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Named Cruel Site of the Day January 30, 1998.
The Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, Poland, has information about Zbigniew Libera on its web site. After entering the site, select the index of artists and scroll down to Zbigniew Libera's name. This information was good on February 24,2002.
WARNING! The above mentioned site has material that may be disturbing to some people.
PLEASE NOTE! Many people have written to me asking where they can buy these sets. As far as I know, Zbigniew Libera only made three copies of these sets. They were sold for $7,500.00 each in the mid-1990s. I do not know if they have since been offered for sale. If and when they are, I expect the price will be much higher.
UPDATE: January 2012. The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland, announced on its website that it has acquired Libera's concentration camp creations. The museum said it purchased the artwork on Dec. 30 from a Norwegian art collector for 55,000 euros, or approximately $71,800. The museum described the pieces as "one of the most important works of contemporary Polish art." Full article below.
The Jewish Museum in New York, NY, hads these sets as part of a display from March 17 to June 30, 2002. The exhibit was Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/ Recent Art.
This is an excerpt from an article in The Washington Post on February 24, 2002.
Art or Insult: A Dialogue Shaped by the Holocaust
By Alan Cooperman
Sunday, February 24, 2002; Page B02
A Lego box with a concentration camp built of toy bricks on its cover.
As the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Holocaust Survivors, Rosensaft asks: What can a Lego concentration camp mean, except that killing is child's play? What can one say about the Coke can picture except that it is a vulgar fabrication? Exhibiting them will be "a boon to skinheads," he says, because they "trivialize and demean the Holocaust and the sufferings of its victims."
Other works in the exhibit aim to put the viewer in the position of the victimizers rather than the victims. The "Lego Concentration Camp Set" by the Polish artist Zbigniew Libera, Berenbaum argues, "may be saying that the same type of creative construction that little boys do with Lego also took place at concentration camps." The point is that the camps did not just spring up. German companies submitted competitive bids, hired engineers and obtained zoning permits to build them. "I'm not sure I like it, but it sure raises an interesting question," Berenbaum says. "How much ingenuity, how much real thought, did it take to build the camps?" His broader point is that the works in "Mirroring Evil" may be difficult, provocative and open to interpretation, but each does have something serious to say.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Here are some pictures of the Konzentrationslager kits which has been discussed on the rec.toys.lego newsgroup.
LEGO-KZ1.JPG (16k) - Polish artist Zbigniew Libera holding one of his kits.
LEGO-KZ2.JPG (22k) - All seven kits.
LEGO-KZ3.JPG (40k) - Main compound (from Harpers July 1997).
LEGO-KZ4.JPG (60k) - Four skeletons behind the fence (from Harpers July 1997).
LEGO-KZ5.JPG (57k) - Shock treatment (from Harpers July 1997).
LEGO-KZ6.JPG (59k) - Guard and skeleton (from Harpers July 1997).
The caption for the photo in Harpers July 1997 issue reads:
From a series of LEGO sets designed by Polish artist Zbigniew Libera. Each box contains the blocks necessary to build the figures and structures on its lid. When Libera requested the LEGOs from the company's Warsaw representative, he planned to create sets for a prison and a hospital, but the project evolved into a concentration camp. According to a press release issued by the LEGO Group, "If the had described his ultimate project to us in advance, he naturally would not have received a single LEGO element from us!" The sets were on display in March at the Galleri Faurschou in Copenhagen.
The Los Angeles Times ran this article on May 19, 1997.
Los Angeles Times
Monday, May 19, 1997
A defiant Pole used Lego blocks to depict a Nazi death camp to show the gap between the ideal world marketed to children and reality. Works spark fight over free speech, Poland's sensitivity about its past.
By DEAN E. MURPHY, Times Staff Writer
COPENHAGEN--Polish artist Zbigniew Libera is passing up the opportunity of a lifetime for the sake of some Lego toys packed away in the storeroom of an art gallery here.
"I couldn't sleep the entire night after making up my mind," he said. "But I had to refuse. For me, the whole thing is very clear."
Libera was invited to participate in next month's Venice Biennale exposition in Italy, one of the world's premier arts events and a dream come true for any struggling artist. Countless collectors and about 2,500 journalists converged on the show in 1995.
