Museum  January 18, 2022  Sheila Regan

Mauricio Lasansky's "Nazi Drawings" Return to Museums

© Lasansky Corporation.

Mauricio Lasansky, Triptych, 1963-71. The Nazi Drawings,Levitt Foundation.

A collection of drawings by Jewish Argentinian-American artist Mauricio Lasansky took the world by storm after their debut at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1967, followed by a tour of North America. The drawings depicted the Holocaust in all its brutal horror.

Now they are being shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) in an exhibition called Envisioning Evil: The Nazi Drawings by Mauricio Lasansky, which revisits the works fifty-five years after they were first shown to the world. The expressive drawings, with their furious pencil lines, blood red watercolor washes, layers of Bible texts and newspapers, and portrayal of Nazis as skeletal creatures seemingly released from hell, act as both an expression of the changing perception of the Holocaust that was occurring in the late 1960s, as well as a document to help us understand the forces of hate that continue today.

© LASANSKY CORPORATION.

Mauricio Lasansky, No. 29, 1965-66. The Nazi Drawings, Levitt Foundation.

Lasansky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Romania who had moved to Argentina to escape pogroms before he was born in 1914. He moved to the United States in 1943 for the first of five Guggenheim Fellowships, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen and starting the first Master of Fine Arts program for printmaking at the University of Iowa.

Lasansky was called the “nation’s most influential printmaker” by Time Magazine in 1966, and explored abstract expressionism early in his career before turning to portraiture, according to Rachel McGarry, associate curator at Mia.

Lasanky began creating these artworks in the wake of the internationally televised 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer who had been a major organizer of the Holocaust. The trial included the testimony of ninety survivors of concentration camps who, in their stories, gave faces and names to the atrocities that occurred in the Nazi’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”

“It’s a watershed moment,” McGarry says of Eichman’s trial, which led to his prosecution and then execution. “All of a sudden, everyone is shining a light on the injustice that happened sixteen years earlier.”

According to McGarry, the Eichmann trial was, in many ways, a similar world moment to the murder of George Floyd—who was killed in 2020 by police in Minneapolis, igniting protests all over the United States. “That was obviously a global reckoning, and that’s what the Eichmann trial was,” McGarry said.

“One of the things Lasansky is very much about is generalizing or universalizing hatred,” says Rabbi Barry Cytron, a retired visiting assistant professor and Jewish Champlain at Macalester College, who contributed to the catalog for the exhibition. “It’s not only Jews, it’s gays, it’s political hierarchy, it’s religious figures who stand in opposition, it’s Gypsies. That ought to be on our agenda today in lots of different ways. Xenophobia has a long history in the West.”

The Nazis in Lasansky’s drawings are depicted in helmets with protruding teeth. The Nazis are not presented as human but as demon-like creatures, in comparison to the children and other victims that populate these pieces, who survive the most harrowing acts of violence.

© Lasansky Corporation.

Mauricio Lasansky, No. 18, 1961-63. The Nazi Drawings, Levitt Foundation.

Meanwhile, Lasansky also includes images of religious figures. “He puts the Christian faith in his crosshairs and fires,” says Cytron.

After Lasanky created the initial body of thirty drawings, he made an additional three works that put the Holocaust in context of his present day reality. Those are included in Mia’s exhibition as well.

One piece depicts a KKK member with the German national anthem on his back. “He’s making the connection from the Holocaust to the racist white supremacist violence in Alabama,” McGarry said.

At the time, making that connection was controversial. The world had gone from not truly recognizing the true horrors of the Holocaust in the aftermath of World War II to a discourse in which comparing the Holocaust to anything was considered disrespectful. “There would have been, at that time, many people who would have been upset by this comparison to the American racists and white supremacists,” McGarry said.

When Lasansky’s work first premiered at the Whitney in the 1960s, the show was picketed, in part because people misunderstood the title of the show, The Nazi Drawings.

“People actually thought these were drawings by Nazis,” Cytron says. That’s one of the reasons Mia offers an addendum to that title, Envisioning Evil: The Nazi Drawings by Mauricio Lasansky, he explains. That addition not only offers context, but acts as a warning for visitors: it’s not an easy group of artworks to experience, but it elucidates an enduring message.

44.958427515857, -93.27415285

Envisioning Evil: The Nazi Drawings by Mauricio Lasansky
Start Date:
October 16, 2021
End Date:
June 26, 2022
Venue:
Minneapolis Institute of Art
About the Author

Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan is a freelance journalist and arts and dance critic based in Minneapolis. She regularly writes about dance for the Star Tribune, in addition to writing for local and regional publications such as City Pages, Minnesota Monthly, and the Southwest Journal. Her byline has appeared in Hyperallergic, ArtForum, Artnet News, Bomb, LitHub, High Country News, as well as the Washington Post and The Lily.

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