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” “How do you shoot the devil in the back?” asks the character played by Kevin Spacey in the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects. A similar question has plagued artists for centuries. If evil stops to pose for a portrait, what if you miss your shot, trivializing Hitler or turning Torquemada into a cartoon character?
For many, the 2002 exhibit Mirroring Evil at the Jewish Museum in New York missed the mark egregiously. Among its works commemorating the Holocaust were Chanel-, Hermès-, and Tiffany-branded poison-gas containers and a concentration-camp photograph into which the artist had inserted himself holding a Coke. Even for artists exploring the subject of the Holocaust thoughtfully, gorgeous brushwork or careful cross-hatching can so prettify the surface as to tie up evil in a neat bow.
All the more edifying, then, at the other end of the artistic spectrum, are Leonardo da Vinci’s portraits of ugly people—exquisitely drawn, but there’s no mistaking their individual hideousness.
Such thoughts came to mind on a recent visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau. Even articulating what it’s actually like to stand at the notorious train tracks leading to the entrance gates and all that lay beyond them is like trying to explain color to someone who has never seen. How could art possibly supply the want?”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"Political leaders from all French parties, including former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, joined Jews and non-Jews in Paris’s Place de la Republique to condemn antisemitic acts."
"Eighty years ago tonight, thousands of Americans gathered in New York to rally behind the Nazi Party and its ideals. An Oscar-nominated short documentary retrieves footage of the event, but leaves out the context that gives it meaning."
"The PM has persuaded the religious-Zionist Jewish Home to partner with the Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit. It makes cynical political sense for his interests, but what of Israel’s?"
"IFC’s series Documentary Now! began as an affectionately parodic tribute to the classics of nonfiction cinema. Its first episode, “Sandy Passage,” was a note-perfect evocation of the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens..."
"Making our choices count is, however, far from straightforward, and this is the subject of Martin Hägglund’s book This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom."
"Teens in the United States are coming of age at a time when digital technology is truly ubiquitous, where smartphones are all of our “constant companions.”"
"...the Smollett story, if the “trajectory” leads to evidence of fakery, would actually reveal something else modern America is about: victimhood chic."
"Cool in the humanities isn’t that different from cool in other areas of cultural life, like planking, hotdog-legs photography, mason jar rehabilitation, and novels whose main character is a city."
"It’s true that high-octane, hardworking child-rearing has some pointless excesses, and it doesn’t spark joy for parents. But done right, it works for kids..."
"Cape Town in South Africa is a foodie destination. Some people in its renowned restaurant industry are trying to spread the food wealth citywide."
"...for many “space expansionists,” escaping Earth is about much more than dodging the bullet of extinction: it’s about realizing astronomical amounts of value by exploiting the universe’s vast resources to create something resembling utopia. "
"After facing persecution in the former Soviet Union and a new wave of antisemitism in the United States, Marya Zilberberg decides to put her Jewishness on display."