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Kultur Clash

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It's springtime for Hitler -- in West Chelsea. People making the gallery rounds have been surprised to find two shows on West 22nd Street dealing in Nazi-themed art. And no one seems more taken aback by the coincidence than the artists themselves. It's as if, in trying to épater les bourgeois, they ended up a little épatés themselves.

"Across the street?" Peter MacGough says. "What are the odds?" David MacDermott and MacGough -- partners known as much for their Edwardian-Victorian getups as for their art -- have a show at Pat Hearn Gallery that includes large swastikas and portraits of Hitler with the names of homosexuals killed in the Holocaust written over them. At 303 Gallery are photographs -- many of German teenagers in SS garb -- by Collier Schorr.

The artists have met only once: "We lost our dachshund," MacGough says. "The girl who found it was Collier Schorr." So it wasn't until both shows opened on November 10 that the overlap came to their attention.

Clearly, the exhibits are tackling different subjects. MacDermott and MacGough are intrigued, in part, by Hitler as frustrated artist. Hokey landscapes are signed "Adolf Hitler." One canvas reads "1908" -- the year the future Führer was rejected from art school.

With the portraits, they seem to be commenting on Hitler's subsequent aesthetic career -- his masterly propaganda -- and subsuming him (as an almost cartoonlike villain) into their own kitschy kingdom. The effect is unsettling, though perhaps not in the way they intended. For her part, Schorr appears to be exploring the intersection of innocence and evil -- and the uneasy fascination that young Germans have with their past.

Artistic intentions aside, who's buying this stuff? "It's so interesting and so provocative, but most collectors don't want to live with a big swastika above the couch, you know?" says Chivas Clem, director of American Fine Arts, which is sponsoring the show.

If the artists don't see themselves in direct competition, they haven't exactly become Über-allies. Schorr declined to comment on the coincidence except to say, "We're saying very different things." But MacGough was pretty floored -- though not by the problem of evil in the modern world -- during his visit to 303. "I mean, look at the uniforms," he marveled.


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