Do I approve? NO. Do I care? HECK NO.
Saatchi makes space for a candy-coloured Himmler
CHARLES SAATCHI, the art collector, has risked the ire of Britain’s Jewish establishment by buying a painting of Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi who planned the Holocaust, to put on the walls of his new London gallery.
Saatchi, 64, has spent the past 15 years turning the art world on its head by fostering the careers of artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. He also outraged the traditional market by patronising artists who put genitalia on the faces of children and used elephant dung in a painting of the Virgin Mary.
News of his latest venture may upset members of his own faith - he was born an Iraqi Jew in Baghdad - and pose the question of whether he has gone too far.
The husband of Nigella Lawson, the television chef, paid £3,000 for the portrait of Himmler in London. It is likely to feature at a new gallery he is opening in Chelsea this spring.
Saatchi spent millions on the work of young British artists whose value then soared. Himmler obtained most of his art by stripping it from the walls of victims. One gallery has already refused to promote a show featuring the Himmler painting, saying it is “potentially offensive”.
Last week Saatchi refused to be drawn on whether he was breaking a new taboo, but praised the workmanship of the artist, Jasper Joffe, whose father is also Jewish.
The picture is devoid of Nazi regalia such as swastika armbands and the lightning-flash symbol of the Schutzstaffel (SS). Himmler wears a lime-green uniform but the silver bullion oakleaves insignia of his role as Reichsführer-SS are on its collars. There is no mistaking the face behind the round spectacles.
Saatchi said: “There’s no artist on earth other than Jasper Joffe who would have painted Himmler this way, using these brush strokes and candy colours. When Joffe hits it right he is really pretty good.”
Joffe, 32, produced the portrait and pictures of other Nazis in juxtaposition to paintings of scantily clad models also featured in his exhibition, called Beauty Show, at the V22 Gallery in Hackney, east London. He calls the concept “fashism”.
He said: “It’s meant as a satirical exaggeration of the idea of sexist male artists looking at women.”
He added: “I have always been interested in painting Nazis and trying to understand the Holocaust. I hate the way movies like Schindler’s List depict it, giving it a happy ending and throwing in a good Nazi. I paint Himmler in colour to give him life and presence and not just [to] show the standard sepia image.
“I am not a horrible revisionist. It’s not about making Nazis look good or disputing anything they did. In my paintings, they are real again, not just images or symbols of evil.”
The Whitechapel Gallery in east London has withdrawn its promotional support for the Beauty Show at V22, with which it coordinates late-night viewings. “We cannot risk alienating our audiences,” said a spokesman.
Saatchi’s latest purchase is already raising eyebrows. Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “Buying a picture of Himmler is a bit odd. But then this is shock art.”
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