William Leavitt: Cycladic Figures at Honor Fraser

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Movie sets, paintings, and sculptural installations comprise William Leavitt’s fascinating Cycladic Figures at the Honor Fraser gallery in Culver City through October 23rd. It’s a quintessentially Los Angeles exhibition, vibrantly artistic and infused within the form of the film industry. After all, we are still a filmmaker’s town as much as a blossoming art center, so what better way to combine the two creative heartbeats of the city than in an exhibition that makes Honor Fraser into a personal sound stage. Leavitt is a Los Angeles-based artist, known for his immersive installations, and is a true L.A. renaissance man, writing plays, building sets, making films, creating paintings, drawings, and installations. The artist has said that his work frames a story through an object, situation, or painting. From there, the viewer is left to continue the story, making his work gently interactive.

The title of the exhibition sets the stage, so to speak, for what the viewer experiences. It refers to sculptures created in the Cyclades Islands located off the coast of Greece five thousand years ago. The name of these islands refers to a circle, and the islands were said by the ancient Greeks to surround the holy island and sanctuary of Apollo. Little is known about the Cycladic people and their world – and perhaps we, too, know little about our own — perhaps we circle an unknowable sanctuary.

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In Leavitt’s work, the sense of mystery that surrounds the Cyclades Islands also surrounds our contemporary world. At Honor Fraser, there are intimate universes that the viewer walks through and around, part noir, part sci-fi. Color and light make each work into a separate and immersive space. With “Lennie’s Set,” the effect is pure noir, all that’s necessary is for the femme fatale to walk into the room and engage the services of what surely must be private investigator Lennie. Sunglasses, an almost archaic wind-up clock, and a rotary phone are on the desk, while a shadow, undeniably feminine, dark against a wash of golden light, is projected onto the brown venetian blinds behind that desk. There’s a brief case on the floor, a standing lamp with a dusty brass base. And yet – there is also an empty, clear green plastic leftover container which no noir p.i. would have ever seen. Are we time travelers?

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With “Faraday Cage” we are surely entering the realm of science fiction, with a wood and metal mesh cage surrounding a plastic lawn chair. Behind these objects is a garage cum Rube Goldberg-esque science lab. Once serving as a set in Leavitt’s film Cycladic Figures, an interesting transition happens when this set is displayed as an artwork.

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It is like watching a film within a film – a set artfully rendered becomes a sculpture that could serve as a film set, one in which the “audience” is invited to break the third wall of cinematic framing and walk on through. Viewers are thus invited to alter the narrative scope of the sculpture – their very presence changes it.

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Also a part of the exhibition are Leavitt’s paintings and works on paper. In a similar fashion to his installation work, he creates layered scenes that invite the viewer to develop them. Leavitt’s conceptual work in his “Head Space” series reveals two silhouetted faces against a background that morphs fields and cities as distant landscapes, while the faces themselves contain floating objects and architectural ruins.

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We are where are as much as who we are, Leavitt seems to posit, and where we are is not only this time or corporeal space but the past and future landscape as well.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Courtesy of artist/gallery and Genie Davis

Sona Van: The Art of Poetry

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Poet Sona Van has published four books translated in over a dozen languages, and with her latest work, Libretto for the Desert, she has crafted a potent, prescient collection for our time.

The work is a powerful testament to survival and all that this entails – the legacy of grief, the passion for life, the desire to express herself – and to make others understand what intolerance and politics can shape.

A native of Yerevan, Armenia,  Van has lived in California since 1978. She’s been awarded gold medals from the Armenian Ministries of Culture and Diaspora and from the Golden Apricot Film Festival,  awarded a Woman in Literature prize from the California Chamber of Commerce; and in the same year, Van received the Armenian Presidential “Movses Khorenatsi” medal for her contributions in preserving the Armenian identity abroad. The poet also co-founded the literary journal Narcissus in 2006 with the late poet and playwright Vahan Vardanyan.

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But Van is not writing for recognition, nor is she writing to, as she puts it so viscerally, “to still my ranting muse. But instead, it is written to speak for the silence of the skulls, jaws filled with sand for a hundred years, unheard save for the murmuring river of their blood.”  Van’s subject here is the Armenian genocide, also known as the Great Catastrophe, which sent her grandparents and parents into exile.

Her work tears through the horrors of this time and transcends them, translates them into a universal experience: the suffering of war, the pain of loss, the loss of children, the longing to literally eviscerate those who create war, persecution, intolerance, and pain.

Written in a highly contemporary and contemplative, style, Van’s collection of poetry here sears and soars, harsh and delicate at the same time. It is the episodic yet connected history of a woman opposed to war and violence, a witness to suffering, a descendant of holocaust. In fact, 1.5 million Armenians were systematically massacred; a death-march across the desert was but one part of the killings.