But the invitation came with a Faustian hitch: The Legos must stay behind. Libera's newest, most contentious artwork depicts with childlike innocence the horrors of a concentration camp--all through the simple construction of plastic building blocks donated by the Denmark-based Lego Group, which was unaware of Libera's subject.
The curator of the Polish pavilion in Venice, sculptor Jan Stanislaw Wojciechowski, said the works are "explosive material" that treat too frivolously one of the darkest moments in European civilization. Ticking off his many objections, he said taking on the Holocaust with one of the world's most beloved playthings is out of line and perhaps even anti- Semitic.
"I was really afraid that a commotion surrounding this work would overshadow everything else in our exhibit," Wojciechowski said in his Warsaw office. "For Poles, it is a great symbol that the Germans placed concentration camps on our soil and, in this way, negatively marked Polish history. The concentration camp is also a great symbol for Jews around the world."
Libera, who spent a year in prison under communism for sketching unauthorized political cartoons, insists that the Lego creations are essential to his current collection. His recent artworks employ ordinary objects to mock mass culture's obsession with everything from large sex organs to trendy narcotic highs.
"This is censorship all over again," said the lanky, fair-haired artist. "I created this work to inspire discussion, not to suppress it."
The dispute is an intensely personal one for Libera, but it mirrors a larger struggle in Poland to reconcile old and new--for Poles to come to terms with the dark legacies of anti-Semitism and totalitarianism and also adapt responsibly to democracy and the free market.
The unhappy showdown has split the Polish art community and has raised emotional questions about art, history, business and freedom of expression in a country still tormented by its past and not yet secure about its present or future.
"The situation with Libera does not allow one to remain indifferent or unengaged," said Wojciech Krukowski, director of the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. "His decision is one of personal moral responsibility, but it also influences the broader public."
Libera created his piece by assembling Lego blocks into replicas of death camp facilities, photographing them and then using the photos to adorn authentic-looking Lego cardboard packages, complete with the disassembled pieces, the company logo and multi-language safety warnings. The images include crematories, gallows and doctors administering electric shocks to prisoners. In one scene, random Lego limbs are piled outside an Auschwitz-style barracks. In another, skeleton figures--taken from the popular Lego pirate series--haul bodies to be incinerated.
The display is so unsettling in its playful simplicity that the Lego Group, which sponsors Lego art contests and donates thousands of plastic pieces to artists around the world, tried to persuade Libera to withdraw it from public view. Only when lawyers became involved did the company give up.
"It is a theme that is so sensitive to so many people in so many countries," said Peter Ambeck-Madsen, Lego's director of public relations at the company headquarters in Billund, Denmark. "If we had known before what he was going to do, we never would have given him the bricks. But we talked about it and decided [that] to make a big thing about it now would only draw more attention."
Libera, 38, backed by his newfound patrons at the fashionable Galleri Faurschou here in the Danish capital, has stood his ground. The Lego collection, he said, is neither anti- Semitic nor irreverent, but a provocation about child rearing, social norms and the cultural cacophony that the free market has brought to formerly Communist Eastern Europe.
He acknowledges that Lego officials were left in the dark about his intentions, but he said company representatives in Poland rebuffed his early efforts to let them review sketches of his ideas. In a bid to avoid any possible legal entanglements, Libera said, he has sold the seven-piece concentration camp set--plus two copies of the works--to the Galleri Faurschou and an agent in Chicago for about $7,500 each.
"I understand that Lego must defend its good name, but this is not a product being offered in a store," said Libera, who lives so modestly he does not own a television, washing machine or car.
The Lego work is one in a series--titled "Correcting Devices"--meant to illustrate the gap between the ideal world marketed to children and the real one created by adults. Other pieces include Barbies with bulging tummies and unflattering thighs, and an infant doll with hairy legs and armpits.
"How long will it take our culture to create a child's desire for a concentration camp in miniature plastic form?" Poland-based art critic Nigel Warwick wrote in the magazine Flash Art after viewing the pieces. "Which cultural forces will erode the legitimacy and impact of such historical events on our contemporary mentality?"
As a Pole, Libera said, settling on the theme of a concentration camp came naturally.
"I remember when I was 9 years old and my class went on the obligatory trip to Auschwitz and we had to look at all those photographs," he said. "Somehow, because of our history, Poles are expected to speak about the Holocaust and what happened here. So I am speaking about it, but maybe not in the way some people would expect."
