Tate vs Nanny State
You really have to ask yourself, is this 1960? Just how far have we come as a nation when an internationally recognized artist such as Richard Prince is ‘voluntarily’ banned from one of our most revered institution’s walls. As for the Met, I put it down to a misguided agenda without any (and I am not one to bash the police), directive from the top. Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has kept a low profile since the troubles at the G-20 summit. It is up to him personally to take responsibility for the actions of Scotland Yard and put a stop to this high profile embarrassment. If similar cases in the past are anything to go by, the Mets track record on shutting down exhibitions on grounds of obscenity have been ineffectual, except to draw more attention to the art in question. The story has been widely reported in the international press and it raises serious questions about London’s position as a centre for cutting edge art. My view is not the popular view but there are basic principles at stake here. Just how far are we going to allow the police and government to erode our freedoms? The exhibition was organized by Catherine Wood, curator of Contemporary Art and Performance, at the Tate and co curated by Jack Bankowsky the editor of Artforum. Both of these people have impeccable credentials in the art world. The decision to remove this work should not be in the hands of the uneducated. As we all know, to use the cliche, “This could lead to piles of burning books and the confiscation of art deemed degenerate”, as in Nazi Germany.
Prince was recently honoured with a retrospective exhibition, adopting the same title as the controversial photograph “Spiritual America”, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, in 2007. The New York Times wrote, “Richard Prince has heard America singing, and it is not in tune. The paradoxically beautiful, seamless 30-year survey of his work at the Guggenheim Museum catches many of our inharmonious country’s discontents and refracts them back to us. The central message of this array of about 160 photographs, drawings, paintings and sculptures, most of which incorporate images or objects cribbed from popular culture, is that we won’t be getting along any time soon. But in Mr. Prince’s view, little of life’s cacophony is real except the parts deep inside all of us that are hardest to reach”.
The work in the Pop Life exhibition,also titled Spiritual America was due to go on public show at Tate Modern today. It has now been voluntarily withdrawn after a warning from Scotland Yard that the nude image of heavily made up actor Brooke Shields, aged 10 could break obscenity laws. The pop artist Richard Prince reuses the image taken,by Gary Gross when Brooke was 10. Shields’s mother authorised the shoot, and the photographs appeared in a Playboy Press book entitled “Sugar and Spice” (wow,where were they at in the 1970’s???) In 1981 Shields launched legal action aimed at preventing further use of the pictures. It was unsuccessful.
The photograph displayed in a heavily gilt frame in a red velvet hung room was due to be part of the Tate Modern’s latest exhibition. It has now been removed from display after a visit to the gallery by officers from the obscene publications unit of the Metropolitan police. The exhibition had been on view to the press on the 29th September before opening to the public. A Tate spokeswoman confirmed that the display had been “temporarily closed down” and the catalogue for the exhibition withdrawn from sale, at a reported loss of £320,000.
The powers that be, have not understood nor have they tried to understand the underlying message of this work. This is an uncomfortable image portrayed in a vintage style, which shows a child made up to look like an adult far beyond her years, at the same time the subject is almost sexually ambiguous neither female nor male. Prince’s instillation is making a statement about the controversy surrounding the original photograph.It is not about the visual image portrayed in the photograph.The police’s reaction in London is now adding to this myth. I find this photo less disturbing than an American children’s beauty pageant or a mainstream film like Taxi Driver, a film that would most likely be censored in this current climate.
The authorities are acting in an uncalled for and heavy handed manner. They have turned this rather understated and banal photo into a cause célèbre. Finding this photograph is not a difficult task all you need to do is put in the name of the artist and it is already coming up on Google Images page 1.
I am a responsible parent and an Arts Journalist; I can differentiate between what is art and what is pornography. Unlike the Met, I do not underestimate the British public especially the ones in a position to pay £12.50 to see this exhibition. It is a choice and I resent anyone in a public position dictating what is art and what is pornography. I would allow my children to see this image without a second thought and I am sure they wouldn’t even comment or think it out of the ordinary. I would be far less comfortable standing in a room with them in front of Jeff Koons self indulgent self-portrait with porn star La Chicholina titled Exaltation 1991. This is a close up facial shot (literarily) of the former Italian MP in a rather undignified and purely pornographic pose. I really think that this was an all time low for Koons who has spent years rebuilding his career after this work was first displayed. Adam & Eve? Yeah. Right…. Tracey Emin was right refusing to be hung anywhere near this work.
incidents like the Prince censorship will always have a huge positive backlash for the artist involved in the controversy . It certainly didn’t hurt Robert Mapplethorpe’s reputation in the US. I think the Tate must be licking their lips and rubbing their hands together as it is clear that more people will flock to this exhibition then ever would have been expected. ArtBitch 1/10/09