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Kraków museum drops controversial gas chamber video art

PR dla Zagranicy
Nick Hodge 11.06.2015 16:51
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków (MOCAK) has removed a controversial work of video art that shows naked people playing tag in a gas chamber at the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków. Photo: wikimedia commons/R. SosinThe Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków. Photo: wikimedia commons/R. Sosin

Artur Żmijewski's 'Game of Tag' had been part of the exhibition 'Poland – Israel – Germany: The Experience of Auschwitz', which features works by 17 contemporary artists from the three countries.

Partners of the exhibition include the Israeli Embassy in Poland and the German Consulate in Kraków.

However, following protests by Jewish organisations including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Israeli Embassy distanced itself from supporting the artwork, and the museum has now removed Żmijewski's piece.

The artwork has prompted protests in the past – in 2011 it was removed from the major Berlin exhibition “Side by Side, Poland – Germany: A 1000 Years of Art and History,” following complaints from the city's Jewish community.

Nevertheless, in 2011, the American edition of Newsweek ranked Żmijewski as one of the ten most important artists in the world, saying that his harrowing videos “reveal life's brutal truths.”

MOCAK has written that the exhibition “poses a number of questions.

After the last witnesses have died, will Auschwitz become a dark and vacant pop-cultural motif, a pure provocation, a horror Disneyland? Or are such worries exaggerated? Will the second and third post- Auschwitz generations feel a responsibility to carry the memory of these events?” (nh)

Update: 12 June

Since the publication of Thursday's article, Radio Poland has received further clarification from MOCAK.

Director of the museum Maria Anna Potocka has stressed that she would like to assure that MOCAK, both by its approach and in its activities has been endeavouring to show the highest respect for the memory of the Holocaust.”

She stressed that “to read this film as an insult to the victims of the concentration camps we feel is to misinterpret it.”

Potocka reflected that the short film “shows people stripped bare of all defences, in an interior that represents the ultimate void.

“In a chilling semblance of a children’s game of tag, they pass the sinister [death] sentence on to one another.

“No matter how much they may try to run away, fate will catch up with each of them.”

For those keen to decide for themselves whether the film can be deemed an incisive work of art, the museum has provided a link on one of its monitors at the exhibition, via which the film can be found.

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