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May 11, 2016 9:00 am

Jewish Artists, Collectors Outraged Over Auction, Sale of Hitler Statue to Anonymous Bidder for $17 Million

avatar by Lea Speyer

"Him" sold for $17.2 million to an anonymous buyer. Photo: Christie's.

“Him” sold for $17.2 million to an anonymous buyer. Photo: Christie’s.

Jewish artists and collectors are in an uproar over a statue of Adolf Hitler that sold at auction on Sunday for $17.2 million and was bought by an anonymous bidder, leading to much speculation in the art world about the buyer’s identity. 

Janet Lehr, an art collector from East Hampton, New York, told The Algemeiner that she found “Him” — the name given to the statue by its Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan — “tasteless and despicable.” The wax figure is a child-like kneeling Hitler and is one of three statues in a series depicting a praying Hitler.

“There is no reigning in or understanding an artist’s motif. Catalan already had his moment of fame and this was certainly an unnecessary gesture,” she said.

Ruth Vered, an art dealer and adviser with more than 40 years of experience, told The Algemeiner, “I have a big problem with exploiting images of Hitler and Nazis, because it trivializes what they did. I lost my whole family in the Holocaust, and using Hitler’s image is a terrible promotion. The saying ‘never again’ is not just a slogan, but a commitment.”

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Vered said that “Him” reminds her of “Andy Warhol’s paintings of [Chinese communist leader] Mao Zedong that sold for millions. Zedong killed millions of his own people and Warhol went and made money off of him. What is wrong with our society?”

“I think artists today are trying to outdo and shock each other. Since Vincent Van Gogh cut off his hear — and not for shock purposes, I might add — I’m unimpressed with those artists who try to one-up each other,” she added.

Christie’s auction house, which handled the sale of the statue, said in a press release that “Him” caused public outrage when exhibited in the past. In 2010, the mayor of Milan banned the reproduction of posters depicting “Him.” In 2012, the statue was on display at the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto.

"Him" on display in the Warsaw Ghetto. Photo: Maciej Szczepańczyk/ Wikimedia Commons.

“Him” on display in the Warsaw Ghetto. Photo: Maciej Szczepańczyk/ Wikimedia Commons.

“I wanted to destroy it myself. I changed my mind a thousand times, every day. Hitler is pure evil,” Cattelan said, according to Christie’s.

French artist Ron Agam slammed Christie’s and Cattelan for taking advantage of the Holocaust to make a profit. “We are living in a tasteless society where an art world of pervert dealers practicing sophisticated financial manipulations embracing spineless collectors think it’s fun and okay to participate in the apology of one of the worst symbols of all time,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

“Shame to Christie’s and to all of the idiots that have participated in this pathetic operation. This is total immorality and irresponsibility — talk about corporate governance! And Maurizio Cattelan, you are a f***ing imbecile that capitalizes on a horrible tragedy. Shame on you! Christie’s and Maurizio Cattelan made millions of dollars on capitalizing on the Holocaust in the most cynical and disgraceful way,” Agam said.

“Him” — part of the “Bound to Fail” auction series — was valued by Christie’s at $10-15 million prior to the auction. The statue was sold for considerably more than that to an anonymous bidder by telephone, leaving many wondering who it could be. According to Page Six of the New York Post, art world insiders believe François-Henri Pinault — owner of Christie’s and the husband of Hollywood actress Salma Hayek — is the purchaser.

Pinault is described as a major art collector who plans to open a museum in Paris to exhibit his collection. According to the report, “It is possible that Christie’s guaranteed the seller, a hedge fund manager David Ganek, a certain price, and that Pinault was actually bidding against himself to reach it.”

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