Following allegations of anti-Semitism from a prominent member of Berlin's Jewish community, the video depicting a group of nude individuals playing a game of tag in a gas chamber, has been censored. Artur Żmijewski's "Tag" is part of a major exhibition of works from Poland and Germany "Side by Side. Poland - Germany. 1000 years of Art and History" at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum
Artur Żmijewski, "Berek", courtesy of the Foksal Gallery Foundation
Following allegations of anti-Semitism from a prominent member of Berlin's Jewish community, the video depicting a group of nude individuals playing a game of tag in a gas chamber, has been censored
Artur Żmijewski's Tag is part of a major exhibition of works from the Side by Side. Poland - Germany. 1000 years of Art and History at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, which presents ten centuries of political and social links between the two nations through cultural artifacts and works of art.
On the 31st of October, German daily Die Tageszeitung reported that the piece was no longer part of the exhibition. Museum director Gereon Sievernich gave a statement on the removal to the dpa news agency: "Out of respect for the victims of concentration camps and their descendants the Royal Castle in Warsaw, our partners and the Martin-Gropius-Bau have decided not to show the piece in the museum".
The decision to remove the work was made jointly by the directors of the Martin-Gropius-Bau and the Royal Castle Museum in Warsaw, along with Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board, founded on the need for sensitivity with regard to Holocaust victims and their families.
According to the exhibition catalog, Zmijewski's Berek / Tag (1999) is "a remarkably significant voice in Polish contemporary art, which takes on the issues of the Holocaust during World War II" and it is meant to induce "a psychotherapeutic memory of the traumatic events to help overcome them". The shocking juxtaposition of play and murder are meant to call attention to the ease with which people, divested of every shred of dignity, were systematically killed - almost as if it were a game. These naked adults playing a carefree game appear silly until it is revealed that they are playing this game in an actual gas chamber that was used to kill concentration camp victims - the implications of the setting instantly shift the tone of the video and the effect it has on the viewer.
The deputy director of the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, Susanne Rockweiler, rejected the accusation of interference in artistic freedom and insisted that it was a gesture of respect towards those who had been offended. The curator of the exhibition, Polish art historian Anda Rottenberg, had not been informed of the removal, nor had the artist, according to a statement Rottenberg gave to the PAP Polish News Agency. She said that the censure would not be appealed, even though the work has been shown around the world, including the U.S. and Germany, and has never been the object of protest before.
Artur Żmijewski represented Poland at the 2005 Venice Biennale. In 2007 he was invited as participant to the documenta in Kassel. He was most recently named the curator of the 2012 Berlin Biennial of Contemporary Art. His works regularly inspire controversy for their ironic, blunt approach to highly sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, war, disability and intimacy.
Source: PAP, Die Tageszeitung
See more on Side by Side. Poland - Germany. 1000 years of Art and History and Reviews of the exhibition in the German Press