HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) – An Israel-born artist claims the community that hired him to create a Holocaust memorial turned his sculpture into a “mutilation and bastardization of the artwork and its purpose” while performing restoration work. Harrisburg officials removed the artist’s name and drastically changed the meaning of his sculpture, David Ascalon claims in Federal Court.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg allegedly selected Ascalon to create the memorial after considering 40 proposals. The federation specified that the memorial “should reflect, among other things ‘a grave, stark and emotionally charged image (or images) and an educational opportunity,'” according to the lawsuit.
Ascalon claims his design — a stainless steel Star of David wrapped by a serpentine-shaped steel structure — was meant to represent “the barbed wire fence that was used by the Nazis to surround and entrap their victims in the death camps, and inflict great misery and death upon them.”
“When the federation reviewed and selected Ascalon’s proposal as the winning entry, it knew that by its design, the central focus and instructive imagery of the sculpture required a juxtaposition of a bright, shining stainless steel core, surrounded and, in essence, ‘choked’ by dark, rusting Cor-Ten steel spiral serpent,” the lawsuit states.
Ascalon explained that the steel’s oxidized and rusty appearance was fitting, because it “represents oppression, decay and misery. It appears to be strangling the stainless steel core with its serpentine-like form.”
Ascalon, who was born in Tel Aviv and lost many family members in the Holocaust, says his sculpture was meant to “commemorate, honor, and remember and honor the lives of his family members, and the more than 11 million people, including the 6 million Jews, who were brutally murdered in the Nazi death camps.”
The memorial was completed and consecrated in 1994, but Ascalon says he learned nearly a decade later that the memorial had not been maintained and was decaying.
The artist claims he volunteered to restore the memorial and ordered a chemical analysis of the steel used in the barbed-wire portion of the memorial. But tests revealed that the sample was not U.S. Steel Cor-Ten, according to the complaint.
After a year passed without contact between Ascalon and the federation about the restoration, a lawyer for the federation wrote a cease-and-desist letter to Ascalon, “incredulously and improperly demanding that Ascalon cease referencing the memorial that he created,” Ascalon claims.
He says his son visited the memorial in June 2007 and found that it “had been drastically altered.” The original barbed wire was replaced with a shining stainless steel replica, the lawsuit claims, and Ascalon’s name had been removed from the memorial’s base.
Instead of Ascalon’s name, the memorial now prominently displays a marking that credits David Grindle and several “restoration advisors” with restoring the sculpture in 2006, according to the complaint.
“The modification of the sculpture has changed it so that now the same shiny stainless steel that represents the enduring Jewish people is also used to depict the Nazi regime and atrocities of the Holocaust,” Ascalon claims. “This alteration is abhorrent, and runs completely contrary to the core vision of the memorial, which was based on the notion of creating a striking and stark visual contrast between the Jewish people and their Nazi oppressors. The sculpture as modified now creates a visual equivalency between good and evil, which is a mutilation and bastardization of the artwork and its purpose.”
Ascalon has sued the Harrisburg Parks & Recreation Department, the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg and Grindle for copyright infringement.
He demands an injunction and actual and statutory damages, and is represented by Jason Schaeffer of Cherry Hill, N.J.