A Lasting Disturbance

44 portraits hanging on the wall

Area on the Majdanek Trial in the permanent exhibition
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Alexander Zuckrow

Forty-four portraits have been mounted in the permanent exhibition over the last few weeks. They are a series of paintings by Minka Hauschild, called “Majdanek Trial Portraits,” and they show the participants of the Majdanek Trial, that took place at the regional court in Dusseldorf from 26 November 1975 until 30 June 1981. Standing in front of the wall of portraits, viewers are left to wonder: “Who is who, here?” The paintings themselves don’t reveal whether the subject was a former prisoner or an SS officer. Some portraits are realistic, but others seem distorted or blurred to the point of being unrecognizable. All of the people portrayed appear to have been damaged in some way. The portraits are deeply disturbing.

Our visitors can find out on iPads lying on the benches nearby whether a given painting depicts a judge, a lawyer for the defense, a witness, or a defendant. Each individual’s role in the Majdanek trial is described here and insight is provided into their biography as well as – where the sources permit – their own perception of the proceedings.  continue reading

The Whole Truth: a Continuing Discussion

There are people who visit the special exhibition “The Whole Truth” not once or twice but a few dozen times: museum guides, those of us who accompany visitors through the exhibition. This time, though, our job isn’t to introduce the exhibits and their deeper meaning but instead to elicit commentary from this very real and tangible general public – and to moderate any discussion that follows. After all, the questions on which the exhibition is based also came from visitors. The museum reflects them in a great number of objects that the curators sought out.

Five pillars with the inscriptions: "business savy?", "fond of animals?", "influential?", "intelligent?", "beautiful?"

Barometer for the question “Are Jews particularly …?” in the exhibition “The Whole Truth”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Linus Lintner

The exhibits are very various and consistently surprising; they strike a wide range of cadences as well. Most visitors are astounded and speechless at the chutzpah of some curatorial arrangements. But as soon as a group begins to move through the exhibition and to engage with its guide, the speechlessness transforms into eloquence.  continue reading

Art to Go

An old vending machine

This is what the vending machine looked like originally.
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Gelia Eisert

Usually a museum is a place where you can contemplate art from a safe distance. Today, with the mounting of our Art Vending Machine in our permanent exhibition, that will change: now you can put 4 euros in the coin slot, and own a piece of art from the museum!
If you’re imagining a high-tech machine that produces art, when you read the words “Art Vending Machine,” or something like a soda machine, where you can pick and choose from a selection, you’re on the wrong track. Our Art Vending Machine has a supply of small-scale artworks that were created by artists especially for it.

Since a device of this kind isn’t commercially available, I bid online for an old vending machine from the 1970s. I found one in a sports center in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany and had it transported to us from there.

Design of a white vending machine with the inscription "Art"

After its modification, the vending machine should look like this.
© Design: Hanno Dannenfeldt

Following the machine’s arrival, the graphic designer Hanno Dannenfeldt worked on a concept for reconfiguring it, since it’s meant to be not only a container for artworks tucked into all the little shelves, but itself part of the exhibition. The design, called “Hanging,” dresses the automat in a simple white coat of paint with an eye-catching black inscription. It’s strung up on the wall with pink slackline cables.

The next steps of this procedure raised some unusual questions for me as a museum employee:  continue reading