Opening Night: Gary Baseman’s “The Door is Always Open” at the Skirball

by Stephanie ChefasPosted on

Chouchou shrine, photo by Hi Hi Caro

A special kind of magic was in the air last Thursday night at the Skirball Cultural Center, when pop-surrealist legend Gary Baseman unveiled his highly anticipated retrospective “The Door is Always Open.” Smiling ear to ear, Basemen welcomed guests into a novel gallery setting that captures both the essence of his work and the charm of the his upbringing in the heart of Los Angeles’ Fairfax District. Modeled after Baseman’s childhood home, each room centered around a specific theme and brimmed with an exciting mix of Baseman’s artwork and personal mementos. The retrospective provides insight into the artist’s Jewish heritage and the pop culture era of Baseman’s youth — both of which were instrumental in nurturing his artistic voice.

Baseman in the living room, photo by Stephanie Chefas

In the room labeled the study, the journey becomes almost strictly personal. The family keepsakes and artwork on display unfold the narrative of his parents’ escape from the Nazi regime during World War II to their passage that eventually led them to the United States. Most notable is Baseman’s latest painting, Mythical Forest. Inspired by his father’s struggle as a freedom fighter in the forests of Poland, this haunting portrayal of life, mortality and the nature of good-versus-evil is filled with iconic Baseman characters and ancestral references.

Mythical Forest detail, photo by Stephanie Chefas

Mythical Forest, photo by Stephanie Chefas

As with most Baseman extravaganzas, his signature characters the cuddly Chouchous, Wild Girls, and the keeper of secrets, Toby, came to life, interacting with guests throughout the night and adding an extra dose of surrealist enchantment. In addition, Baseman performed with the indie rock group Nightmare and the Cat, creating a new painting live on stage. The evening ended with a mezuzah dedication where a massive crowd gathered with the artist in the doorway to witness this special ceremony and an ecstatic Baseman gushing with appreciation.

Baseman painting live on stage, photo by Stephanie Chefas

Overall, the retrospective is an impressive survey of the life and career of an artist who has broken barriers, blurred the lines between commercial and fine art, and followed his heart to stay true to his unique vision. Make it a point to visit the Skirball this summer while the show is on view through August 18 — after all, the door is always open. Take a look at our exclusive opening night photos from Stephanie Chefas and Hi Hi Caro below.

The work room, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The study, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The work room, photo by Stephanie Chefas

Photo by Stephanie Chefas

The living room, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The hallway, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The dining room, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The dining room, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The dining room, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The dining room, photo by Hi Hi Caro

The artist performing the mezuzah dedication, photo by Stephanie Chefas

Chouchou shrine detail, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The bedroom, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The bedroom, photo by Stephanie Chefas

The bedroom, photo by Hi Hi Caro

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