Eye of the beholderEye of the beholder

Anti-Semitic words in a Milwaukee sculpture?

Spillover II is to be changed after blogger claimed to spot ‘DEAD JEW’ and other phrases in the lettering; sculptor Jaume Plensas said saddened that his work misrepresented

Highlighted lettering from Spillover II, Jaume Plensa (screenshot CBS58)
Highlighted lettering from Spillover II, Jaume Plensa (screenshot CBS58)

A Milwaukee suburb is removing a statue for changes after a Jewish blogger said it included anti-Semitic messages.

Matt Sweetwood, who is based in New Jersey, was visiting his daughter and son-in-law in Milwaukee earlier this month when he toured the Village of Shorewood, known for its lakeside views.

Shorewood is also the site of Spillover II, a sculpture by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa, who uses combinations of metal capital letters as his material. Spillover II, which was paid for by a private donor, depicts a crouching man gazing at Lake Michigan.

Sweetwood said on his blog that he discerned the following phrases in the statue: “FRY BAD JEW,” “DEAD JEW” and “CHEAP JEW.”

Spillover II, Jaume Plensa (
Spillover II, Jaume Plensa (

The post went viral and led to calls from residents to remove the sculpture. Plensa will pay to have the work done, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Nov. 13.

Highlighted lettering from Spillover II, Jaume Plensa (Screenshot CBS58)
Highlighted lettering from Spillover II, Jaume Plensa (screenshot CBS58)
Matt Sweetwood (Screenshot CBS58)
Matt Sweetwood (screenshot CBS58)

US gallery owners who feature his work, speaking on his behalf, said Plensa never intended the messages discerned by Sweetwood.

“Plensa uses alphabets as conceptual metaphors for cultures; the letters from each alphabet are utilized to create a skin of an anonymous figure with each letter’s placement entirely at random,” Paul Gray of Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago and Mary Sabbatino of Galerie Lelong in New York told the Journal Sentinel.

“Plensa is deeply saddened that his sculpture has been so egregiously misinterpreted. Plensa’s works and beliefs are the antithesis of anti-Semitism.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Milwaukee welcomed the change, saying that Shorewood and Plensa “responded quickly and with great sensitivity.”

“We’re grateful for their sensitive handling of this situation,” director Elena Kahn said in a statement sent to JTA. “We look forward to celebrating with Shorewood when the sculpture returns to Atwater Park.”

Jaume Plensa (YouTube screenshot)
Jaume Plensa (screenshot: YouTube)

Local media — including the CBS affiliate — covered the issue, and some questioned whether the messages were intended, noting the jagged placement of the letters and how multiple combinations could be read.

The Milwaukee Record also noted that reading the “BAD” in “FRY BAD JEW” required overlooking a Z between the B and A. The P in CHEAP is only discernible if one combines the line connecting an N, below and a D, above.

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