Tamy Ben-Tor’s Exotica, the Rat, and the Liberal packs real juju. I’ve seen her perform this several times, and on a number of occasions people have said they were “totally insulted.” Mostly, they’re put off by the hilarious dingbat rapper who, in a ludicrous Long Island twang, repeatedly chants, “How can you deny the Holocaust?” after which she imitates Chinese people and African Americans talking about the Holocaust and then tells a joke about two Jews in the ghetto where one says to the other, “I see from your gold star you’re a Jew,” and the other says, “No, I’m the sheriff.”
Echoing Kim Levin’s infamous 1993 “boycott John Currin” condemnation, a well-known critic told me that she had been so “offended” and “disgusted” by Ben-Tor’s mocking Holocaust performance that she had reached her “walk out moment” (a great phrase). This person didn’t leave because she was seated in the center of the room. At the same performance, another viewer sighed, “Can’t we all just get over the Holocaust?”
The “insult” in Ben-Tor’s work stems from the fact that this artist doesn’t approach the Holocaust as a one-dimensional closed case. The Holocaust is alive in Ben-Tor’s raw, awkward, cutting work. It isn’t confined to a set of academic gestures or hackneyed responses. Unlike Shirin Neshat or Bill Viola, Ben-Tor isn’t just making literalist poetic representations of repression or slo-mo, New Age observations about “the nature of life.” She’s not just plucking violin strings. Ben-Tor is saying that millions of people do deny the Holocaust. She’s a hilarious, bloodthirsty fury issuing a fatwa of her own.