Ghost Story

While a new specter of evil lurks in a cave, the ghost of Hitler hovers over several current shows. Collier Schorr snaps sweet young German soldiers in the woods. Timothy Hutchings makes virtual visits to Russian and Polish buildings destroyed by war. Lawrence Gipe turns Nazi-vintage images of beauties into tacky paintings. Marsha Pels poses for a photo as Der Führer himself. And that's not all: A museum show about fascist-inspired imagery is in the works. What's going on? Don't expect answers from MacDermott & MacGough, time travelers who have long tackled taboo topics and period styles from odd angles. Their first show here in a decade—and their first foray into the 20th century—delves into the erotics of fascism and the persecution of homosexuals, and complicates matters. It's called "The Lust That Comes From Nothing."

With a nod to Komar & Melamid and some help from classically trained artists, they've created a striking wall's worth of copies of official Hitler portraits; the old German script scrawled across each pays homage to a homosexual killed by Nazis. It's perfect, and perfectly clear. But there's more: paintings of pink triangles, yellow stars, and other signifiers of lethal prejudice; canvases bearing cabalistic incantations, burgher furniture (with phantom swastikas), a Hitler-headed snake, and the stereotypical Jew. Three landscapes "by" Hitler are dated 1908, the year he failed to get into art school. In the middle, on an old table: vitrines of shattered glassware labeled "Kristallnacht 9 & 10 November 1938," as if a few smashed goblets might somehow suffice.

With an ambivalence that vacillates between obsession, incomprehension, horror, and naive glee (at perverse Third Reich masculinity and the theory that Hitler, the failed artist, was gay), MacDermott & MacGough pose a startling question: In the 21st century, will issues of innocence and evil once again override good and bad taste?

 
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