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This Week’s Top Picks: Berlin (Feb. 11-13, 2005)

By Daniel Mufson
Originally published in The Wall Street Journal Europe, 11-13 February 2005, p. P6.

To someone who’s never understood the fascination with the Red Army Faction (also called Baader Meinhof), whose pointless killings, robberies, bombings and kidnappings stopped only seven years ago, the controversial exhibition at the KW Institute for Conteporary Art provides an intriguing, multifaceted explanation. “On the Imagination of Terror” not only explores the outrage the group provoked, but it has also become a part of it. The museum lost its public funding for this show over charges that it would glorify the perpetrators and neglect the victims (one of the curators is the son of Gudrun Ensslin, a founder of the Red Army Faction). The show, however, makes clear that the group’s deeds were destructive and without benefit to anyone. 

It displays about 100 works by artists such as Sigmar Polke, Joseph Beuys, and Gerhard Richter. One, an installation by Hans-Peter Feldmann called “The Dead” (1998), has caused an uproar among those who believe that to hang photographs of the terrorists and their victims on the same walls is to render them as equals.

Mixing footage of the model Fabio with animation, Erin Cosgrove’s 2003 video “A Heart Lies Beneath” satirizes the way in which comfortable young Americans might romanticize life as a violent revolutionary. More incisive is Lutz Dammbeck’s “Nibelungen 1-3” (1986-88), a set of photomontages in which the faces of Red Army Faction members are grafted onto sculptural portraits by the Nazi artist Arno Breker, drawing a connection between heroic portrayals of Red Army Faction members and the Nazi valorization of brutality. Other artists consider the Red Army Faction’s story in light of more recent struggles against terrorism.

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