curator Kate Stern, a former talent coordinator for "Rock the Vote" and ex-casting director, leveraged her contacts to land some big-name celebrities for the show.
Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor submitted a purple flower pot sprouting a pink phone covered with violets. Basketball star Jason Kidd's phone has a large 5, his number, plastered across his phone's keypad and his last name spelled out in big letters across the receiver. Venice artist Aaron Kramer's "It's Fore You" features a phone encased in metal that is supported by four wood drivers. A wood barbell hangs from the base of the phone.
But it's the lesser-known creators who, in many instances, have produced the most affecting pieces. Beth Livingston, an artist and U.S. Paralympics Ski Team member, created a massive piece titled, "Follow Your Heart," which features a 5-foot-long mermaid holding a phone receiver in her left hand. A colorful mosaic of jewels, plastic flowers, antique buttons and bottle caps decorate her belly.
New York firefighter Hugh Giffords' "Never Give Up" has a backdrop of the charred remains of World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the foreground, a red phone peeks through the rubble of smashed cinder blocks.
Giffords, who plans to attend the Zimmer's June 6 preview opening, lost 14 of the 16 members of his fire company in the terrorist attack.
"The greatest virtues that mankind possesses, marched straight into those buildings, [and] they did it for love," he wrote in text accompanying his work.
Curator Stern said she was happy with the diverse talent she assembled for the exhibit. Some participants responded quickly. R&B musician Alicia Keys turned in her phone only two days after receiving it in the mail. Others needed a little more prodding.
Artist Charles Arnoldi reluctantly agreed to participate but kept putting Stern off. Undeterred, she dropped by his studio when he was out and left one pound of homemade toffee, along with Post-It notes with messages such as "Chuck for president" and "You're the man." Arnoldi sent in his painted phone soon thereafter.
Stern said she wasn't able to get everybody she wanted. David Hockney said he was too busy. Madonna, a practitioner of Kaballah, a branch of Jewish mysticism, never responded. Poet Maya Angelou initially said she would participate and then vanished on a three-month book tour, ("I literally begged her," Stern lamented).
Esther Netter, the Zimmer's executive director, borrowed the idea for the phone exhibit from a similar show that ran in Haifa two and a half years ago. She took more than a good idea -- 29 of the Zimmer's phone artworks come from the original Israeli exhibit.
"This is the biggest exhibit in Zimmer's history," Netter said. "We're preparing for a big party, so we're putting our best, most shiny face first."
The "Show & Tel" preview will take place June 6 at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $100. The show opens to the public June 8 and runs until Sept. 10. For more information, call Carrie Jacoves at (323) 761-8992.--MB