Springtime for Hitler

The men we love to hate: a detail of Piotr Ulanski's The Nazis
photo: Adam Reich

This spring, the exploration of Third Reich imagery reaches critical mass. Triumph of the Will, the infamous 1934 film made by Hitler's favorite propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl, ends its month-long run in a Chelsea gallery this week. Jake and Dinos Chapman's Holocaust opus, titled Hell—which turned the tables on the old atrocities with a swastika-shaped concentration-camp centerpiece and huge photos of small sculpted Nazis tumbling into mass graves—is still fresh in our minds from P.S.1. So is MacDermott and MacGough's installation at PHAG, which—replete with pink triangles, swastikas, and other loaded symbols—used replicas of dandified Hitler portraits to memorialize gay victims of the Holocaust and link the lethal homophobia of the Third Reich to Nazi homoeroticism. And enough unnerving references to the Hitler years have cropped up in the work of other young artists lately to make one wonder what's provoking this.

Jewish Museum curator Norman Kleeblatt, who organized "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art," the already controversial exhibition opening March 17 at the Jewish Museum (1109 Fifth Avenue, 423-3200; also see Richard Goldstein's "Managing the Unmanageable," page 42), spotted the trend early. He observed that over the past half a dozen years, Nazi evil emerged as a shared iconography among artists who are a couple of generations removed from those awful times. His tightly focused show of recent works by 13 brave young artists from eight different countries—including Israel, Austria, Poland, and Germany—promises a serious exploration of this phenomenon. Himself the child of a family decimated by the Holocaust, he was also quick to notice that these artists were doing a disturbing about-face. As a catalog text notes, "They turned from what has become a standard focus on the often anonymous victims and instead stared directly at the perpetrators."

MacDermott and MacGough and the Chapman twins, along with David Levinthal and Art Spiegelman, are absent from the exhibition, which features newer and younger artists such as Alain Séchas, Mat Collishaw, Elke Krystufek, Tom Sachs, and Maciej Toporowicz, along with Scottish artist Christine Borland, whose sculpture-by-proxy invites us to imagine the face of Mengele, and Israeli artist Roee Rosen, who lures us into the mind of Eva Braun.

It also includes Polish artist Zbigniew Libera's LEGO Concentration Camp Set, which scandalized Poland a few years back, and Piotr Uklanski's The Nazis, an installation of 123 publicity photos of Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Fiennes, and other actors playing Nazi officers in films, which caused an even bigger scandal in Poland last year. Exhibited in Warsaw at the national gallery, The Nazis provoked one Polish actor—who, pictured in Nazi regalia, was part of Uklanski's piece—to don the costume of an 18th-century Polish patriot and, with TV crew in tow, to destroy the offending image of himself with his prop-room sword. Media madness ensued. Further fueled by the appearance of Maurizio Cattelan's sculpture of the pope (felled by a meteorite) in the next exhibition, members of Poland's parliament, casting anti-Semitic slurs, demanded the museum director's resignation.

Exploring moral ambiguities and role reversals, testing the limits of taste, irony, and representation, the works in the Jewish Museum exhibition raise tough questions about the porous borders between impersonation and collusion, critique and collaboration, oppression and repression, sensationalism and exorcism, and radical evil and radical innocence. Conceptual art that seems to make light of the modern century's heaviest subject raises complicated issues while shattering taboos. Says a museum spokesperson: "We're not doing this to create controversy. If we wanted to do an exhibition to get lines around the block we would just do another Chagall or Pissarro show."

Never mind the impeccable venue. Never mind the Jewish Museum's careful context supporting this show, which will include introductory videos, lectures, panel discussion, films, probing catalog essays, and screenings of films such as The Night Porter and The Damned. Never mind that books, plays, and comedians (from Charlie Chaplin to Roberto Benigni) have been making light of Nazi villains for decades. People who vie for tickets to The Producers reach for their metaphorical revolvers when visual art is involved—art they haven't even looked at. And so once again, with knee-jerk righteousness, those who should know better are attacking a curator, a museum, and an exhibition—sight unseen. Is it "the inexorable complexity of ethics" or our homegrown version of aesthetic intolerance and blind prejudice? If there's anything we ought to have learned from the Nazi experiment, which besmirched the whole notion of the utopian dream, it's that you'd better watch out before you attempt to purify a culture, especially a culture in which evil, the E-word, is the hottest subject around.