Sona desertVan uses the desert itself as a character in her poetry as much as a place; a location of horror, a location of longing. As Van writes in her latest book’s introduction, “After their escape…it seemed the family would find security and the possibility for a dignified life on the other shore of the River Arax, but ‘the ghost of the barbarians,’ had authored many tangible and intangible wounds. These wounds had crossed the border with them, hidden in the folds of their memories. Each member of my family had to wrestle with this horrific ghost their entire lives.” She adds that “To this day, people continue to experience the Catastrophe.” Her grandfather, who was spared the worst due to the intervention of a close Muslim friend, may have summed up what Van herself seeks to exorcise in her poetry, “As my grandfather wrote ‘. . . I got my share of the catastrophe in the form of salvation.'”

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In her poetry, Van writes:

We were facing each other again in a dream

me and the devil of war—

the city has pushed its nipple

into my mouth

interrupting my complaint

to time


latched onto the wet nurse’s breast

I am afraid of everything—

And yet, Van is a fearless writer. She is kind to dreams and memory, but she does not shy away from her own anger, the ugliness of people, of war, the loss of control, the falseness of modern life. She knows love, but loses it, she longs to control the outcome of the world, to trade swords for plough-shares, to resurrect and find redemption, but her mind is more cynical than her heart.

“Indeed how short

are the days of love on Earth—

do you remember darling

how you used to throw

your boots

carelessly by the bed

in the room full of pheromones

the wine

and our synchronous movements

under the sheets?

Now you are gone . . . dead

in a city

that can’t be found on a map

I recall your footsteps

in the snow

and cry

(I am a crier don’t you know?)

while the dog

howls sadly

cursing God

the moon and everything else

that exists

up there in the sky

you know I resurrected you

in my dream

from the snowy pattern of your footstep

branches on your head

then you died again

in our room

on my knees this time”

Van is a voice howling in the wilderness, a distinct, passionate, profound voice; a teller of tales too terrible to be forgotten, a weaver of images both inchoate with longing and ripe and fecund with imagery. She takes us to the desert of our desire, of our lusts for power, sex, conquest, and sings of a mother’s love, a mother’s wailing loss, a lover’s lament, a woman’s strength.

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Van has said of her work “…Literature is not an abstract value in our days of chaos, but a reality…through which people’s souls may link.”

This is music to be felt like the dry wind of the desert, felt on the skin as if a bullet had just skimmed by, barely missing the beating heart.

  • Genie Davis; photos courtesy of Van; desert: Genie Davis

Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California (JAI) Flashpoints: A Collective Response – Jerusalem Biennale 2017


Flashpoints: A Collective Response is a stunning new exhibition of murals created by the Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California (JAI) for the 2017 Jerusalem Biennale. JAI is an artist-run organization dedicated to visual art by Jewish artists and the promotion of a dialog about Jewish identity in the arts community. This collective spirit is especially evident in the collaborative project currently being undertaken for the Jerusalem Biennale.

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With the theme of the Biennale being“Watershed,” a moment of important change, JAI decided a collaborative work based on the watershed of America’s highly visible political divide was the appropriate undertaking. Designed to raise a collective voice, this highly ambitious undertaking features five large-scale collaborative murals. Each mural focuses on watershed moments, particularly those which had a lasting effect on the world.



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The mural teams were given these subjects: Civil Rights, Water, Nationalism, Human Rights, Political Polarization. The process follows the framework of the Surrealist parlor game, “Exquisite Corpse,” as a way to explore both the divisions in the U.S. today and the desire for unity. The game requires each participant to draw an image on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal what they drew and pass it to the next player. Once unfolded, the drawings present a larger truth, a sum of the individual artistic parts. In the same fashion, each mural was created to tell a unique story of change and challenge.



According to JAI board member and mural curator Georgia Freeman-Harvey, “The decision to create a series of murals came about because we were trying to think how to position ourselves at the Biennale  and what would make us stand out, what would be a challenge for us, and be something different than a collection of individual work. Looking at the Exquisite Corpse game structure with its surprise element and loose connection between each part was an inspiration,” she adds. “In the game, everyone hides what they have done and the next person takes over – you can get all sorts of wonderful combinations of things.  Traditionally with the game, it’s a human figure, but we allowed each group to just explore their subject.”

The results are something special indeed, with art that is linked and lovely, mysterious and mythic.

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Working with an outside juror, Emily Zaiden, a Los Angeles based curator from the Craft in America Center, teams were compiled, and mural curators selected: Ann Hromadka Greenwald and Georgia Freedman-Harvey, who then, along with the JAI executive committee, selected the mural themes and what each would encompass. Freedman-Harvey is an independent curator and the curator for the Platt/Borstein Galleries at American Jewish University; Hromadka Greenwald is a curator, educator, and founder of AMH Art Advisory, an LA based art consulting firm.

