Cattelan’s Hitler Sculpture in Warsaw Deemed “Senseless Provocation”; Provokes Nonetheless

As part of his solo show at Warsaw’s Centre for Contemporary Art, semi-retired artist and provocateur Maurizio Cattelan installed his sculpture “Him” (2001, above), in which a boyish Adolf Hitler is seen praying on his knees, in the city’s former Jewish ghetto. Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich was consulted on the sensitive public art installation and approved of it, telling the Guardian that he “felt there could be educational value to it”; but other members of the Jewish community feel differently.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center referred to the installation of the Hitler statue — which is only visible from the back, while peering down a darkened and blocked-off alley through a hole in a wooden door, not unlike Marcel Duchamp’s “Étants donnés” — “a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazis’ Jewish victims.”

Efraim Zuroff, the director of the group’s Israel-based branch, added: “As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler’s only ‘prayer’ was that they be wiped off the face of the earth.”

“There is no intention from the side of the artist or the centrer to insult Jewish memory,” the Centre for Contemporary Art’s director Fabio Cavallucci told the Guardian. “It’s an artwork that tries to speak about the situation of hidden evil everywhere.”

Cattelan’s art often courts controversy. In 2011 he installed “L.O.V.E.” (2011), a giant marble sculpture of a hand with its middle finger extended, opposite Milan’s stock exchange; and “La Nona Ora” (1999), his sculpture of Pope John Paul II being struck by a meteorite, remains one of his most famous works. The Warsaw exhibition’s other outdoor work, a comparatively more grim untitled installation first created in 2004 of a small boy suspended from a flag pole (pictured below), has not caused a stir despite its suicide-evoking imagery.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image via Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski/Facebook.)