(photo credit: Avraham Eilat/ Pyramida)
Reproductions of six paintings by Adolf Hitler, created while he was an aspiring young artist, are included in an exhibition of art works currently on display at the Pyramida Center for Contemporary Art in Haifa.
The reproductions of Hitler's still-life paintings of flowers were copied from the Internet and reproduced on a series of canvases, each of which bears Hitler's signature.
The reproductions were created by two Israeli artists who had formerly collaborated on other art projects related to Hitler and the Holocaust. The artists are French-born Josyane Vanounou, and Dov Or-Ner, who himself survived the Holocaust as a child and whose parents died at Auschwitz.
The reproductions have provoked sharp criticism, feelings of anger, and other highly emotional reactions in the Israeli public since the exhibition opened last Saturday.
Critics included Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, who visited the exhibition on Monday. In a statement to the Israeli media, Yahav declared the inclusion of the works to be a distasteful act and an affront to the Jewish people's collective memory.
By contrast, the Education and Culture Ministry, which supports the Pyramida Center for Contemporary Art, has expressed its support of the gallery's right to exhibit whatever art works it saw fit.
"The ministry's policy is not to intervene in the artistic decisions of cultural producers," said Idit Amihai, director of the ministry's Museums and Visual Art department. "It pains me that the exhibition has caused sorrow to so many people, but one needs to take into consideration that one of the artists is himself a Holocaust survivor who carries a difficult burden of memory, and it is legitimate for him to express himself on the subject."
Over the past decade, works by both Jewish and non-Jewish artists who deal with the Holocaust in often provocative and seemingly irreverent ways, have been produced and displayed in widely-publicized exhibitions in Israel, Europe and North America. Both Or-Ner and Vanounou, however, told the Jerusalem Post their purpose was not to create provocation.
Or-Ner, who is currently working on another series of paintings, which he said included portraits of Hitler in a variety of pornographic situations that were "very extreme," told the Post the purpose of his work at the Haifa gallery was to show another aspect of Hitler's personality and biography - that of a failed, staunchly anti-Modernist artist.
"I myself have been through very difficult times, my parents were murdered in the Holocaust, and I have the moral right to approach this subject as I see fit," Or-Ner said.
"I would never consider removing the works from the exhibition," he added.
Exhibition curator Yaacov Chefetz told the Post that the very name of the exhibition, "An Issue of Disagreement," was predicated upon the notion that a curator could display works by artists with whom he did not necessarily agree, and who did not confirm to any one political, cultural or aesthetic consensus.
"At first I felt uneasy about exhibiting work by Hitler," Chefetz said. "But then I said to myself 'just a second, perhaps the very display of this stupid kitsch will serve to further underscore the monstrous nature of this person.'"
Chefetz also said he believed part of the anger and shock the works provoked stemmed from the inability to fathom the dissonance between the horrific nature of Hitler's acts and the banal, infantile quality of the paintings.
"These works fascinate me in the same way that I would be fascinated by a book about Hitler," he said.