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date: 20 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Focusing on works by artists such as Rico Lebrun (1900–1964), George Segal (1924–2000), or Jerome Witkin (b. 1939), art critics and art historians have sometimes criticized too realistic art about the Holocaust for aestheticizing atrocity, presenting a gratuitous and repellent violence, and advancing a reductive and one-dimensional literalness. Similarly, curators have often preferred to show work that is abstracted or allusive, avoiding ‘morbidity, sentimentality, and overused visual stereotypes’ that have lost their power to shock. The guiding mandate for post-Holocaust artistic practice was laid down by Theodore Adorno's (1903–1969) interdiction of ‘poetry after Auschwitz’ (1981). Paradoxically, Adorno's refusal of aesthetics, which began as a refusal of art altogether, became the conventionalized, dominant aesthetic, or anti-aesthetic, although the negative and allusive Holocaust-related artwork that met this mandate took a wide variety of forms. More recently, however, younger artists have rebelled against this ethic of representation in provocative ways. This article explores the changing strategies of representation in the postwar era, moving from the modernist premise guided by Adorno's interdiction to the postmodernist rejection of that premise. The controversy surrounding the 2002 exhibition Mirroring Evil at the Jewish Museum in New York provides an exemplary case study that illuminates the continuing debate over visual representation of the Holocaust.

Keywords: Holocaust representation, Theodore Adorno, Mirroring Evil, Auschwitz, postwar era

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