Spanish performance artist Santiago Sierra wants to give up his project in which he turned a synagogue in a German town into a symbolic gas chamber, the weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported on Monday.
Sierra told the magazine the outcry over the project which saw him accused of belittling the Holocaust was prompting him to abandon it just over a week after the opening.
"I feel misunderstood," the 39-year-old artist said.
He said he did not create a gas chamber but "a work of art with the gas chamber as its theme" in the synagogue in the western German town of Pulheim, near Cologne.
The Pulheim city officials have not yet been officially informed of Sierra’s plans, but he is to meet shortly with them as well as Jewish community leaders to inform of his decision.
"There is a difference," he said, adding that artists had the duty to "create difficult art to deal with painful episodes in history".
The project saw Sierra pump the lethal exhaust fumes from six car engines into the synagogue.
Some 200 visitors, who were made to wear breathing apparatus, were allowed into the synagogue on March 12 for the first perfomance of the project titled "245 Cubic Metres", a reference to the size of the building.
Photo: Express Magazin
They were allowed to spend five minutes inside to experience a simulation of the way in which the Nazis gassed many of the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust.
The performance was meant to take place each Sunday until April 30, but provoked such controversy that the second date was cancelled.
Dirk Springob, spokesman for the Pulheim city council told German WDR television station: “We will respect Sierra’s decision to pull the plug on the project, once he has officially made his intentions clear.”
Since the scandal broke out two weeks ago, more members of Germany’s Jewish community have joined the protest against the art installation.
Ralph Girodano, one of Germany’s most prominent Jewish authors and a Holocaust survivor told WDR that “Sierra would have stopped himself from proceeding with the project had he had an inkling as to what it feels like being a Holocaust vicitim.”
Stephan Kramer, member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said “Sierra shamefully misused freedom of artistic expression in his project.”
Hurting the memory
Pulheim’s mayor originally stood behind Sierra’s project. “I had no idea that such a project would have created such a huge fuss,” the mayor told WDR.
Thomas Kemper, speaker of the Northrhein-Westphalia government also criticised the Spanish born artist and accused him of hurting the memory of the victims. He said that “the art project simply created too many misunderstandings”.
Sierra countered that he had tried to portray the pain and humiliation Jews had suffered in Germany.
"That they have now turned against me, is not something I had wanted."
A town official for Pulheim said the local authorities were surprised at Sierra’s decision but would respect it.
"It is his right to do so," Florian Herpel said.
Sierra has also created controversy with past projects which sought to portray the exploitation of the poor by paying jobless people to have tattoos done or masturbate on camera.