Torn Limbs, Hollow Stares Evoke War Horrors in Israel

"Children at their Desks" by Tadeusz Kandor. The piece is on view at the Israel Museum through Oct. 27. Photographer: Elie Posner/The Israel Museum via Bloomberg

Pale dummies of children on wooden school benches stare blankly into space. A brick sticking out of a rucksack filled with wires shares a glass tomb with what are meant to be amputated limbs.

This haunting juxtaposition of work by Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) and Tadeusz Kantor (1915-1990), two artists who used visual means and performance to deal with traumatic events of 20th-century history, is taking place for the first time at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

“For the first several decades after World War II, it was very difficult to come to terms with issues of the war and the Holocaust within Israel,” says museum director James Snyder. “In a way, we are seeing a maturation of attitude. It is extremely touching to see this exhibition come to pass.”

About 6 million European Jews were killed in the Holocaust during World War II in a Nazi campaign across Europe that included random executions, plunder and death camps. Both the German Beuys, who served as a radio operator in Nazi-occupied Poland, and the Pole Kantor, who was a professor of the arts during the German occupation of Poland, used performance as a medium to address the chaos of their time.

“Performance was a format in which artists could work to express notions of consciousness and conflict of consciousness,” Snyder says.

Beuys’s work influenced a generation of Israeli artists for whom his approach of relating to war in art had a profound impact. Despite this, “Beuys/Kantor: Remembering,” is the first exhibition of his work in Israel.

Glass Coffin

His “Palazzo Regale, 1985” with the rucksack and amputated limbs reflects the horror of postwar Germany while a nearby glass coffin encases a fur coat, two cymbals, an iron head and a conch shell, evoking the artist’s interest in shamanic mystical rituals.

Eva Beuys, the artist’s widow, wrote to Snyder that she was “proud and pleased that the exhibition was taking place,” adding “how meaningful it would be for Beuys himself,” the museum director says.

The exhibition features about 60 works on loan from public collections around the world and includes three-dimensional works, installations and drawings as well as films documenting each artist’s performance and theater pieces.

“Children at Their Desks, 1989,” an object from Kantor’s performance piece “The Dead Class,” depicts children as innocent and oblivious to events occurring around them.

“Beuys and Kantor are two of the most important figures in 20th-century European art, each offering provocative and deeply personal perspectives on the horrific events that shaped both their personal lives and world history,” Snyder says.

“Beuys/Kantor: Remembering” runs through Oct. 27 at the Israel Museum on Ruppin Blvd., Jerusalem. Information:

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on London dining.

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