March 7-April 20
Roth Horowitz Gallery, 160a East 70th Street, 717-9067

This always surprising, process-oriented artist's first photographs in color were, as usual, made without a camera and involved abrasion, erosion, and a wide range of chemical reactions. (Aletti)


March 7-April 27
Sperone Westwater, 121 Greene Street, second floor, 431-3685

"Marble Floors," a group of photo works in which the Belgian artist used salami, mortadella, and other cold cuts to re-create baroque and Islamic floor patterns. Done before Cloaca, they exude hammy perfection. (Levin)

March 7-April 20
Bonni Benrubi Gallery, 52 East 76th Street, 517-3766

Devine, whose platinum prints are wonderfully rich and subtle, moves up to a larger size for his new landscape and still life images. (Aletti)

March 7-April 27
Robert Mann Gallery, 210 Eleventh Avenue, 989-7600

Continuing his investigation of the American West, Misrach shows color landscapes of the freakishly flooded Nevada desert, dunes reflected in the still water. (Aletti)

March 7-June 30
Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, 570-3600

Spring's rebels? The biggest Whitney Biennial since 1981, and hopefully the best, promises a whole bunch of new names, bold choices, and maverick works, not only throughout the museum but also in Central Park. (Levin)

March 8—April 13
Feigen Contemporary, 535 West 20th Street, 929-0500

Large Polaroids that isolate a deliberately unidentified body part, made by an artist who explores flesh and femininity with considerable wit. (Aletti)

March 13-May 17
Keith de Lellis, 47 East 68th Street, 327-1482

A quartet of shows about our town opens with this exhibition of Weegee photos from the '40s and '50s. The subjects range from Greenwich Village rent parties to Marilyn Monroe riding a circus elephant at Madison Square Garden; the style is fast, tough, and indelible. (Aletti)

March 14-May 21
MOMA, 11 West 53rd Street, 708-9400

Peopled by a race of cartoony, green-headed victims and oppressors, who enact issues of color, class, and gender, her first artist's book is featured in MOMA's latest "Projects" show. (Levin)

March 14-April 20
Susan Inglett, 100 Wooster Street, 343-0573

"Country Citiscapes," a series of color photogravures incorporating appropriated images of the Southwest and accompanied by Ruscha's text. (Aletti)

March 14-April 27
PaceWildenstein, 534 West 25th Street, 929-7000

Let's hope her latest life-size sculpture—exploring life, death, and rebirth—manages to be as sweetly rebellious, as vulnerable, and as excruciatingly mortal as her earlier figures, which pissed yellow beads, shit long-line turds, and climbed the walls. (Levin)

March 15-April 27
Staley Wise Gallery, 560 Broadway, 966-6223

Gotham then and now by a wide range of photographers, including Horst, Herbert Matter, Len Prince, and Berenice Abbott. (Aletti)

March 15-April 27
Howard Greenberg Gallery, 120 Wooster Street, 334-0010

A quartet of the city's most idiosyncratic and engaging photographers—Ted Croner, Leon Levinstein, Saul Leiter, and Sid Grossman—picture New York at mid century. (Aletti)

March 15-April 27
Gallery 292, 120 Wooster Street, 431-0292

Vintage photos of jazz musicians in the '50s by the photographer who most influenced Diane Arbus. (Aletti)

March 19-August 11
Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, 288-6400

This nicely timed exhibition includes photos and video loops of daily life in a country descending into chaos. They were made during the last years of Soviet rule and drawn from the archives of the Afghan Media Resource Center in Pakistan. (Aletti)

March 22-May 11
Bruce Silverstein Gallery, 504 West 22nd Street, 627-3930

A survey of Sonneman's signature diptych pieces, from late '60s black-and-white works to recent Polaroid pairings. (Aletti)

March 22-April 27
White Box, 525 West 26th Street, 714-2347

The photographer turns from the American landscape to global politics with photos taken at the tumultuous G8 protests in Genoa last year, accompanied by texts condensed from interviews with participants. (Aletti)

March 23-May 11
Yancey Richardson Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street, 646-230-9610

Photos of adolescents and aging male loners in the South by one of the region's best, if little-seen, chroniclers. (Aletti)

