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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wry Exhibit Tells 'The Truth' About Jews

A jar of powder ground from the dried skins of frogs sits next to a diamond-encrusted toilet seat. The toilet seat in turn is next to a water faucet that never has any water.

The frog-skin powder is used for poisoning the wells of good innocent Russian Christians. The vulgarly bejeweled toilet seat comes from the home of a rich evil Jew. And the faucet has no water because, as everyone knows, the Jews have drunk up all the water for miles around.

Welcome to "The Truth About the Jews," a tongue-in-cheek exhibit put together by artist Vadim Kruglikov, a 38-year-old self-described "spontaneous advocate of Jewishness" who dresses in army boots and a Bolshevik-chic leather jacket.

The exhibit, which runs every day through Sunday at the Guelman Gallery, is designed to confront viewers with their own racist views - and hopefully in such a way that they seem absurd and indefensible.

"Understanding Russian culture is impossible without understanding its anti-Semitism. We have attempted to look into [anti-Semitism] without any hysteria ... to study the issue and to think of ways to deal with it," said the gallery owner, Marat Guelman.

Guelman said that most anti-Semitic theories or prejudices, when represented simply and without much comment, discredit themselves. "[We figured that] once anti-Semitic arguments were displayed, the discussion would end," he said.

It's a charmingly optimistic idea - perhaps a bit too much so.

Few people seemed to be overwrought with introspection when studying Orthodox icons "desecrated by the Jews," or the artistic representation of Fyodor, a peasant boy supposedly murdered by Jews in Ukraine who rolled him around inside a barrel with nails driven through the sides.

Certainly the writer and nationalist politician Eduard Limonov wasn't openly confronting many inner demons. Limonov, who heads the fringe National Bolshevik Party, stood under a pseudo-scientific graph at the exhibit - it purported to show that 95 percent of the world's media and 80 percent of its capital is Jewish-controlled - and dismissed Kruglikov's entire premise, saying anti-Semitism was a non-problem in Russia.

Limonov said Russian anti-Semitism only become an issue after the media whipped up hysteria over the comments of "some idiot" who himself "undoubtedly has Caucasian blood." He was referring, of course, to Albert Makashov, the Communist Party State Duma deputy who provoked a national scandal late last year by blaming the Jews for Russia's economic problems and urging participants at political rallies in Moscow to go "beat the Yids."

Asked to name his favorite item in the exhibit, Limonov cited a bottle purporting to contain the blood of Christian babies - for use in synagogue rituals, of course - and then downed a glass of suspiciously thick red wine before heading for the exit.

Lurid objects like bottles of Christian baby blood were born in Kruglikov's artistic imagination. But he says they are all based on well-worn anti-Semitic stories or prejudices from Russian history.

Kruglikov, himself a Jew despite his ethnic-Russian-sounding name, said he had long been fascinated by the extravagant mythologies found in anti-Semitic tracts.

His main source of inspiration for "The Truth About the Jews" was the so-called "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a collection of writings that describe a Jewish plot to take over the world. The Protocols surfaced in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, and may well have been fabricated by the Russian secret service for Tsar Nicholas II, whose activist anti-Semitism has been well-documented.

Kruglikov says at first he planned nothing but a "humorous take on an eternal theme," that of the Jewish people as a scapegoat. But when Makashov's slurs and suspicions were greeted sympathetically by Communist Party Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin and Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, his "The Truth About the Jews" was suddenly topical.

"Before, I was sort of offended that Moscow was entirely obsessed with anti-Caucasian moods and had forgotten about the Jews," laughed Kruglikov, happy at the unexpected marketing boost he has found in the darker side of Russian politics.

Now visitors - with Makashov's comments fresh in mind - can be seen pondering such playfully somber comments as those of Vyacheslav Kuritsyn, a critic who contributed an annotation to the exhibit: "Not only do the Jews unite [Russians] with economic mechanisms [Jewish bankers and merchants], not only are we mystically united by the blood shed during the pogroms against the Jews - they are also a great screen upon which our secret desires and dark passions can be projected."

For Guelman, exploring anti-Semitism by giving it expression is nothing new. In 1993, he organized a performance called "The Last Jewish Pogrom." People with a grudge against the Jews were welcomed to come write an accusation or a foul word on a block of marble, which was supposed to represent a Jewish tombstone.

Both Guelman and Kruglikov said they have suffered occasional discrimination in Soviet and Russian society over the years for their Jewishness. But when Guelman opened his gallery in 1990, he ignored the advice of friends and gave it his Jewish-sounding name.

He has never had a problem because of that, he said, and added that he believed anti-Semitism was a curse of the past, one more rooted in the lives of older people. Younger generations are less concerned about race in general, he said - "they are joined by a web where ethnicity truly doesn't matter."

*** "The Truth about the Jews" is open every day from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. at the Guelman Gallery at 7/7 Ulitsa Malaya Polyanka. The exhibit's last day is Sunday, Jan. 24. Admission is free. Tel. 238-8492. Nearest metro: Polyanka. ***