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Culture

Religion, Death, Nudity

An exhibition at New York's Jewish Museum is causing a scandal. It's meant to inspire younger generations to think about the brutality of the concentration camps. But Holocaust survivors say the show is demeaning.

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A concentration camp made of LEGO

There seem to be only three subjects left that can still create an art scandal: nudity, death and religion. If artists are out to cause strong reactions or to provoke, they'll undoubtedly deal with any or all of these topics.

A new exhibition in New York features artworks that cover all three of these taboo bases. Manhattan's Jewish Museum is showing "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art".

The show features works by thirteen contemporary artists from eight countries. It presents the artists' impressions of the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime.

The museum says the show is thought-provoking, but some survivors of the Holocaust are outraged. They say the exhibition trivializes the horrors of the Holocaust.

Controversial artworks

Among the pieces that are causing strong reactions are sculptures of Joseph Mengele, the infamous concentration camp doctor who conducted medical experiments on inmates.

Other controversial works include Alan Schechner's "Self portrait in Buchenwald". Here, the artist super-imposed a picture of a can of Diet Coke onto a photo of starving prisoners at the Buchenwald death camp.

Polish artist Zbigniew Libera created concentration camps out of Lego building blocks that look like children's' toys.

Provoking and challenging

The director of the Jewish Museum, Joan Rosenbaum, says the works are deliberately provoking and challenging.

Rosenbaum explains that the works are a radical departure from previous art about the Holocaust, which has centered on tragic images of victims. "Instead, these artists dare to invite the viewer into the world of the perpetrators. The viewer, therefore, faces an unsettling moral dilemma: How is one to react to these menacing and indicting images, drawn from a history that can never be forgotten?"

"These artworks draw us into the past, leading us to question how we understand the appalling forces that produced the Holocaust. These works also keep us alert to the present, with its techniques of persuasion that are so easily taken for granted, its symbols of oppression that are too readily ignored," Rosenbaum writes in the exhibition catalogue.

Outraged protesters

During Sunday's opening, some 100 angry protesters demonstrated in front of the Jewish Museum. They shouted "Shame on you!" and held up banners reading "Relearn the Art of Being Jewish!" Some called the exhibition perverse, obscene "a desecration."

In Washington, the head of the International Network of Children of Holocaust Survivors lashed out at the exhibition. "It is a glorification of evil and as such it is simply unconscionable."

In an effort to defuse the situation, museum officials have now put some of the most criticized works in a separate room and have installed warning signs. That way people can exit before seeing possibly objectionable material.

But that move has done little to quell the outrage, especially among survivors of Nazi brutality.

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