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Holocaust Art Exhibit is Altered, but Critics Vow to Launch Boycott

A proposed compromise on a controversial Holocaust art exhibit here is no compromise at all, critics of the exhibit say.

Some have blasted the “Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art” exhibit, slated to run from March 17-June 30 at the Jewish Museum, as offensive and insensitive to Holocaust survivors. As a result, representatives of the museum met last week with a group that included survivors.

The exhibit “focuses on 13 contemporary, internationally recognized artists who use imagery from the Nazi era to explore the nature of evil,” the museum’s director, Joan Rosenbaum, writes in the exhibit’s catalog.

A few days after that meeting, the museum announced that it would alter the exhibit by adding a disclaimer and an additional exit so that visitors could leave the exhibit before what are considered the most controversial of the pieces — “Giftgas Giftset,” by Tom Sachs, which features colorful poison gas canisters with Tiffany, Chanel and Prada logos, Zbigniew Libera’s “Lego Concentration Camp Set” and Alan Schechner’s “It’s the Real Thing: Self-Portrait at Buchenwald,” a self-portrait of the artist holding a Diet Coke superimposed over a photo of Buchenwald inmates.

The disclaimer will explain that some Holocaust survivors have “been disturbed by these works.”

The Buchenwald piece will carry an additional disclaimer.

The compromise appeared to placate some of the survivors who met with the museum officials, according to the Times.

But the museum’s actions aren’t appeasing everybody.

“The items in question are the moral equivalent of anthrax,” said Menachem Rosensaft, a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and the founder of the International Network of Children of Holocaust Survivors. “So long as they are displayed anywhere in the building, the Jewish Museum will be contaminated and should be off- limits to the entire community.”

Rosensaft, who told JTA that he had been invited to meet with Rosenbaum next week, said he would not back down from his threat to mobilize a boycott until several offending pieces are removed from the show.

Holocaust survivor groups have expressed support for the boycott, but most Jewish groups have remained relatively silent on the issue.

But it appears unlikely that the museum will remove the three pieces.

While acknowledging that some viewers may be upset by the works, Rosenbaum wrote in a statement that

“as an art museum that presents all of Jewish culture, we reaffirm our commitment to showing works of contemporary artists who have used images of the Nazi era to make a powerful and timely investigation of the nature of evil.”

Meanwhile, the principal of a Long Island yeshiva was already planning to take action.

Rabbi Zev Friedman and his students from the Rambam Mesivta were planning to hold a rally Thursday outside the museum to protest the exhibit.

Some of the students were planning to hold two-paneled signs at the protest. One panel contains the Buchenwald piece with the words, “The Jewish Museum says this should be on public display”; the other has a photo of Shechner superimposed over the collapsing World Trade Center buildings with the words, “Should this?”

The exhibit is “offensive and insensitive,” Friedman said, and responding to the argument that this is a free speech issue, added “not everything that can be said should be said.”

Friedman also said his students would be writing to corporate sponsors of the museum, asking them to withdraw their support until the exhibit is withdrawn.

Friedman’s students have long been engaged in Jewish activism, much of it focused on drawing attention to what they see as weak prosecution of alleged Nazi criminals.

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