The respected Jewish Museum in New York City apparently is pleasantly surprised by his unorthodox approach to the painful subject. Later this month, the museum's acquisitions committee will consider buying one of the Lego sets for its permanent collection--a professional breakthrough for the mostly unknown Libera.
"It merges aspects of popular culture with a pivotal event in Jewish history," said Susan Chevlowe, the museum's assistant curator. "It is a potentially interesting work of contemporary art."
The nearly year-old Lego creation has been exhibited in Poland, Germany, Brazil and the United States, including a brief stopover in Los Angeles in December at the Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair. But it was the Danish debut in February that thrust Libera into the public eye and led to the showdown over the Venice exposition.
Lego is a revered institution here, as much a symbol of the gentle Danish temperament as children's storyteller Hans Christian Andersen and Copenhagen's cherished Little Mermaid. The Lego name comes from the Danish words "play well." The company employs more than 9,000 people. Last year, 1.2million visitors jammed its theme park in Billund, built with 45 million plastic blocks. Even the Copenhagen airport sets aside Lego play areas.
"It is understandable why it got an instant reaction here," said gallery co-owner Luise Faurschou, who last week packed up the exhibit for an upcoming show in Norway. "If you ask anyone about Lego, they will say it is pure goodness. We all love Lego. [Libera] shocks us--but also really makes us think--by combining the most horrible of our realities with the innocence of a child's play."
Danish art critics raved about the display. But Lego officials feared a public relations disaster. They fretted in particular over a statement on each of the imitation Lego packages explicitly linking Libera and Lego." This work of Zbigniew Libera has been sponsored by Lego System," it states.
Libera maintains that donated supplies amount to sponsorship, but the company says it never gave him the authority to use its name or logo as an implied endorsement. Ambeck-Madsen, the Lego executive, said the faux packaging is so realistic that a Jewish organization in Sweden threatened to organize a boycott of Lego because offended members believed the company had manufactured the boxes.
The brouhaha in Denmark did not sit well with Wojciechowski, the curator of the Poles' Venice pavilion. He said Libera's splashy Danish premiere raised unsettling questions about the artist's motivation in choosing Lego blocks.
Wojciechowski said he began to wonder if Libera had succumbed to the very commercial pressures that his art so brilliantly denounces. If so, he said, it would undermine the Polish pavilion's theme, which is to illustrate human enslavement to ideology and mass culture.
"I was afraid it was a game he was playing," Wojciechowski said. "Was he being hypercritical of mass culture or was it actually a love embrace, using a brand name--much like Benetton does--in such a shocking way as to make a commercial point?"
After weeks of fruitless debate, a despairing Libera withdrew from the Venice exhibit. "I accepted the decision with relief," Wojciechowski said.
Krukowski, the Warsaw museum director, said the impasse between curator and artist has left the Venice Biennale the clear loser. Just as in the case of the Lego company, he said, the Polish Ministry of Culture--which sponsors the Polish pavilion--will realize there is no benefit in stifling Libera's creativity.
"He is an exceptional artist," said Krukowski, who was first to exhibit the Lego creations. "It is through exceptional, atypical works like his that contemporary art develops and pushes into new areas." With the Biennale just weeks away, Libera says he is at peace with his decision to sit it out. He left prison in the early 1980s so traumatized that he stuttered for half a year and feared he was being stalked by demons. "We don't like these experiences," Libera said, "but maybe they are something an artist has to go through."
Copyright Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times ran this article on January 3, 2012.
January 3, 2012
Some controversial artworks never completely lose the taint of the taboo despite changing times and evolving tastes. When Polish artist Zbigniew Libera created a faux Lego concentration camp toy set in 1996, he drew widespread criticism from people who believed he was making light of the Holocaust. Since then, his death-camp toys have been shown in museums and galleries around the world, including New York's Jewish Museum in the 2002 exhibition "Mirroring Evil."
This week, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland, announced on its website that it has acquired Libera's concentration camp creations. The museum said it purchased the artwork on Dec. 30 from a Norwegian art collector for 55,000 euros, or approximately $71,800. The museum described the pieces as "one of the most important works of contemporary Polish art."
The work features Lego renderings of crematoria and barracks as well as scenes depicting skeletal prisoners being beaten by guards. A 1997 report in The Times stated that the creations were so disturbing that the Lego Group tried to persuade Libera to withdraw them from public view. (The company eventually backed down from its demands.)