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The Civil Rights mural includes images referencing the Civil Rights Act, Black Lives Matter, and Immigration; artists for this project are Elena Siff, Melinda Smith Altshuler, Judy Dekel, and Ellen Cantor. Artists working on the Water project, which features images of the California drought, and Israeli water rights include Randi Matushevitz, Cathy Weiss, Lorraine Bubar, and Karen Frimkess Wolff. The Nationalism mural, which references the changing understanding of nation-states, as well as Zionism, features the work of artists Avi Roth, Ruth Weisberg, Marisa Mandler, and Bill Aron; while the artists working on the Human Rights Mural, with references to Feminism, the global refugee crisis, and LGBTQ issues include Doni Silver Simons, Renee Amitai, Marleene Rubenstein, and Nancy Goodman Lawrence. The Political Polarization mural emphasizes images of the great recession and the 2016 elections, and includes the work of artists Susan Gesundheit, Jackie Nach, and Debra Sokolow.

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Hromadka Greenwald and Freedman-Harvey will review the results of each team’s collaboration and help select the final images to be created for each. The group meetings allow the artists to create designs, sketches, and renderings for the final murals.

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“When we submitted our proposal to the Biennale, we really talked about how to develop and understand what we thought were very important watershed moments within our own country. We gave the artists this chance to blend and mesh within their particular watershed moments, and let them stand out individually, but collectively present a stronger message about that watershed moment,” Freedman-Harvey relates.

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When submitting samples of their work for consideration, the artists were asked to choose their first and second choice as to which mural group category they wanted to be a part of, as Freedman-Harvey explains. “We then had to really think about what art would work well together, and what topics made the most sense. We left it to the juror to look at the quality of pieces submitted. We felt it was important to use an outside person to do the final selection, and we ended up with five really strong teams.”

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The mediums the artists are working in are varied. Some work in mixed media and collage, as well as traditional painting, solar plate etching, charcoal and spray paint, drawings and installations. The result: a diverse collection of artistic mediums and murals that transcend form.


“Within our exhibition space in Jerusalem, the murals will be presented as five large-scale pieces of art. Three are already being shipped, attached and ready to hang, two will be assembled by us on site,” Freedman-Harvey notes. “This is the 3rd Biennale, and our second time participating. This year there were 96 applications and 20 were selected from around the world – and we were one of them.”

Along with the funds JAI is providing to cover participation costs in the Biennale, a September fundraiser is planned to make the exhibition possible. JAI is also running a crowd-sourcing campaign on Jewcer.com.


“I think the pieces are more powerful because multiple people were addressing and interpreting each watershed moment, as opposed to there being five individual works. They each support and strengthen each other,” Freedman-Harvey says. “We are thrilled to be going back again. This biennale keeps growing in size and in its reach around the world.”


The Biennale runs from October 1st through November 16th. It’s dedicated to exploring the intersection of contemporary art with the world of Jewish content, and serves as a stage for professional artists who refer in their work to Jewish thought, spirit, tradition or experience. And above all else, toward a transcendent beauty such as that seen so powerfully here.

  • Genie Davis; photos provided by JAI

Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern – Famous for Food and Fun



Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern now has an outpost with an ocean view in Santa Monica.


The atmosphere is warm and friendly; its essentially gastropub elevated to a lively level. It’s a great place to stop in just for a drink, and that’s certainly where we started.

We had a Pomegranate Mimosa, fresh and refreshing.


And of course we had their signature Famous Mary, which is almost a meal in itself. It’s made with Absolut Peppar, blue cheese, olive, pepperoncini, jack cheese. You can get the  “real meal” version with egg, shrimp, and bacon, too.


To go with these drinks we had the addictive dueling Southern Dips, two delicious flavors served with homemade corn tortilla chips. The zingy pimento cheese and savory roasted corn with poblano guacamole are both intensely flavorful.


We also had the Spicy Ahi Poke with avocado, papaya and deliciously spicy Serrano chilies, all on crispy wontons. The appetizers are terrific and could serve as a meal in themselves.


But who could resist the Maine Lobster and Shrimp Club Sandwich served on a buttery brioche. A large quantity of extremely fresh lobster and shrimp were perfectly blended with house mayo, avocado, and topped with bacon and lettuce.


Jimmy’s signature dishes however are arguably their burgers. And there are plenty to choose from, too. Their Famous Cheeseburger offers American cheese and 1,000 Island dressing with their hearty New York chopped sirloin. The beef is naturally raised, and their buns are sesame-seeded Parker House. Other burger options include spicy burgers – one with jalapeno jam, double veggie burgers, and even a cowboy burger replete with onion fritters.

Just in case you’re not full yet — here comes dessert. We went on the comparatively light side with the none-the-less seductively rich dark chocolate Pot de Creme which comes with a wickedly indulgent Grand Marnier cream.


On the supremely decadent side you could go with the Bananageddon made with fresh bananas, pastry cream, pecan blondie crumbles, butter pecan ice cream, salty caramel sauce, candied pecans, white chocolate, and whipped cream. Don’t count the calories, and it is pure enjoyment. Or you could have a drink for dessert, such as their generously proportioned Irish Coffee.  Their full bar offers plenty of tasty options.


All in all,  Jimmy’s is a super comfortable place to hang out, portions are large and drinks are delightfully strong.


It’s reputation lives up to it’s name, quintessentially American and famously delicious.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Genie Davis