NEW YORK An upcoming Nazi art exhibit here has sparked anger, but few New Yorkers are expecting a repeat of the furor over cultural decency stirred up by former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The city’s new mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, is not only opposed to “censorship of any kind,” but one of his first public acts was to dissolve the “decency commission” set up by Mr. Giuliani during a withering nationwide fight with the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
This time the offending institution is the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which occupies a respected position in the city’s cultural spectrum. Its exhibit, “Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art,” is scheduled to run from March 17 through June 30.
The exhibit includes 13 artists from eight countries who, according to the museum, “make new and daring use of imagery taken from the Nazi era.”
It’s the daring part that has set off the brouhaha: “designer” poison-gas canisters, a Lego concentration camp set, toylike Hitler cats, attractive busts of Nazi camp doctor Josef Mengele and a digitally altered photo of an artist holding a Diet Coke amidst Buchenwald inmates.
“If you don’t like what they’re exhibiting, don’t go and see it, and that’s what is going to be my strategy,” said Mr. Bloomberg, adding that he had no plans to view the Nazi art.
Over the weekend, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors passed a resolution calling for the museum to cancel the exhibit. If the museum refuses, the group promises a boycott by Holocaust survivor groups.
This action echoed a similar threat delivered a few days earlier by Menachem Rosenhaft, an official of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, who asked that schools, synagogues and civic groups stay away. He described the coming show as “morally repugnant.”
Jewish Museum Director Joan Rosenbaum defends the show, saying the artists ask,”How do we guard against the notion that the Holocaust is something that happened just back then and doesn’t have relevance to our lives today.”
But the city’s Jewish community is not amused.
Jason Maoz, senior editor of the Jewish Press, said yesterday that the show “is a trivialization of what should be a serious topic and its a reflection on how museums the Jewish Museum included really follow the lead of the artistic and cultural politically correct crowd we have today.”
He recalled the controversy at the Brooklyn museum in 1999 when Mr. Giuliani tried to withhold city funding from the institution in response to the “Sensation” exhibit, which included a dung-splattered painting of the Virgin Mary.
“The politically correct protected groups would never dream of allowing anything offensive against feminists or gays, but Roman Catholics and Jews are fair game,” Mr. Maoz added.
Not just Jews are protesting against the Nazi art show. Bill Donohoe, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, applauded Mr. Rosenhaft’s boycott recommendation.
“This is the kind of expression we might expect from some tongue-pierced adolescent hell-bent on a Columbine-styled rampage,” Mr. Donohoe said, urging Catholics to join the boycott.
Jewish Museum Curator Norman L. Kleeblatt seems to court controversy. He organized “Too Jewish: Challenging Traditional Identities” that featured hand towels monogrammed with the word “Jew” and displays of stereotypical Semitic noses. He referred to another exhibit on the Dreyfus Affair as “Anti-Semitica.”
The Web site “Insider NYC” says of the Jewish Museum: “The first thing to realize about the Jewish Museum is that it is not a Holocaust Museum. There is only one small section of the permanent exhibition devoted to the Holocaust.”
The size of the Holocaust exhibit “reflects the small proportion of this period of time to the entire history of Judaism,” the site says.