About a year ago, it struck Ruth Weisberg, a professor of fine arts at USC, that not a single American university program focuses on Israel’s contributions in the arts and humanities.
“By contrast, there are some 17 centers at major U.S. academic institutions examining the country from geopolitical, historical, demographic and other perspectives,” said Weisberg, an artist widely exhibited and honored for her paintings, drawings, prints, lithographs and monotypes.
“Culture has always been an Israeli priority, even when the country’s survival was at stake,” Weisberg said. “There is no better way to understand Israelis than through their literature, music, theater, dance, films, architecture and visual arts,” she added.
An example of the latter is the work of Israeli sculptor Mira Maylor, who frequently works in molded glass and who will discuss and illustrate her work on July 23 at the Jack Rutberg Fine Arts gallery on La Brea Avenue (to attend, RSVP to email@example.com).
When Weisberg finally concluded that it was time to spread the word about Israel’s artistic side, she set about enlisting allies through her formidable reputation in the American, European and Israeli art worlds.
Her professional resume includes 80 solo and 190 group exhibitions, including a recent retrospective of her work at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Her art is represented in the collections of 60 museums, including in Paris, Rome and Oslo, as well as New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Los Angeles.
“I, You, We,” her current show at the Whitney Museum in New York, continues through Sept. 1.
Weisberg was determined that the headquarters for a new binational program would be at USC, not only because of her own affiliation with the school, but also to play to the strength and diversity of the university’s six schools in various fields of the arts.
After numerous visits to Israel to help mobilize the country’s artists and scholars, the USC Initiative for Israeli Arts and Humanities was officially launched in spring 2012.
In its premiere season during the 2012-13 academic year, the fledgling program presented 10 lectures, exhibitions, films and musical recitals for the campus and general communities.
Most events were held at USC, but venues also included the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and private homes.
Among the presentations were two lectures on 20th century Israeli choral music and the music of the Holocaust, a talk by noted Israeli novelist Meir Shalev and a screening of the Israeli film “Noodle.”
In May, Weisberg also led one of her tours to Israel for seven American artists — painting and drawing at such places as Jerusalem’s Old City, Mount of Olives and Caesarea.
During that visit, Weisberg lined up much of her roster of Israeli artists and scholars who will interact with their American peers at Los Angeles events during the 2013-14 school year.
In an unusual exchange between the Los Angeles Printmaking Society and the Jerusalem Print Workshop, 20 Israeli artists will display their lithographs, silkscreens, etchings and monotypes at the Pacific Design Center in September and October. Israeli curator and art critic Irena Gordon will be a speaker.
The following year, prints by Los Angeles artists will be shown in Jerusalem in the second part of the exchange.
Among presenters next spring will be Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall in a joint program with Los Angeles’ BodyTraffic modern dance company. Also slated is Freddie Rokem of Tel Aviv University, who will discuss the 1938 world premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s short play “The Exception and the Rule” at Kibbutz Givat Chaim in then-Palestine in a Hebrew translation.
Additional visiting artists and scholars will be announced later.
In 2004, Weisberg founded the Jewish Artists Initiative in Los Angeles to encourage interest in Jewish art and artists locally. Several of her works currently are on display at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts.
Instrumental in helping to create and support the USC Initiative for Israeli Arts and Humanities were USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett, Shula Nazarian and her Shulamit Gallery in Venice, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Admission to all Israeli arts initiative events is free. For information, e-mail Dovie Bindell at firstname.lastname@example.org.