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An Appreciation of 'Gary Baseman: The Door is Always Open'

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There’s already been much written about Los Angeles artist Gary Baseman’s latest exhibition, The Door is Always Open, which opened at the Skirball with a house party on Thursday night. The show is the first major museum exhibition of Baseman’s life and work, featuring a selection of paintings, photo, textiles, toys, illustrations and videos that are presented in a setting that’s reminiscent of his family’s home in the Fairfax district. Maybe “re-created” is a better word since he’s brought in his family’s furniture and furnishings to make it a truly homey experience.

While not an art critic, this LAist writer can honestly say that Baseman’s exhibition was one of the most engaging pop art shows I’ve seen in quite a while. There’s something in the art of the illustrator, animator and toy designer that moved me, that appealed to my aesthetic sensibilities and made me laugh while tugging at an emotional core at the same time.

Think of my experience like this: It’s the same thing that happens when you hear a song that completely guts you the first time. You just know it when you hear it. And the same thing happened when walking through Baseman’s exhibition: I felt like a voyeur, visitor and right at home at the same time.

If you don’t like pop art, kitsch or found thrift store items, then you might as well stop reading now. Baseman’s work draws heavily draws from all of the above. Born in LA in 1960 to Polish-born Holocaust survivors, Baseman began his career as an illustrator in the 1980s and transitioned into fine art in 1999. His illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. He’s created paintings and sketches for the Emmy Award-winning animated Disney series Teacher’s Pet and his work is also seen every time you pick up the board game Cranium.

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Most of the works in the show immediately disarm the viewer with whimsical characters. The exhibition is broken into other rooms from his parents’ Fairfax house, from the “Dining Room” to the “Den,” the “Bedroom” and a truly out there “Backyard.” Like a home, you can sit on the furniture, relax and even play games in the Den.

The exhibition mixes Baseman's professional and personal life—from the use of family photos to paintings or other works that have a darker subtext lurking beneath the surface. This is is especially palpable in the “Study.” The artist said during Thursday's opening that the room is “dealing with a sense of memory.” Filled with photos and family keepsakes, the room guides visitors through atrocities of the Holocaust and the family's escape from the Nazis.

If you’ve never been to the Skirball Cultural Center (located off the 405 just north of the Getty Center), this is your excuse to go. The photo gallery above is just a small sampling of Baseman’s works. Go and experience the works in person. The exhibit just might move you, too.

The Door is Always Open closes on Aug. 18.