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Emily Jacir: Press Round-Up

I’m going to see Emily Jacir’s show at the Guggenheim tomorrow. The work shown is a multimedia installation called Material for a Film, which explores the life of Wael Zuaiter, a Palestinian intellectual who was assassinated because of his suspected link to the 1972 Munich attacks.

Before I go, I thought I would do a quick roundup of some of the reviews published in New York and London.

1) Howard Halle, Time Out New York

Jacir’s purpose is to argue for Zuaiter’s innocence: “How, Jacir seems to ask, could such a cultivated individual be involved with killing people? The implied answer is that, of course, he couldn’t have been.”

She is intent on taking revenge for his death: “Jacir, however, seems more intent on pursuing her own Mossad-like mission, a metaphorical act of revenge that is little more than a high-cultural addition to an unending cycle of brutality.”

But (and here Halle lapses into incoherence) she is being insensitive to the people that Zuaiter did not kill: “The salient issue is one she avoids altogether: If Zuaiter was blameless, weren’t the Munich 11 as well?”

Reaction: The online commenters have largely branded Halle a philistine. One suggests, “Perhaps there’s a high school art show he could be sent to review?”

2) Ken Johnson, New York Times

Jacir’s purpose is to argue for Zuaiter’s innocence: “If one were to judge from Ms. Jacir’s work, Mr. Zuaiter was innocent of any connection to the Munich murders, eliminated rather because he was an eloquent spokesman for the Palestinian cause.”

We are not convinced of his innocence: “How can we know if the artist is manipulating her material, leaving out anything that might be suspicious or incriminating?”

The piece fails not because of historical inaccuracy but because it is unemotional: “Ms. Jacir’s exhibition does not bring him to life sufficiently enough to elicit a strong emotional response.”

3) Telegraph: Drusilla Beyfus (London)

Jacir’s purpose is to re-activate a sense of Palestine’s history: “to arrest the attrition of memories which are a nation’s past.”

We are not told the critic’s opinion of Zuaiter’s innocence, but we are told that Jacir thinks he is innocent. “He was the first target and an innocent man.”

The reviewer quotes Salah Hassan, saying, “The re-ordering of memory… allows artists to create real and imagined biographies.”

4) The Times, Joanna Pitman (London)

Jacir becomes intimately involved with her subject: “Jacir does much more than bear witness to this terrible event, or even to her era. She is intimately involved, so much so that hers seems to be one of the lives on a loop in her work.”

Zuaiter’s guilt or innocence is not mentioned except to say that his killing was “in retaliation for what [Israeli agents] believed was his role in the massacre of Israeli athletes.

The form of the piece has artistic merit. “it is for her inventiveness, for her original, provocative ideas, and for her personal commitment, that Jacir gets my vote.”


Both New York critics seem overly fixated on the question of the work’s historical veracity. How important is this to judging the artistic merit of the piece?

Neither of the New York critics has really situated the work in the context of other artists who use the idea of the archive, from Walid Ra’ad to Jeremy Deller. This seems a critical dimension of the work.

This round goes to London!