Last week, Christie’s auctioned off a well-known, but controversial 2001 sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan called “Him” for $17.2 million to an anonymous bidder, a record sale for Cattelan. The sculpture depicts Hitler kneeling with his hands clasped by his navel
Viewers are meant to approach the sculpture from behind, so that the figure might first appear to be anyone, possibly a schoolboy given his posture or a working man since he wears a peppered gray polyester suit. However, once viewers circle around to the front, they realize the man is not just anyone, but is, in fact, Hitler. His wax face gazes slightly upward and off into the distance. His mouth is curled down into a frown, making him appear to be in a state of repentance.
Loic Gouzer, the chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s who organized the auction, explained that Cattelan’s point here was to mock and make fun of those who blindly supported Hitler, or other authority figures like Mussolini (Cattelan is Italian), without question.
“It’s not a celebration of Hitler,” he said. “On the contrary it’s a very, very strong work that is meant to reflect on the idea, not that Hitler is on any corner of the street, but those roots can grow if the garden is not left unchecked.”
Following the sale, several Jewish collectors were offended by the piece. Janet Lehr from East Hampton called it “tasteless and despicable” in an interview with The Algemeiner.
“We can’t pretend that he’s not there and that he hasn’t affected everything even to this day,” said Gouzer of Hitler. “The capacity of evil can come from anywhere. Whatever monstrosities we can sweep under the rug. It hides where we don’t expect it.”
Cattelan could not be reached for comment.
Britta Lokting is the Forward’s culture fellow.