[Re]Telling: Holocaust Art and Contemporary Response

When I first saw Fritz Hirschberger’s paintings in art storage, I was struck with cognitive dissonance. In the time that I’ve worked for CHGS, I looked at Hirschberger’s paintings and read about the artist quite a bit, but only in print or online in CHGS’ digital collection.

This was my first encounter with a Hirschberger painting in its physicality. Five feet tall, painted in translucent layers of bright oils, there, before me, stretched a saturated orange and purple canvas filled with the a war horseman brandishing deadly weapons. Hirschberger chose the Fifth Horseman precisely because it could not be discerned through physical senses,* yet here in my first encounter seeing this piece in person, it was arresting precisely because of its physical nature.

Weeks later, the paintings were installed and ready as part of [Re]Telling, an exhibition of Holocaust art, narrative, and contemporary response, held in the Tychman Shapiro Gallery at the Sabes JCC. Yehudit Shendar, retired Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator of Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, gave remarks at the opening reception of [Re]Telling featuring seven paintings by survivor Fritz Hirschberger selected from the CHGS permanent collection.

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“[Re]Telling” participating artists and artwork by Robert O. Fisch
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Capturing Every Day Life in Conflict

We have grown accustomed to seeing photographs captured during conflict dehumanizing victims and fetishizing their suffering. Our Eye on Africa column has previously discussed the disproportionate ways in which the pain of non-western victims is consumed through the media, even though it does not educate us about the context leading to the suffering. Yet, other forms of war-photography capture something else: everyday life under conflict. Instead of focusing on the pain and suffering of victims, these photographs aim to highlight the continuity of life. They focus on the possibility of a future and the necessity to maintain a sense of self. Conflict and suffering can in fact be captured in ways that do not always freeze moments of agony and death in eternity.

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Graffiti in Aleppo, Syria

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Photographing Displaced Persons: Then and Now

In our post on the photography of Maxine Rude – on display in the Eiger-Zaidenweber Holocaust Resource Center at the Sabes JCC – we touched on issues involved in exhibiting these photographs, including that a photographer’s choices on how to present a subject (framing, selecting, and excluding subjects) may influence a viewer’s perception.

A curator also makes influential choices, deciding how and what to include in an exhibit, and what to exclude. In putting pieces of art or photography together, these works may take on new and unexpected meanings in a visitor’s mind that were never intended by artist or curator, but are a result of the exhibition nonetheless. Or, a curator may intentionally be drawing comparisons that were not in the original artist’s mind.

In presenting Maxine Rude’s work, we take note of her portrayal of children and families, asking questions of the viewer about their response to seeing these victims of World War II and the Holocaust.

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Curating an Exhibition about Displacement

CHGS Director Alejandro Baer has written about the analogies drawn between refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938 and the current global refugee crisis. The ease in which comparisons are made between those who fled World War II and those fleeing the atrocities committed by ISIS and other groups is made stronger by the widely circulated images of refugees we see on a near-daily basis.

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Displaced: The Semiotics of Identity

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Lucien Philipe Moretti, “Father’s Barber Shop,” c. 1973, on display in Wilson Library at UMN

Displaced: The Semiotics of Identity, is an ambitious exhibition of art and historical artifacts that explores diverse aspects of the displacement of people and things, and its many repercussions. On display at the Wilson Library at the University of Minnesota, this sprawling exhibit inhabits walls throughout the first and the fourth floor, as well as having an online component. The exhibit’s theme is to explore the meaning made of a person’s or object’s identity in different spaces and times. The topic is in-and-of-itself huge, but the process whereby the show developed is why it is so ambitious: Displaced was curated by students.

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