A Smashing Display

article image
image by Jeremy Deller, 2008, New Museum, New York

Apparently we really can’t get enough of a horrendous car wreck.

British artist Jeremy Deller aimed to spur dialogue about the Iraq war with It Is What It Is, an exhibition touring the United States that includes a “conversation zone” where museumgoers discuss the war with people who have had firsthand experiences in Iraq, from veterans to journalists to Iraqi refugees.

But it’s a single inanimate object in the show that is sparking the most attention, reports Art Papers (July-Aug. 2009): a crumpled car destroyed in a 2007 Baghdad explosion that killed 30 people.

“Lingering beyond the conversation area like a specter of war, this found object became the focal point of the exhibition,” Art Papers writes, “unequivocally exerting its spell on viewers who, removed from the conflict, latch on to this primary object’s fascinating foreignness.”

Unlike much art about the war in Iraq, the exhibit doesn’t take an overt and predictable stand. While this aggressive neutrality unnerves some observers, Art Papers ultimately sees value in it: “It Is What It Is proves to be less antiwar than an opportunity for the general public to listen and experience the living history of this conflict from those who witnessed the events, and to participate in its narration as witnesses.”

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.