"I understand that Lego must defend its good name, but this is not a product being offered in a store," Libera told The Times. The artwork caused additional controversy when Libera was invited to participate in the 1997 Venice Biennale, but was asked by Polish officials to not show the Lego pieces.
"This is censorship all over again," the artist told The Times. "I created this work to inspire discussion, not to suppress it."
Born in 1959, Libera is one of the most provocative Polish artists currently working. His other works include ironic and sometimes darkly humorous deconstructions of children's toys and mass-produced consumer goods.
Copyright Los Angeles Times
Comments from viewers of this page:
Thanks for putting up these images and the articles. I haven't been reading rec.toys.lego (I heard about the page from somewhere else), so I don't know what your opinions of these works are, but, uh, I find them intensely liberating and chilling at the same time. Anyway, thanks very much,
I found the pictures. The article is very enlightening. I just hope in the future, people will realize that we need to discuss what happened openly, and how we feel about it. Before too awfully long, the people who were once in Concentration camps, will be gone, and we will have to rely on the memories and books to depict the truth. I'm glad you put this on your website. I plan on letting all my friends know about it so they can come view it.
As you know the aunts, cousins, and sons who died at Auschwitz didn't have the opportunity to enter Legos contests, to see the horror of Barbie dolls (Klaus excepted), or to suppose that their future would be the painful mockery of innocent school children forced, oh so forced, to take a field trip to Auschwitz. Surely Libera should be free to say what he wants, just as long as they too have,--- equal time. Can you, can any of us, arrange it? So may I ask, what is your relationship with these children, with Libera and these long dead? What is ours? I ask, genuinely, because I want to know us both a little better.
Thank you for posting the informative articles on the Poland Lego "event". Absolutely fascinating information. It might just count toward your 15 minutes of fame! I don't know about cruel site of the month ... I've seen worse.
It's ironic that I just had a discussion with a friend about what "true art" should be. Regardless of the details of that conjecture, these works certainly define "real art" in my book. These are not contrived, esoteric images commonly found in any art gallery or studio. The medium employed is as unique as the subject matter expressed. The viewer is forced to react due to the juxtaposition of both image and medium. Regardless of taste, or opinions of the viewers, these pieces now exist. No amount of public outcry or censorship can erase this creation and it's effects. I'm happy to see that Mr. Libera's (this name sounds rather ironic) point has been taken and those who are concerned about its access to the public have acquiessed. please forgive the artist/snob -- critic/snob language of this submission. These are mereley the words that Libera evoked to describe my reaction to his pieces.
Interesting timing... I've just finished reading "Denying the Holocaust" - a book that repudiates the so-called revisionists who insist that the Holocaust was a hoax - so to see Libera's work at just this time was a strangely serendipitous moment. Every day the past is threatened, and children are fed a pablum future. Libera's is a timely - and much-needed - statement.
I just read your write up and viewed the pictures of the artworks done in Lego pieces. I was absolutely amazed by the genious of them. They are the most amazing artworks I have ever seen.
Thank you for posting this website. For a history project I am going to build a concentration camp, and this really helped.
A few of the email inquires asking if the sets are for sale.
"KONZENTRATIONSLAGER" 7 piece set. Please tell me where I can buy them for a few friends and myself. Thanks for your help.
I am a freshman at a High School. My friend and I are doing the Holocaust as a History Day project and we were wondering how and where we could purchase a set of the Legos that you displayed on your site. We would like to use them for a display to accompany our project.
I would like to know if a person could purchase the Lego concentration camp. If you can, please give me a price.
Have they ever put those sets in stores? If so email me at ***.
I've visited your website with the comment about the art project with the holocaust Lego. I understand that there has been an exhibition about this project. Are the several pieces also for sale?
How can I purchase all seven sets? Please advise.
Have these sets ever been for sale and if so how much are they and where can they be purchased.
I am writing to you to inquire if the Lego concentration camp set is for sale and if so, how much?Please respond to me when it is convenient for you for I am very serious on this matter.
Are these Lego concentration camp kits really for sale?
Ich Würde das 7 Teilige Lego KZ Gerne Bestellen doch ich konnte nichts finden wo ich das Lego KZ Bestellen kann ich hoffe Sie Können mir eine Adresse zusenden
Updated April 28, 2012.
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