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Graphic design speaks in 'Voices & Visions' at Skirball

The power of art to communicate is given an eloquent platform at the Skirball Cultural Center's 'Voices & Visions,' a celebration of Jewish work.

January 12, 2013|By Laura J. Nelson
  • Artist Arnold Schwartzman plays off Susan Sontag's words.
Artist Arnold Schwartzman plays off Susan Sontag's words. (Skirball Cultural Center…)

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Even a cardboard box company.

In 1950, the Container Corp. of America launched an advertising campaign called "Great Ideas of Western Man." The series, which ran for three decades, paired quotes from leaders in philosophy, science and politics with artwork from modern artists.

A new exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center uses the same technique but focuses on Jewish artists and phrases. "Voices & Visions" features 18 posters inspired by quotations from Jewish authors and scholars. The show is free to the public and runs through March 17. After Los Angeles, "Voices & Visions" will be on display at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.

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"It's rare to see work from so many of the world's best graphic designers in one room," artistic director Arnold Schwartzman said. The series is backed by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, a Boston nonprofit. Producing the exhibition took 18 months, including hashing out fair use for each quote and selecting the quotes, which was decided by a team of graduate students from three universities. The artwork was all commissioned.

The selection is not "very Jewish," said "Voices and Visions" director Madeleine Calabrese. Only one quote — "Man's life depends on the trees of the field" — comes from the Torah. Instead, the goal was to celebrate Jewish work and force viewers to see recognizable quotes in a different light.

"You see the quote, and then the image can be a little jarring," Calabrese said. "Then you go, 'Ah!' It's something new and fresh that makes you think differently."

The artists include Milton Glaser, creator of the I ♥ NY logo. Glaser illustrated a quote from Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo: "The heroic hours of life do not announce their presence by drum and trumpet." The show also includes the work of Art Paul, the first creative director of Playboy, who designed its famous logo.

Schwartzman designed one of the posters. Jointed wooden hands that spell out "Silence" in sign language frame a quote from writer Susan Sontag: "Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech."

laura.nelson@latimes.com

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