Art Focuses on Similarities of Easter, Passover

Times Staff Writer

Displaying interfaith cooperation and artistic exploration of the Easter and Passover seasons, an exhibit of painting and sculpture opened this week at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Titled "Passion/Passover: Artists of Faith Interpret Their Holy Days," the show features faith-inspired contemporary works by 14 Christian and Jewish artists from Southern California. The exhibit will be on display through May 1.

This year, Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, falls on March 27, and Passover, marking the exodus of Israelites from Egypt, starts the night of April 23.

"I thank God our father that the city of Los Angeles continues to be graced by close and affectionate bonds of friendship between the Jewish and Catholic communities," said Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles and host of the show.

"This exhibit is one visible symbol of this friendship," he added.

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, stressed the importance of the exhibit in the maturing relationship between the two communities.

"May the exhibit remind us of our sacred mandate to live and work together in this City of Angels. May the works of art help us to appreciate the unique artistry of our lives as Catholics, as Jews, as children of God," said Diamond, who has attended so many interfaith activities at the cathedral that he refers to it as his "second synagogue."

Befitting the occasion, the group used the Jerusalem Fountain as a backdrop to announce the show's opening. The limestone-backed waterfall on the north side of the cathedral's outdoor plaza was a gift from the Jewish community.

Twenty-three artworks -- paintings, sculptures, photography and one 3-D installation with a viewing bench -- are displayed in chapels throughout the cathedral as part of the exhibit. They cover a wide range of Passion and Passover themes.

"For people who are serious about Lent, who do reflective time, who are of a more contemporary mind-set, this is an opportunity for perspectives to be shifted in a good way," said art historian Gordon Fuglie, director of the Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University, who wrote a commentary for the exhibit brochure. "There are opportunities for meditation in these chapels."

In Laurie Gross' "Miriam and the Women," the artist uses folded and twisted linen bands of cloth to form the figure of Miriam, the older sister of Moses. The prayer shawl represents the connection to Jews and their traditions.

Deborah Lefkowitz's photographic series "Waiting for Elijah," in cobalt blue, features an empty chair -- reserved for Elijah, who is traditionally welcomed to all Passover Seder tables.

In Michael Dvortcsak's "Transfigure," in oil, Christ is shown on a giant canvas, rising out of a burial cloth.

Lalo Garcia portrayed Mary holding the body of her son in his partly abstract painting "La Pieta." In her, one sees "the pain, desperation and sadness that only a mother can experience," he said.

Michael Tang, a Catholic priest, took photographs of the crucifix at St. Timothy's Church in West Los Angeles from different perspectives for his piece titled "Agnus Dei," (Lamb of God). He then laid out the photos of diverse scales in a horizontal sequence, cut up and rearranged them into a panorama of images of Christ's suffering.

"Jesus died on or near the feast of Passover and, because his death was seen as a sacrifice, among the titles given him by the early Christians was Lamb of God," said Tang, chairman of the department of art and art history at Loyola Marymount. "As both Passover and the Last Supper memorialize a sacrificial death that brought new life to God's people, the title 'Agnus Dei,' Lamb of God, bridges both the Old and New testaments and connotes Christ as the one who would save humankind from sin."

Ruth Weisberg is exhibiting three drawings -- "The Parting of the Red Sea," "Egypt" and "Jerusalem" -- that place contemporary people in biblical settings. Her goal, she said, was to show that the past and present combine in the Passover Seder.

"If you look carefully [at "The Parting of the Red Sea"], you will see a certain timeless quality to people," said Weisberg, dean of the School of Fine Arts at USC.

"They're contemporary people I know. But at the same time, they could be from thousands of years ago. That's what you feel." She said the people in her drawings are from her synagogue, Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.

In his "Drawing With Crucifixes and Letters," Jim Morphesis uses oil, charcoal, graphite, wood, gold leaf and paper collage on paper to deal with time and atonement.

The double crucifix imagery is an homage to Diego Velazquez, the 17th century Spanish painter, he said. Gold leaf and wood connect the work to the Byzantine icons that are part of his Greek Orthodox heritage.

"The questioning of whether you can deal with the crucifix in contemporary art was so difficult [that] the dialogue in my head resulted in a double image," he said.

The idea for the exhibit came last year as the cathedral's Arts and Furnishings Committee discussed how religious differences divided the world and how artists might encourage interfaith peace. "Why not talk about similarities rather than differences? What better place to start this process than at the cathedral?" asked its chairwoman, Gayle Garner Roski, who also serves on the city's Cultural Affairs Commission.

Tang recalled a show at Loyola Marymount in which he and Weisberg had participated 15 years ago. The theme of that exhibit was the commonality of the two faiths. Tang suggested that they resurrect the idea, focus it on Easter and Passover and get more artists to participate. The exhibit "fits with the mission of the cathedral, which is being the house of prayer for all people," Tang said.

He and Weisberg came up with a list of Jewish and Christian artists they knew who were then invited to join the exhibit. A few of the artworks were done specially for the show, but most had been created before the invitation; some of those are on loan from private collections.

"Having the cathedral be the host venue for this important art exhibit fulfills one of the dreams, one of the mandates of the cathedral to be a place not only for worship and liturgy, but a place where culture, music and art are enhanced, supported and enjoyed by all," Cardinal Mahony said.

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The exhibit is open and free to the public during the cathedral's regular hours. For more information, call (213) 680-5200. The public is invited to a panel discussion by artists and art historians at 4 p.m. March 13 at the cathedral center. Reservations are required. Call (213) 680-5224.

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