University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Marty Kalb

Artist Statement/About My Holocaust Series

The Holocaust Series confronts the viewer with some of the worst instances of torture, suffering, and the industrialization of murder by a modern government for the sole purpose of killing Jews and "undesirables.”

Genocide is not new. Genocide has been employed many times throughout history as an instrument for political, ethnic and religious domination.  For me as a Jew, the acts of the Nazis and their supporters are of particular concern.  However, it is my hope that the tragic moral and political messages in these works will connect with viewers whether or not they are Jews.  I harbor no illusions that artworks can change the social or political dynamics of a society.  Art does, however, bear witness to the moral, social and political challenges of an era.  My goal is to create through aesthetic means an increased intellectual and emotional awareness of the consequences of individual acts that have collectively contributed to genocide.

Creating the Holocaust Series involved numerous challenges and decisions with respect to the acquisition and selection of the images I used, and how I wanted to present them.  All of the works in the series are based on actual documents or original contemporary photographs.  I looked at a great number of journalistic photographs and films, and I have taken many photographs of Holocaust sites throughout Europe.  Each source image presents a unique story and a particular point of view.  The generally accepted purpose of photojournalism is to inform the reader/viewer about the nature of an incident.  There is an assumption of truthfulness in viewing a news photo, even though from its earliest uses photography was subject to the whims of the technician in the darkroom and the agenda of the photo editor.  Today of course, due to computer manipulation, the veracity of the visual image is even more challenged.  But not withstanding these doubts and questions, there is immediacy and energy conveyed in photojournalism.  In spite of our suspicions, I think most people still want to believe that journalistic photography presents facts truthfully.  Snapshot photos, which I define here as images taken primarily to record how a place looked and how objects related to it, serves a different function.  I made use of both sources.  I used original documents to make connections to specific acts at a specific time and place, and I used my personal photographs to show what I experienced as a profound contradiction between a Holocaust site’s present benign physical reality and its horrific past.

My personal artistic background is very hand and materials-oriented.  For me, there is something very unique and more emotional about sensing the human touch in creating a work of art.  It is for this reason that I make use of more traditional art media:  drawing and painting, while at the same time using current electronic and digital technologies in the research and craft of art making.

Usually the first part of the process of making these artworks involves drawing.  The drawing can be a finished work or it may be the basis for a painting or construction.  Some of the drawings are very detailed, others may be more abstract.  In the very realistic works, considerable attention is paid to the correctness of the anatomy and to other details that can be discerned from the original source.  This has at times proven to be an unexpected challenge since some of my sources are quite blurred.  The more abstract works in the Holocaust Series seek a different type of response from viewers than the realistic works.  I believe there are times when what is implied can have a far greater impact than what is stated in detail.  It is my view that sometimes too much factual information can isolate the aesthetic experience to considerations of technique or craft.  Virtuosity becomes the subject rather than the means for conveying meaning. I find that abstraction may also allow a viewer to access an emotional connection between the artworks factual content and the viewer's beliefs, biases and personal histories.

Post-Holocaust generations now confront troubling questions that directly challenge some of our most cherished beliefs.  The Holocaust called into question the faith that a belief system based on pre-Holocaust Western European philosophic values and the Judaic-Christian tradition is strong enough to withstand modern tyranny.  The Holocaust called into question the effectiveness of religious faith when it conflicts with political force.  The Holocaust called in to question the effectiveness of ritual and prayer as a means of dealing with the personal and social challenges of contemporary society.  The Holocaust raised fundamental doubts regarding the possibility of any moral and ethically just belief system being able to prevail against the threat of future state-sponsored terror.

The artwork that I have created in the Holocaust Series offers evidence that these questions exist. It offers no answers.

For more information:

Marty Kalb’s CV (PDF)

Marty Kalb is featured in the book Jewish-American Artists and the Holocaust by Matthew Baigell

The Holocaust Series: Gallery

Site created with permission of artist. Page updated 2012.