- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

NEW YORK A much-heralded exhibit of quirky and incendiary Holocaust images opened to the media at the Jewish Museum yesterday, accompanied by endorsements from friends and sponsors who testified to the show's well-meaning intent.
The disclaimers come in the midst of a contentious debate over the exhibit that has split the city's Jewish community.
"Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art," a collection of Nazi imagery in contemporary art, has offended Holocaust survivors. The show, which opens Sunday, includes material such as a concentration camp model made from Legos by Zbigniew Libera of Poland; a pop-up death camp stamped with the fashion label "Prada;" designer gas canisters bearing the colors and logos of Hermes, Chanel and Tiffany & Co.; and a photo of emaciated inmates at the Buchenwald camp over which a picture of British artist Alan Schechner holding a Diet Coke can is superimposed.
It is not a matter of art speaking for itself. Printed notes and explanations dot the walls of the exhibit space, offering reasons for the works, which are described as "cautionary rather than memorial." The mission of the artist is depicted as an attempt "to explore the nature of evil," or "warning us about the fragile boundaries between propaganda and promotion, desire and destruction."
Some of the statements also say that Nazis in uniforms are "erotic materials."
New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose parents survived the Nazi-run death camps, has been angered by the exhibit. He met with museum officials earlier this month and managed to get some concessions such as posting warning signs, isolating the Buchenwald piece and creating a separate exit for offended visitors.
Mr. Hikind said that New York has the highest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the United States.
"These people went through hell on earth once, why cause them pain?" he said in an interview yesterday.
Silence dominated the mood at yesterday's opening, especially in the room containing six clay busts depicting Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi war criminal. Each bust was accompanied by comments from people who had actually seen him. "Eva C." wrote, "He looked like Peter Sellers but better."
The Mengele exhibit has acute significance for Menachem Z. Rosensaft, the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust survivors, which is protesting the art show. Mengele beat Mr. Rosensaft's mother and murdered his aunt.
Rudolph Herz, a 46-year-old German artist, defended the exhibit. "Modern art elevates emotions and coming together with the Holocaust makes emotions very high," he said. "But it's different when you see it, looking at the catalogue is not enough."
Some of the artists exhibited in the show are Jewish, such as U.S. citizen Tom Sachs, who is the creator of "Prada Death." He is reported to have explained his work by saying, "Fashion, like fascism, is about loss of identity."
An Israeli contributor, Roee Rosen, has created a first-person written account, accompanied by images of Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress. "You relish the sour smell of an old man's sweat contained within the manly uniforms," reads part of the text. The viewer is invited to imagine being in the Berlin bunker during the final days of the Third Reich.
The text has an explanation of what it all means.
"In the end it's not about Hitler and Eva Braun. It's about you and me."

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