Backlash against C4 show that may destroy works by Hitler and Picasso

Jimmy Carr-fronted show accused of seeking attention with something akin to book burning

Channel 4 has come under fire over plans for a new show that will allow a studio audience to decide whether Jimmy Carr should destroy a painting by Adolf Hitler.

As part of its latest season of programmes, the TV channel has bought artworks by a range of “problematic” artists including Hitler, Pablo Picasso, the convicted paedophile Rolf Harris and the sexual abuser Eric Gill.

A televised debate called Jimmy Carr Destroys Art, which airs later this month, will question whether one can truly separate a work of art from its creator – before deciding which pieces to destroy with a variety of tools. Channel 4’s chief content officer, Ian Katz, has said the show celebrates the channel’s long tradition of “iconoclasm and irreverence”.

But the idea has provoked criticism, with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust saying the show is “making Hitler a topic of light entertainment”. “The question of how far art can be linked to its creators is an important one, but this programme is simply a stunt for shock value, and cannot excuse the trivialisation of the horrors of Nazism,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Olivia Marks-Woldman.

Some likened the content of the show – which was filmed on Wednesday night – to Nazi book burnings, while others questioned why a comedian condemned by a litany of anti-hate groups for joking about the Holocaust has been chosen to front it. And some have asked if it is ever right to destroy a historical artefact, no matter who the creator is.

Dr Sam Rose, a senior lecturer in art history at St Andrews, said there was no blanket rule for destroying artwork by wrongdoers. “I think it’s all on a case by case basis,” he told the Guardian. “It’s fine to burn some cultural works by wrongdoers – say, DVDs by Jimmy Carr when he avoids tax and jokes about the Holocaust. But this is because those people and works aren’t significant – see also Rolf Harris.

“Unfortunate as it may be, works by Hitler and Gill are now part of important histories and may in the future help us understand things about ourselves: they belong in an archive available to be studied, not used in a cheap stunt for ratings figures on a failing TV channel.”

The journalist and antisemitism campaigner Jonathan Sacerdoti called it an “utterly sick piece of entertainment television”.

“I can’t understand how this could get past any stage of development,” he told Nick Ferrari on LBC radio. “I’m not a believer in burning books, I think the Nazis did that … when we’re talking about Jimmy Carr and a piece of art by Adolf Hitler, I think we’re in another territory, we’re in cloud cuckoo land. This is not a debate about freedom of speech, this is a desperate plea for attention.”

Hitler, Sacerdoti added, was not renowned across the world for the quality of his art. “The only reason we know about Hitler’s artwork is because he perpetuated and carried out the Holocaust, murdering 6 million plus Jews … and they have got a comedian with a history about making jokes about the Holocaust.”

Jake Wallis Simons, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said popular television was “trolling the Jewish community, all those around the world who suffered under nazism and anybody who remains in possession of a moral compass”. The fate of one of the world’s most problematic and disturbing artefacts, he added in an article in the Spectator, “will be determined by a studio audience and a comedian”.

There were also questions over why Channel 4 decided to spend an undisclosed sum on the expensive works during a time when viewers will be struggling with the cost of living crisis. Hitler’s artworks have previously sold for up to $400,000.

Will Black, the author of Veneer of Civilisation, tweeted: “Jimmy Carr, who has lashed out and smeared Gypsy communities a number of times, is set to earn a lot of money in a ridiculous spectacle of Channel 4 spending money on a painting by Hitler (who murdered several hundred thousand Romanies) and Carr smashing it. While families freeze.”

Rebecca Rideal, the founder of HistFest, London’s biggest history festival, added: “Making light entertainment out of deep trauma? C4 should be ashamed. In terms of integrity, that picture of Jimmy Carr says it all.”


Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Channel 4 buys painting by Hitler – and may let Jimmy Carr destroy it
Ian Katz says new show celebrates the channel’s tradition of ‘iconoclasm and irreverence’

Jim Waterson Media editor

13, Oct, 2022 @5:14 PM

Article image
Northern Ireland sale of Hitler memorabilia to go ahead despite outcry
Bloomfield Auctions rejects accusations it is acting immorally and insulting the memory of Nazis’ victims

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

31, May, 2023 @12:25 PM

Article image
Opening of UN files on Holocaust will 'rewrite chapters of history'
Archive used in prosecution of Nazis reveals detailed evidence of death camps and genocide previously unseen by public

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

17, Apr, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
How the ‘art of the insane’ inspired the surrealists – and was twisted by the Nazis
The author of an acclaimed new book tells how Hitler used works by psychiatric patients in his culture war

Charlie English

08, Aug, 2021 @8:45 AM

Article image
A Renaissance masterpiece, Nazi looters, a double murder … and a happy ending
His grandparents had to sell their paintings for a pittance – and then were killed. Bernard Goodman on why one means so much

Dalya Alberge

26, Jul, 2020 @6:33 AM

Article image
Tasteless Hitler painting show will be Channel 4’s downfall | Letter
Letter: Adam Fineberg on the filming of Jimmy Carr Destroys Art, which he left because it was ‘debased and debauched’


18, Oct, 2022 @5:35 PM

Article image
Henry Moore sketch found among Gurlitt hoard of Nazi-looted art
Watercolour of reclining figures identified on BBC programme Fake or Fortune?

Maev Kennedy

26, Aug, 2018 @8:00 PM

Article image
Berlin recreates Nazi-baiting art exhibition from 1938
Original London show was hailed as protest against Nazi censorship of artists they labelled ‘degenerate’

Kate Connolly in Berlin

05, Oct, 2018 @12:30 PM

Article image
Hitler owned painting now in National Gallery

Cupid Complaining to Venus hung on the sitting-room wall of the dictator's flat in Munich

Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent

28, Mar, 2008 @9:34 AM

Article image
Frenchwoman gives up legal fight for return of Nazi-looted Pissarro
Léone-Noëlle Meyer, 81, drops legal action against University of Oklahoma after being threatened with fines

Kim Willsher

01, Jun, 2021 @4:20 PM