Dani Gal is of the generation of Israeli artists who, instead of creating their national myths, grew up with them, lived under their spell, and watched as the myths grew into monoliths meant to define a people’s sense of themselves. His work is infused with a discomfort over the causal inevitability between the Holocaust and his country’s reason for being. To him, history contains so many ironies and contradictions that it must be manipulated and falsified in order to serve personal and national ideologies. By deconstructing the processes by which this manipulation occurs, Gal seeks to restore some semblance of integrity to the past, to return it to the realm of the human and strip it of its propagandistic purposes. Incidentally or not, his work churns up hard questions about the project of Zionism and how it’s been sustained over the years.
His previous film, “Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”), commissioned for the 2011 Venice Biennale and shown at the New Museum in 2012, depicted the disposal of Adolf Eichmann’s cremated ashes off the coast of Israel in such a way as to blur the distinction, procedurally and emotionally, between the actions of the Israeli military police charged with carrying out this mission and the mechanized slaughter that occurred at Auschwitz.
His new installation “As from Afar,” on view at the Jewish Museum, concerns the surprising late-life friendship that blossomed between Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and Albert Speer, the man responsible for so much Nazi architecture. It consists of two parts, mounted in two rooms: first, a dimly lit scale model of the gates of the Mauthausen concentration camp, complete with watch towers, moody gaslights, and railroad tracks and, if you look closely, a film camera mounted on rollers that follows its own divergent track; then, in the second room, a video that purports to dramatize Wiesenthal and Speer’s friendship.

All of this is contextualized further by the presence in the film of Herr Kuck, the survivor and model-maker responsible for the creation of the display mounted in the front room. In the lingering first shot of the film, Herr Kuck gazes at the camera, his face half curled toward a smile, half slack with the exhaustion of age and sorrow. He stands in front of a green-grey backdrop that’s been lit to accentuate his melancholic dignity, reminding the viewer of the interviews in “Shoah” or Steven Spielberg’s Yad Vashem testimonies.
But Kuck doesn’t speak. He remains still, unmoving, unknowable except through the associations the viewer brings to experience of seeing an old Jewish man posed in just this way. But holding still seems difficult for him. His mouth twitches like he wants to laugh and is having trouble holding it in. Over this, a stately voice-over intones the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Consider this example: What is the difference between a memory image, an image that comes with an expectation, and say, an images that comes with a dream?”
Cut to Kuck’s studio. Speer and Wiesenthal stand over the model we saw in the other room discussing all the ways it distorts the truth and, crucially, the train tracks that they both claim didn’t exist. “I built it from memory,” Kuck says. “Americans. They want railway tracks. They say otherwise it won’t look like a concentration camp.”
“As from Afar” operates on the viewer through the gradual accretion of layers. On one level, contradictory ideas about the way history, memory and meaning intersect and dance around each other like old friends who don’t completely trust each other. On another, we witness how history and memory can be manipulated to convey a predetermined meaning.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/208616/nazi-hunter-meets-nazi-architect/?p=all#ixzz3IhVL01KA