Reports last week of the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature to Mario Vargas Llosa invariably mentioned that 1,000 copies of his first novel, "La Ciudad y Los Perros" ("The Time of the Hero"), were burned by the Peruvian military, which found the book offensive.
A Florida pastor almost caused an international meltdown recently by threatening to burn copies of the Koran. In 1988 a fatwa declared by an Iranian cleric threatened the life of author Salman Rushdie for writing "The Satanic Verses."
Book burnings and denouncements are not a thing of the distant past, and that is one cautionary of the exhibition "Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings," which opens today at the American Jewish Museum, Squirrel Hill.
The show was organized by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C,, and at 7 p.m. Tuesday Tim Kaiser, the museum's director of educational resources and Wexner Center, will give a free talk, "Behind the Scenes: Background and Development of Fighting the Fires of Hate."
In 1933 German students, instigated by the Nazi party, infamously began burning books considered to be "Un-German." Among authors' works put to the fire were those by playwright Bertolt Brecht, writer and suffragist Helen Keller, author Ernest Hemingway, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and social philosopher Karl Marx.
Worse was, of course, to come, an atrocity presaged by 19th-century German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine who warned: "Where one burns books, one soon burns people."
By addressing American response to the book burnings, the exhibition points out how offensive such actions are to persons having democratic values. Powerful posters with fiery rhetoric like "The Nazis burned these books but free Americans can still read them" were created by the Office of War Information during World War II. Also exhibited are newsreel footage, video and archival documents.
Contemporary examples remind of the slippery slope that freedom of speech resides upon.
"What stands out for me, because this is an art museum, is how important expression and the freedom of expression is to everything I do. I never think of censorship," said AJM director Melissa Hiller,
Because the objects in the exhibition are black and white, from Europe and the 1930s and '40s, "it seems like such old history. And that's so not the case." Ms. Hiller said, adding that she regularly exhibits divergent viewpoints on religion, politics, even sexuality.
"Projects like this make visible issues that I have the privilege of not having to think about very often."
The exhibition continues through Dec. 31 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, 5738 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. Admission is free. Hours are 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays, 1 to 7 p.m. Saturdays, and 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Information: 412-521-8011 or www.ushmm.org.
A one-evening showing of experimental filmmaker Harry Smith's "proto-psychedelic" 1962 "Heaven and Earth Magic" will be given at Carnegie Museum of Art during the 7 to 9 p.m. opening Thursday for the exhibition "Ordinary Madness." The hour-long animated film, which will run in a loop, has been described as "having to do with humankind's quixotic origins, the strange psychological structure of mind and world, and perhaps even the mysterious nature of social interaction." Mr. Smith (1923-1991) is best known for his 1952 "Anthology of American Folk Music." (Free, cash bar; 412-622-3131, www.cmoa.org.)
"Queloides: Race & Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art" opens from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Mattress Factory museum, 500 Sampsonia Way, North Side. Many of the Cuban artists will be present. ($10, members free; 412-231-3169 or www.mattress.org.)
An exhibition of new quilts by the famed rural Alabama collective is at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square E., North Shore, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Friday, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday,, and noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, concluding with a tea party. ($8, $5 students/children; 412-320-4610).
Contemporary glass is the focus at several city venues this weekend.
• At Carnegie Museum of Art, Thursday's Lunch & Learn is on "Contemporary Direction in Glass." Participants meet at the Pittsburgh Glass Center for a facility tour, and glassblowing and flame working demonstrations, followed by lunch in the museum cafe. After lunch, Rachel Delphia, Carnegie assistant curator of decorative arts, will give a tour of glass in the museum's collection. ($55, members $46; register at 412-622-3288.)
• A 10th anniversary benefit gala for the Pittsburgh Glass Center, including a glass art auction, cocktails and "some amazing hors d'oeuvres" will be held at the American Eagle Outfitters corporate headquarters, 77 Hot Metal St., SouthSide Works, from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday. The winner of a center-sponsored martini design competition will be announced and the re-design of the classic shape will be unveiled. Tickets $95, for ages 21 and over. Order at 412-365-2145 or www.pittsburghglasscenter.org, or purchase at the door.
• At borelli-edwards galleries, 3583 Butler St., Lawrenceville, there will be an all-day celebration Saturday of the exhibition "GLASS: A Decade and CHANGE," new works by the city's two most stellar glass artists, Kathleen Mulcahy and Ron Desmett. An opening reception will begin at 10 a.m., and the artists will discuss their work from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Mr. Desmett developed a new form while in residence last month at the Tacoma Museum of Glass, and two works from the resultant series will be at borelli-edwards. The work is a departure from the matte black sculptural forms Mr. Desmett has exhibited lately, in that the base glass is now transparent yellow. As a part of the day's events, he and Ms. Mulcahy will demonstrate at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave., East End, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Five to seven other glass artists with connections to the glass center will join in creating the complicated form. (Free; 412-687-2606.)
• Finally, Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery, 5833 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside, recently opened "Domesticity: How We Live," works by 11 female glass artists who address themes of home life and its objects, identities, roles and relationships. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. (Free; 412-441-5200).
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1925.