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July 23, 2017


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James Grimmelmann

I think this -- particularly the last sentence -- runs together the legal and moral issues. What she did was wrong on both scores, but for different reasons, and her arguments about making up her own laws fail in very different ways. People damage remanants of the Holocaust all the time, in legally and morally permissible ways -- but these particular ones are legally protected, and her reasons for damaging them are morally deficient.

Deep State Special Legal Counsel

This is not art. This is theft of cultural property. In the US we have NAGPRA (Native American Graves Preservation) and various criminal antiquities statutes. Several years ago, I saw a yellow Start of David for sale at an antique store in Western Illinois. Had it been for sale for under fifty dollars, I would have purchased it and promptly donated it to the Holocaust Museum. It had a price tag of $350.00 so I promptly called the Anti-Defamation League...These sacred objects should not be appropriated for commercial or thinly veiled artistic purposes.


So the response to an artist who seeks to dramatize the subjectivity of legal norms is "no, you cannot come up with your own laws"? That seems nothing more than ipse dixit argumentation. I'm not sure I agree with the project, but I am hardly surprised that some would endorse it.

First, stealing a sign that warns visitors against stealing artifacts is a great touch. In and of itself, this move is hardly objectionable and is certainly not desecration or "serious criminality". It typifies an artist's objection to the very notion of "sacrosanct" and "beyond question".

Second, the artist's personal connection to the Holocaust informs her actions too. This gives it a context. Perhaps we should condemn stealing actual artifacts (not signs about them), but this was not about promoting hate or desecrating. The piece asks us to question about how we feel about how we memorialize beyond-awful events. She may have felt that turning everything into a museum deprives the event of its real humanity and locks it in a place where it does not belong. History should not be so chained. Perhaps a few tin pots, a metal screw, and some shards of glass belong in Israel?

On the other hand, maybe the artist was wrong. At this point, all I'm sure about is that ipse dixit argumentation won't persuade me. What is right or wrong about how we remember is not at all a simple affair and I'm glad when art gets us asking important questions.

Enrique Guerra Pujol

One man's artist is another man's criminal ...

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