Skirball Cultural Center presents
May 8–July 29, 2007

Skirball Cultural Center
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90049 (Exit Skirball Center Drive off the 405)
(310) 440-4500, fax (310) 440-4595
Contact: Stacy Lieberman (310) 440-4578, or Mia Carino (310) 440-4544
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Ruth Weisberg, The Scroll (detail from Creation), 1987. Collection of Skirball Cultural Center.
Gift of Sandy and Adrea Bettelman in memory of Al Bettelman. Photo: Susan Einstein.

Mid-career retrospective centers on pivotal work, The Scroll

LOS ANGELES—Ruth Weisberg Unfurled, an exhibition presenting three decades of work by Los Angeles artist Ruth Weisberg (b. 1942), Dean of the Roski School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, will be on view at the Skirball Cultural Center from May 8 through July 29, 2007. The retrospective centers on The Scroll, a 94-foot-long mixed-media drawing, which will be exhibited for the first time in 20 years. Considered by critics to be Weisberg’s most significant and challenging body of work, The Scroll will be featured in the context of more than 30 paintings, drawings and prints that explore related issues.

Among the highlighted themes of the exhibition are: Weisberg’s life story and its convergence with art history and Jewish memory; the parallels she draws between contemporary life and the Bible; her desire to provide an identity to those who perished in the Holocaust; and her fervent belief in the possibility of new beginnings. Weisberg will appear in conversation with Nancy Berman, art historian and Skirball Museum Director Emerita, on Thursday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m.; attendees to this public talk will have an opportunity to view the exhibition in advance of the May 8 public opening.

The Scroll
Cited by art historian and Rutgers University professor emeritus Matthew Baigell as “one of the most important Jewish works of art made at the end of the 20th century,” The Scroll was completed in 1987 and was acquired by the Skirball Museum that same year. Employing an embroidered, 18th-century Torah binder from the museum’s collection as a recurring motif, the work envelops the viewer in a powerful narrative, much like the Jewish Torah scroll. It entwines imagery from Jewish life-cycle events and holidays with Weisberg’s experiences as an American Jewish woman. Birth, childhood, coming of age, marriage, adulthood and death—in conjunction with scriptural motifs, Jewish history and rabbinic legend—are chronicled in the artist’s classical drawing style. Inspired by Renaissance and Roman mural cycles, Weisberg risked presenting Jewish themes in a new, almost cinematic format in The Scroll.

Originally displayed in New York in 1987–1988 and Los Angeles in 1989, The Scroll is a challenging work to exhibit, largely due to its scale. Designed to be read continuously from right to left, like the Torah, it will be installed at the Skirball in an enveloping semi-circular space, with nine-foot, double-height panels at its center. The accompanying works in the exhibition are organized thematically, demonstrating how Weisberg has developed her ideas over time and tracing visual motifs, narrative themes and symbolic imagery evident in The Scroll from their origins to their most recent evolution.

“The Skirball Cultural Center is pleased to present The Scroll in its entirety for the first time in 20 years, along with selected highlights from Weisberg’s career as an artist,” remarks Uri D. Herscher, Skirball Founding President and CEO. “Her art celebrates the renewal and meaning of an ancient heritage.”

Exhibition Themes
Developed through her identification as a Jewish, feminist, classical artist, Weisberg’s work is richly layered, as will be illuminated throughout the exhibition. Weisberg has said, “I am nourished by the history of the Jews, the history of art and by the unwritten history of women.”

The convergence of Weisberg’s personal history with Jewish history and liturgy is a central theme of the exhibition. In commingling the two, Weisberg merges the sacred and the autobiographical. This enables her viewers to extrapolate the universal from the particular and identify with a living tradition. The dancers at a wedding depicted in The Scroll, for example, are not only our contemporaries, but also the Biblical Miriam and her Exodus companions. In another panel of The Scroll, contemporary Torah ritual is observed by a group of rabbis from centuries past. Of her layering of Biblical narrative, 20th-century history and events from her own life, Weisberg has spoken of her desire to “express a kind of synchronic time, where all periods interpenetrate.”

The redemptive power of memory is another important theme. Inspired by her grandmother’s Yizkor book (an example of memorials created for specific shtetls), Weisberg researched the Eastern European villages from which many Jewish Americans emigrated. In that process, she discovered a photograph that has become a recurring motif in her work, a group of early 20th-century children who likely died in the Holocaust. First portrayed in her limited-edition 1971 book of etchings, The Shtetl: A Journey and a Memorial, this same group of children appears in her 1984 painting series, Circle of Life, as well as in The Scroll and many other works. By rescuing these children from anonymity and keeping alive their memory, Weisberg performs a healing act of redemption.

Throughout the exhibition, life’s journey is portrayed in both personal and historical terms. Weisberg’s 2001 illustrations for a Passover Haggadah for the Reform Movement feature contemporary portraits instead of Biblical personages. Time periods merge as these contemporaries both enjoy the Passover meal and reenact the ancient story of the Exodus. In The Scroll, a contemporary birth scene overlaps the parting of the Red Sea, denoting the birth of the Jewish people. Redemption is seen in the contrast of concentration camp uniforms with an ancient view of Jerusalem, while revelation is portrayed by layering a wedding ceremony over a tree of life derived from Kabbalah, Jewish mystical teachings.

