After several successful months at Tate Britain, the exhibition ‘Picasso and Modern British Art’ has moved to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. As a significant part of the NGS marketing campaign, a poster featuring “Nude Woman in a Red Arm Chair” was placed prominently near the arrivals gates of the Edinburgh airport where at several visitors remarked on the inappropriateness of the image. This is a busy time for the city, ahead of the internationally attended Edinburgh Festival.
Initially the airport staff responded by covering the “controversial” image with a vinyl sheet before planning to remove the advertisement completely. Those who commented on the image were struck by the contrast of Picasso’s work with the more wholesome character the visitor expected in Scotland. With clothing, perfume, and cinematic advertisements capitalizing on the mantra “sex sells” people are perpetually bombarded with images far more provocative than Picasso’s nude woman. Why is it that a well-known, painted artwork draws more criticism than the advertisements that grace magazine pages and bus panels?
The National Galleries of Scotland were asked to remove the poster and replace the offending image with one more suitable for the public location. The same image was used in marketing the exhibition in London with adverts placed throughout the city and public transport networks purportedly without complaints. It is interesting that the change in location alters the perception of the work. It was not only an issue of visual expression but also a business matter. The NGS spent a considerable amount of their advertising budget on this prime location and changing or removing the poster would significantly affect the marketing aims. Also, neither the Tate nor NGS owns copyrights on the Picasso works on display so changing the image would involve a somewhat lengthy procedure of securing permission from the Picasso estate.
Fortunately, the response has since been reversed and the poster will now be allowed to remain on view. The “confusion”, as airport officials have termed the event, serves to illustrate the central thesis of the exhibition the poster is promoting. Chronicling the career of Picasso in conjunction with the careers of illustrious British artists demonstrates how the Spaniard was simultaneously revered in some circles while denounced as crude and unskilled in others. The controversial nature of the artist’s career influences how others, both the public and other artists, viewed his work and his legacy, and apparently even in the twenty-first-century, the man some view as one of the world’s greatest artists is still one of the most controversial. Words: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2012