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by Bill Lasarow

"The Boston Massacre"

Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe
hat, U.S., 19th Century
Given their proximity, you’ll be forgiven for momentarily thinking you’ve accidentally ended up in a Getty Center time warp when visiting the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles. Just two years after the cranes and bulldozers completed that massive construction project they are back, expanding the smaller but still massive Sepulveda Pass nexus of Jewish identity.

While new parking and auditorium structures go up from the ground, the Center’s art galleries closed down in September for an expansion and complete facelift of their permanent exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America. Building on the foundation of the Center’s extensive collection of Jewish art and artifacts, Visions and Values consists of a tracing of deep Jewish history, a fleshing out of Jewish religious culture, and the evolving Jewish American experience. A Holocaust gallery may not approach the in depth experience provided at the Museum of Tolerance, but a display of the original Nazi Nuremberg laws that deprived German Jews of their citizenship rights, signed in 1935 by Adolf Hitler, is an important highlight.

More felicitous as well as interactive are recreations of a turn-of-the-century American classroom and an Eastern European bet midrash, or religious house of study. Both provide context for surrounding exhibits, themselves providing an appropriate environment for period desks and memorabilia. These not only make for a more immersive experience, the Center plans to use both “classrooms” for public talks and school educational programs.

The final galleries treat the half-century history of the state of Israel and examine the recent experience of Jews in America. Quotations from the Book of Genesis bracket the first and the last galleries, reinforcing the idea that visitors are circuiting an encompassing historical and cultural journey. Center staff argue (we can’t make the call, as the galleries are still being rennovated at press time) that visiting a single or some of the galleries without taking time for all of them will make for a complete museum experience, encouraging repeated shorter visits.

Given the unique range of the Skirball collection, the promise of a significant expansion here is a substantial one. We expect a rich, multi-dimensional experience here because the instructive value of the permanent installation is more than matched by many objects of exceptional quality and/or rarity. During the opening month Visions and Values will quite rightfully be the only exhibition. Temporary exhibitions will restart after the new year.

The reopening of the galleries on December 5th (11am-4pm) will coincide with the first weekend of Hanukkah. The annual Hanukkah Festival features an extensive roster of activities, food, and music throughout the Center grounds designed with families in mind. For further details please call the Center at (310) 440-4500.

Emancipation Proclamation,
signed by President Lincoln,
San Francisco, 1864.

Cup and Saucer with GW Cipher.