Houdini: Art and Magic

A Skirball exhibit spotlights the master of the astound.

It isn't often that an individual's name becomes synonymous with the art form they practice. In fact, it is extremely rare, but then Harry Houdini was a truly rare superstar.

Consider how the magician still captures fancies today, then think of how audiences must have been completely enthralled during his performing heyday (that heyday, of course, included the aughts and teens of the last century). We're completely enthralled now, a century later.

The Skirball Cultural Center is celebrating the legend in Houdini: Art and Magic through Sunday, Sept. 4. Film clips and archival documents will be on display in the exhibit, in addition to artifacts once used by the illusionist. Do the words "Metamorphosis Trunk" set you dreaming? The trunk'll be on show, along with a straitjacket, handcuffs, and other mystifying props.

The institution has a concurrent exhibit running called Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age. The Golden Age includes the early part of the 20th century, so we can only imagine Houdini and the artists featured will have crossed paths, or even performed on the same bill, from time to time.

Time machine, take us back to such a show for a night.

(Houdini Straitjacket, c. 1915, canvas, leather, and copper. Collection of Arthur Moses, Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by Robert LaPrelle)

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