March 23-May 31
NY Center for Media Arts
45-12 Davis Street, Long Island City, 718-472-9414

A survey of contemporary video art that originated at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art comes to Queens, crammed with single-channel and installation works by 42 unflinching artists from here and abroad who probe the common culture and push all the right buttons. Patty Chang, John Pilson, Phyllis Baldino, Kristin Lucas, Justine Kurland, Alix Pearlstein, William Pope.L, and Kiki Seror are among them. (Levin)


March 28-May 11
Swiss Institute, 495 Broadway, third floor, 925-2035

In this unconventional three-way collaboration titled "Lowland Lullaby," Rondinone's stainless steel floor with embedded speakers does double duty: It amplifies the voice of John Giorno reading his poem "There Was a Bad Tree," and it functions as a platform for Fischer's drawings and sculpture. (Levin)

March 28-May 4
Julie Saul Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street, 627-2410

Photos of the reflections in mirrors and the narrow views through doors that have been appropriated from home furnishing catalogs and reproduced as if life-size. (Aletti)

March 29-May 4
Greene Naftali Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, eighth floor, 463-7770

Rossell's first installment of a project she calls "Ricas y Famosas" established her as the Tina Barney of Mexico's nouveaux riches; she returns to the scene of the kitsch with a series called "Third World Blondes." (Aletti)

March 30-May 4
Andrea Rosen Gallery, 525 West 24th Street, 627-6000

The artist's big, computer-generated images of anonymous corporate interiors are accompanied by sculptural work, including a plasma screen floor piece whose surface duplicates a floor. (Aletti)

April 4-May 11
Paul Rodgers/9W, 529 West 20th Street, ninth floor, 414-9810

Devlin, who showed her photos of antiseptic American death chambers here before Harald Szeeman chose them for the Venice Biennale, returns with another set of interior views, this time of what she calls the American "Pleasure Ground": discos, spas, beauty salons, sex clubs. (Aletti)

April 5-May 11
Robert Miller Gallery, 524 West 26th Street, 366-4774

Laughlin's most personal photos—his hauntingly surreal, "metaphysical" pictures from the '40s—are nearly all accompanied by his interpretive and opinionated descriptive texts. (Aletti)

April 5-May 4
David Zwirner, 43 Greene Street, 966-9074

The second solo show here of this German painter's vintage Eastern-bloc imagery, which is so over-the-top suave and hyper-stylized that it flips into a new kind of awkward innuendo and neo-existential rawness. (Levin)

April 6-May 6
Anton Kern Gallery, 532 West 20th Street, 367-9663

Italian-born and Berlin- and L.A.-based, Bonvicini rebels against architecture as a constructed social space while commenting with disarming crudity on gender and vulnerability. (Levin)

April 6-May 4
Max Protetch, 511 West 22nd Street, 633-6999

She won the 2000 Hugo Boss award, trumping several better known contenders. Now this smart Slovenian artist, whose wayward architectural sculpture is inspired by shantytown ingenu-ity, has her first New York gallery solo. (Levin)

April 11-May 11
Lehmann Maupin, 39 Greene Street, 965-0753

A video artist who has gotten under our skin by projecting psychotic poltergeists onto rag dolls, eyeballs, and skulls takes a brave step: He simply shows drawings. (Levin)

April 12-May 25
Klotz/Sirmon Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, 741-4764

A show of vintage prints from the photo archives of The New York Times, mounted to coincide with the paper's 150th anniversary. (Aletti)

April 16-May 18
Derek Eller, 526-30 West 25th Street, 206-6411

"The Road to Hell Less Traveled," new work making use of horror-film imagery, heavy metal music, and scary trees, plus a ghost story read aloud on April 20. "In short," says the idiosyncratic artist, "it's a clean exhibition about messy situations." (Levin)

April 18-June 8
Laurence Miller Gallery, 20 West 57th Street, 397-3930

This reliably inventive, often groundbreaking photographer shows new composite images made from photos originally taken in the '60s. (Aletti)

April 19-June 1
Gorney Bravin + Lee, 534 West 26th Street, 352-8372

Large-scale color portraits of teenagers made on the street by a New York-born photographer too little seen in this city of late. (Aletti)

