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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » December 30, 2014
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Twisted Ideals
December 30, 2014   
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Two new exhibitions at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw look at the dark side of 20th-century ideologies and the consequences of a warped faith in progress.

The first exhibition, entitled Unsubscribe, documents a project by celebrated German artist Gregor Schneider, who bought the house in which Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once lived. Schneider made a painstaking inventory of the contents of the house, including furniture, books and gardening tools, and then had the house demolished. Rubble from the house is used in an unusual installation on show at the Zachęta.

Schneider, who like the Nazi propaganda mastermind was born in the German town of Rheydt, wanted to examine the figure of Goebbels as an embodiment of evil while at the same time taking a look at the ordinary German family in the context of fascism.

While Schneider’s objective was to destroy Goebbels’s former house piece by piece, he nevertheless wanted to make sure that it would not disappear completely from memory.

According to the exhibition organizers, Schneider’s decision to bring the rubble from Germany to Poland gives an extra dramatic touch to the project. “The result is more than the exhibition at the Zachęta gallery alone, but the entire process to which the artist subjected the building, treating it as a silent witness of history,” the organizers say.

Unsubscribe takes on special significance when seen together with the other exhibition at the Zachęta gallery, entitled Progress and Hygiene. This exhibition focuses on present-day modernism and its 20th-century background. The topics tackled in the exhibition include eugenics, social engineering and concepts such as a healthy society, “racial hygiene” and national identity. The new exhibition also explores the meaning of being different, along with issues such as exclusion. What all these have common is that in one way or another, they stem from people’s faith in progress.

The exhibition features work by over 20 Polish and foreign artists and comprises installations, videos, paintings and photography. The items are exhibited alongside historical materials, including those related to the concept of the Übermensch—a term used by the Nazis to describe their theory of a biologically superior Germanic master race—illustrated by Alexander Rodchenko’s photographs of parading athletes and stills from the film Olympia directed by Leni Riefenstahl.

The symbolic centerpiece of the exhibition is the “Glass Man,” a transparent anatomical human model whose prototype was built for the Hygiene Museum in Dresden, Germany, in 1927.

In the exhibition, racial divisions and experiments conducted on death camp prisoners are among the subjects explored by artists Luc Tuymans, Marianne Heske, Zuza Ziółkowska and Hadass Goldvicht. Topics such as selective breeding are explored by Nelly Agassi, Vadim Zakharov and Marek Cecuła.

Racism, social exclusion, ethnic conflicts and immigration are tackled by Ahlam Shibli, Anna Konik, Pablo Sigg and Yael Bartana.

The exhibition closes with items that expose the ties between contemporary global markets and those who have power and use violence. Artists such as Santiago Sierra, Joanna Rajkowska, Chiharu Shiota, Zbigniew Libera, Michael Najjar and Krystyna Piotrowska study practices such as modifications of the human body and trade in genetic material.

The exhibition demonstrates how enthusiastic faith in a new society based on racial, cultural and political identity has been accompanied by ideological oppression, marginalization and the use of force. It also shows that what starts as an innocent theory can turn into a dangerous tool in the hands of madmen and criminals.

Unsubscribe—until Feb. 1;
Progress and Hygiene—until Feb. 15
Zachęta National Gallery of Art; 3 Małachowskiego Sq.
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