“Jews! Countrymen! People!”
So rings out the appeal, by a dashing orator, for 3.3 million Jews to return to the land of their forebears—Poland.
The resurrection of Jewish life can herald a multicultural utopia where the Other is no more—and Poland is once again whole, declares the man, leader of the Jewish Renaissance Movement.
“Heal our wounds and you’ll heal us,” he implores. “…without you we will remain locked in the past…Return today and Poland will change. Europe will change. The world will change.”
The scene, shot in Warsaw’s abandoned National Stadium, is from Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), part one of Yael Bartana’s stirring three-part film and Europe will be stunned.
The piece (which ends tragically yet hopefully) has appeared at venues from Tel Aviv to Canada to Australia, including the Polish Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale and in Warsaw at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. Though part one was shown at the Jewish Museum, the entire work hasn’t been screened in New York until now.
Through May 4, the three parts are being projected simultaneously in three separate rooms at Petzel gallery’s new space on 18th Street.
Made in the format of World War II propaganda, Bartana’s Polish return fantasy is one of a number of recent works by Israel-born artists who relocate the Promised Land to Europe. All of them are mockumentaries, in one way or another, that harness the aura of Truthiness for their message on anti-Semitism and Zionism, past and present.
Bartana—who filmed the construction of a kibbutz-like structure in Warsaw for Wall and Tower, part two of the trilogy—brought her campaign into another reality when she turned the Jewish Renaissance Movement into a real entity, staging its first International Congress at the Berlin Biennale last year. At Petzel, you can pick up a poster for it—in Polish, Hebrew, or English.
Her story gets even “more real” tomorrow when a $40 million project almost two decades in the making, The Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, opens its doors in Warsaw, across from the famous Ghetto monument.
Designed by Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki, the building is a glass and concrete cube. A glass curtain with a gash represents the parting of the Red Sea, as well as the rupture caused by the Holocaust.
Its goal is to direct the conversation about Poland’s Jews away from the death camps—the country’s biggest tourist destination—and toward life in the millennium before the Holocaust. As Allison Hoffman reports in Tablet, this would help reverse the “falsification of history” at home (to use the words of Poland’s Consul General in New York), and to inspire cultural tourism from abroad—to use the words of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the American folklorist who designed the main exhibit, to tap into the “Bilbao Effect.”
“It will be the Polish capital’s newest, and by far its most sophisticated, attraction—a statement that Warsaw has arrived on the European, and perhaps the world, stage,” Hoffman writes. “…For Poles, the museum opening will be a celebration of Poland’s commitment to reviving Jewish life—and, officials hope, of its successful re-entry into the grand narrative of the West.” Sound familiar?
For now there’s not much to see in the museum, except a replica of a roof from an 18th-century wooden synagogue in Gwozdziec (now in Ukraine), known as the Jewish Sistine ceiling. The main exhibit, composed (like its Moscow counterpart) almost entirely of interactive displays, won’t be finished until early next year. Afterward, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett will pass the reins to the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
Articles previewing the museum describe the challenges organizers face in striking a balance of celebration and elegy, and particularly in chronicling the role of Jews in the postwar era, through the Cold War, Solidarity, and beyond.
Maybe some art projects can help. You don’t have to go all the way to the in-your-face relational esthetics of the “Jew in a Box,” the Jewish Museum Berlin’s recent exhibit providing real-life Jews to answer people’s questions, to find work that channels some of the complexities of bringing Jewish life back to Europe.
How about bringing Bruno Schulz back to his homeland by collaborating with Yad Vashem to exhibit murals that the Polish-Jewish writer was forced to paint in a Nazi officer’s house in Ukraine—works that were moved under conflicted circumstances to Israel. Call them the Jewish Guernica.
Or, the museum could collaborate with proponents of the (nonfictional) Jewish Renaissance that’s unfolding in Poland.
Or, how about this for an exhibit: “And Europe Will Be Stunned.”