It’s Official, Sculpture Wasn’t Anti-Semitic
Jewish Federation’s annual audit of anti-semitism absolves the Shorewood sculpture.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation has issued its annual audit of anti-semitic incidents, and the Plensa sculpture, which had been accused of being virulently anti-semitic, and was for a time taken down by the Shorewood Village Board, was absolved of such accusations.
“We have determined that the sculpture does not constitute an anti-Semitic incident,” Elana Kahn, Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, told Urban Milwaukee.
It was back in November that a New Jersey resident named Matt Sweetwood wrote a blog claiming the sculpture — a kind of a hollow, faceless man made of random letters fashioned from metal — was anti-semitic. The popular sculpture, entitled “Spillover II,” had been installed five years earlier and had never seen a whiff of controversy.
Yet the local media jumped all over the trumped-up controversy, with coverage by TV news stations and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which essentially validated Sweetwood’s claims by running a photo of the sculpture that highlighted certain letters in the same fashion as Sweetwood had. The accompanying story by JS art critic Mary Louise Schumacher took no stand on the issue while spreading the self-promoting Sweetwood’s specious claims.
In response to all the hubbub, the alarmed Shorewood Village Manager Chris Swartz, after consulting village board president Guy Johnson, took the sculpture down. But over time reason prevailed: Plensa offered to make some changes in the sculpture and by January, the village board had approved re-installation of the sculpture. It remains an alphabet stew of letters, just as it was before.
As Kahn tells me, “We have no reason to believe that the discovered words, most of which were not comprised of contiguous letters, were anti-Jewish messages.” However, she notes, some of the comments from the community response to the controversy “were unequivocally hateful, relying on tired anti-Jewish canards.”
As the audit concluded: “Several comments after newspaper coverage of the controversy around the Shorewood sculpture, Spillover II, raised questions about Jewish loyalty and referred to money, Jewish power. A few commenters referred with derision to the notion of Jews being the ‘chosen people’ and scoffed at anti-Semitism as a card played by ‘Jewish cry babies.’”
The annual audit listed more than 20 other confirmed instances of anti-semitism in the community.
With any luck, this report will put the entire controversy over the Shorewood sculpture to rest. Matt Sweetwood, thanks so much for your visit, wish you were never here.