As critic Thalia Gouma-Peterson has suggested about The Scroll, the artist “wished to enrich the present through the past and to rejuvenate the past through the present.” Life-cycle events—whether personal or historical—are always seen as circular in Weisberg’s work.  Ends engender new beginnings, as with the Torah binder itself, which is made from the fabric used to swaddle a newborn boy in the circumcision (bris) ceremony and often employed as a funeral shroud at life’s end. In a single mixed-media work, 1492/1942: Bound for Nowhere (1991), an image of Holocaust refugees boarding a ship is presented alongside a Columbus-era vessel, recalling the historic expulsion of the Jews from Spain as well as the promise of America.

Coming of age at the height of the women’s movement, Weisberg internalized many of its messages. Her work frequently focuses on female protagonists, as well as on her multiple roles as mother, artist and Jewish woman. In The Scroll, she relays Jewish history with a female voice, presenting a woman rabbi, a girl’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony and women in roles previously held only by men. In Sisters and Brothers (1994), she links the well-known stories of Jacob and Esau with those of Leah and Rachel. Weisberg even casts herself in the place of Diego Velázquez in her lithographic re-interpretation of his famous Las Meninas painting, Disparity Among the Children (1975).
As important as her Judaism is Weisberg’s identification with traditional, figurative art.  She has lived and studied extensively in Italy, and the influence of frescoes and the atmospheric sfumato of Leonardo da Vinci may be seen in the thin washes of color she employs. Just as The Scroll hearkens back to historical narrative cycles, The Circle of Life references the Renaissance “Ages of Man” concept and Edvard Munch’s Frieze of Life. Often, the artist directly quotes art history, as in Time and Time Again (2003) from the Amore Sacro e Profano series, which is inspired by a 16th-century Titian masterpiece. Most significantly, in her choice to work in a classic, realist mode, Weisberg affirms the humanistic values first laid out in the Renaissance.
About the Artist
Ruth Weisberg is Dean of the Roski School of Fine Arts of the University of Southern California.  Known for her work in painting, printmaking, drawing and large-scale installations, she has recently completed a major mural commission for the New York Jewish Federation. Recent honors include Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Hebrew Union College, 2001; College Art Association Distinguished Teaching Award, 1999; and Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome, 1995, 1994 and 1992.

Weisberg has exhibited actively, with over 70 solo and 160 group exhibitions. Her work is included in 60 major museum and university collections, including Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco; The Art Institute of Chicago; Bibliothèque Nationale de France; Istituto Nationale per la Grafica, Rome; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Related Publication
In conjunction with the exhibition Ruth Weisberg Unfurled, the Skirball will publish a catalogue of the same name, edited by Barbara C. Gilbert, the curator of the exhibition, with essays by scholars Donald Kuspit and Matthew Baigell. The 88-page paperback volume, featuring full-color illustrations throughout, is available for $19.95 at Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball.
Related Programs
In addition to docent-led and curatorial walkthroughs of the exhibition, several public programs are planned in conjunction with Ruth Weisberg Unfurled.
-  Thursday, May 3: Ruth Weisberg in conversation with Nancy Berman, art historian and Skiball Museum Director Emerita.
-  Wednesdays, May 9–June 6: A four-session continuing education course, The Journey from Jerusalem to America: Exploring the Pilgrimage Holidays. Instructor: Dr. Shai Cherry.
-  Tuesday, June 19: The Changing Roles of Women in Religion, a panel discussion focusing on recent developments in Judaism, Catholicism and Islam, featuring Rabbi Laura Geller, Dr. Zayn Kassam and Dr. Jane Via.
-  Friday, June 29: An exhibition tour led by Weisberg and a visit to her studio.
-  Sunday, July 15: Multicultural Rites of Passage: A Bus Tour, led by Norine Dresser.
Visiting the Skirball
Skirball Cultural Center is located at 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA (exit Skirball Ctr Dr off the 405). Exhibition hours effective May 1, 2007: Tuesday through Friday 12:00–5:00 p.m.; Thursdays until 9:00 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday 10:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m.; closed Mondays as well as May 23, June 3, June 24 and July 4, 2007. Exhibition admission effective May 1, 2007: $ 10 General, $7 Seniors and Full-Time Students, $5 Children 2–12. Admission to exhibitions is free to the public on Thursdays and free every day to children under 2 and Skirball Members. Parking is free. For general information, the public may call (310) 440-4500 or visit
The Skirball is also home to Zeidler’s Café, which serves innovative California cuisine in an elegant setting, and Audrey’s Museum Store, which sells books, contemporary art, music, and more.
About the Skirball
Skirball Cultural Center is dedicated to exploring the connections between four thousand years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals. It welcomes and seeks to inspire people of every ethnic and cultural identity. Guided by our respective memories and experiences, together we aspire to build a society in which all of us can feel at home. Skirball Cultural Center achieves its mission through educational programs that explore literary, visual, and performing arts from around the world; through the display and interpretation of its permanent collections and changing exhibitions; through scholarship in American Jewish history and related publications; and through outreach to the community.

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