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'Harry Houdini: Art and Magic'
at Skirball Cultural Center, West Los Angeles
Recommendation by Diane Calder

Continuing through September 4, 2011

Step into the world of Ehrich Weiss, the immigrant son of a rabbi who transformed himself into Harry Houdini, the legendary showman and escape artist extraordinaire who astonished audiences. See family photographs, travel diaries, newsreels, posters, original props and an authentic copy of Houdini’s water torture cell. Gain a better understanding of how Houdini promoted himself, arranging spectacular, well-advertised, free performances for hordes of people, many of them immigrants themselves who had escaped terrible conditions. Houdini showed up where newsmen would be present.

He also hired his own cameraman to record his super heroic, daring escapes: handcuffed, restrained by straitjackets or chains, buried in coffins, dangled above water. The show is peppered with responses from contemporary artists adding their own spin to the legend. A video by Allen Ruppersberg captures him in a straightjacket, reading from Houdini’s bio. Ikuo Nakamura works modern magic with a hologram. Tim Lee destabilizes your perspective with a book by Robert Smithson, held upside down. Petah Cohen’s sculpture, “Untitled, Trying to Fly,” reflects the dark side of Houdini’s life. There’s more, and it’s all pure magic.

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