April 19-21
Austrian Cultural Forum, 11 East 52nd Street, 759-5165

The Austrian Cultural Forum boldly opens on April 18 with "A Long Night of Contemporary Music" and no show at all—the better to appreciate Austrian-born architect Raimund Abraham's striking new building. The first exhibition, an immersive hardcore electronica environment by Austrian artists Kurt Hentschläger and Ulf Langheinrich, a/k/a Granular Synthesis, opens the next day. (Levin)


April 26-May 26
Momenta Art, 72 Berry Street, Brooklyn, 718-218-8058

Deborah Kass, whose own work rubs up against Andy Warhol's ego, curates a show of other artists who've created alter egos. They range from Adrian Piper, Cindy Sherman, Michael Smith, and John Kelly to Delia Brown, Guy Richards Smit, Hiroshi Sunairi, and Nikki Lee. (Levin)

April 27-June 1
Postmasters, 459 West 19th Street, 727-3323

Video installations and photographs by the young Polish artist who represented Poland at the 1999 Venice Biennale with a controversial Bathhouse video installation that she made with hidden cameras, disguised as a man. (Levin)

April 28-September 2
Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, 423-3200

This ambitious survey, organized by critic Max Kozloff, gathers 20th-century images of New York by a broad range of important photographers, many of them Jewish. With a focus on street work, the show highlights Arbus, Levitt, Hine, Model, Stieglitz, Strand, and William Klein. (Aletti)

May 1-June 10
Janet Borden, 560 Broadway, 431-0166

Barney brings her sharp eye for style and class to England; this series of big new color photos is the welcome result. (Aletti)

May 1-June 15
Paul Morris Gallery, 465 West 23rd Street, 727-2752

The photographer, famous for his super-iconic work with scale-model cowboys, Nazis, Barbies, and bondage babes, has turned to eroticized and customized female figures in G-strings and high heels for this recent series, making its U.S. debut here. (Aletti)

May 2-June 29
Robert Mann Gallery, 210 Eleventh Avenue, 989-7600

This French artist makes photographs of the interiors of abandoned buildings that he's transformed through paint into cartographical trompe l'oeil pieces. Viewed from a certain perspective, each space appears to be superimposed with a large contour map. (Aletti)

May 7-July 13
Grey Art Gallery, NYU, 100 Washington Square East, 998-6780

In what promises to be a smartly provocative juxtaposition, this show combines Lewis Hine's great muckraking images of child laborers with contemporaneous turn-of-the-century work by members of the Photo Secession, which shows children of privilege in an idealized light. (Aletti)

May 8-31
Deitch Projects, 18 Wooster Street, 343-7300

Sweetness, a film by this hot performance group, plus live performances on May 9, 10, and 11. (Levin)

May 9-June 29
Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Inc., 524 West 19th Street, 807-9494

Two entirely new three-screen projections, excerpted from the Finnish film- and video-maker's new feature-length The Present. Her current Helsinki retrospective goes to London's Tate Modern in June. (Levin)

May 9-June 15
Ricco/Maresca Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, 627-4819

This show of big color photos that further Carucci's probing investigation of intimacy, both with her immediate family and her own body, celebrates the publication of the artist's first book, Closer. (Aletti)

May 9-June 22
Julie Saul Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street, 627-2410

An installation about the vicissitudes of housework that involves photos of eroded soap bars and used work gloves. (Aletti)

May 16-July 27
Bruce Silverstein Gallery, 504 West 22nd Street, 627-3930

This former Photo Leaguer shows studies of suburban Connecticut in black and white. (Aletti)

May 17-July 7
New Museum of Contemporary Art, 583 Broadway, 219-1222

"Live Forever," a user-friendly environment with karaoke capsules by this renegade feminist from Korea, whose work went wild after her "Projects" installation at MOMA—which included sequined dead fish—was more than staff nostrils could bear. (Levin)

May 17-June 29
Yancey Richardson Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street, 646-230-9610

Nude torsos, both male and female, by a photographer who suffuses his monochromes with menace and mystery. (Aletti)

May 31-July 6
Feigen Contemporary, 535 West 20th Street, 929-0500

Photos, primarily of super-vixens, made from the '50s to the '80s by the director known for his kitsch fantasias and soft-porn spectacles. (Aletti)

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