Thursday, February 1, 2018

Curator Removes a Painting 'To Start a Conversation'

The Manchester Gallery of Art's Curator of Contemporary Art, Clare Gannaway, has removed "Hylas and the Nymphs," the 1896 painting by J.W. Waterhouse, from public view. 


Prompted by the #MeToo movement and concerns over sexual harassment, she says the purpose of the removal is to 'prompt conversation' about the Museum's collection of Victorian nudes. 


The removal of the painting was filmed and was also intended also to publicize an upcoming exhibition of Sonya Boyce. She claims the removal is temporary but hasn't set a date for the painting to be restored to the walls. The notecards have also been removed from the gift shop.


Gannaway posted a placard in place of the missing painting (read the text here), and invited museum guests to write their reactions on Post-It notes. 

There's also a comment section on the Museum's website that says "Get involved in the conversation." But it's heavily moderated, and many comments on the Museum's discussion page have been deleted. Gannaway has not answered questions posed to her in the forum, nor has she responded to my emailed request for comment.


Gannaway says the part of the museum which houses Victorian nudes "presents the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale’. Let’s challenge this Victorian fantasy!" 

She wants to re-contextualize the collection of Victorian nudes. "For me personally," she said, "there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner."

What strikes me first off is how profoundly she misunderstands the Waterhouse painting. Isn’t it more accurate to regard the painting as an image of female power? Hylas is a member of the Argonauts sent to fetch water, and the painting shows the fateful moment when the nymphs kidnap him into their realm. 

The nymphs are hardly a ‘passive decorative form’ but rather forceful enough to abduct one of the favorites of Heracles. Nor are they femme fatales, because they don’t kill Hylas. Dryope induces him to love her as part of Hera’s plan. 

Waterhouse's Circe
If Gannaway wants to explore art that portrays complex, confident women, she should celebrate Waterhouse rather than banning him. Take a look at his paintings of Circe, Medea, Penelope, Pandora, the Naiads, Harpies, and the sorceress of The Magic Circle. They are all very active characters from myth and legend.

"Hylas and the Water Nymphs" by Henrietta R. Rae, who 'saw herself primarily
as a painter of classical themes with a strong emphasis on the female nude' (Christies)
Or she should look at the work of women artists who painted themes similar to those of Waterhouse.

But at least she should start the discussion by putting up the paintings back up on the walls so we can look at the paintings instead of being forced to read Gannaway's views of politics and arguing via Post-it notes and tweets. 

As it stands, her action has cynically co-opted the energy of the #MeToo movement and shifted the debate to whether museums should censor works of art on political grounds.
Cartoon by Nik Scott
In the end, Gannaway may wish to ‘contextualize’ the Victorian nudes with whatever caption she likes, but why not let the public have access to a work of art that was made nearly a century was before she was born and has been beloved by the public since that time? 

People go to see original art in museums for many reasons. In the case of us working realist painters, we look to Waterhouse as a master of composition and paint technique, quite apart from the social messages that may or may not be in his work. The public has a interest in seeing its heritage in art displayed without a lot of curatorial manipulation and politicization. Gannaway needs to remember that as a museum employee she is a trustee of the public interest. What is a Museum but a haven of the muses?
---
Rebuttal by Jonathan Jones: Why have mildly erotic nymphs been removed from a Manchester gallery? Is Picasso next?
Comments on Twitter: can use hashtag #MAGSoniaBoyce.
Contact Gannaway directly: via the Museum's website.

66 comments:

arturoquimico said...

Politics has heavily damaged biology and is actively trying to ruin chemistry... I suppose Art is next! Aren't we living in the age of Reason? By whose authority does she speak?

scottT said...

After your eloquent defense, there isn't much to add except that I agree and thank you for standing up for art.

Michael Syrigos said...

"Discussion" is ideologues' Newspeak for "chastising" and " indoctrination". Similar to how some artists created a protocol to protect them from critique not expressed in a playschool way lest the trolls get them this curator is viewing the painting as a 'Ted Bundy' sexual predator caricature. Thus history must be rewritten via "conversation" where the art is viewed and interpreted through her mindset or it won't be shown at all. I guess burning books was also a form of "starting a conversation" no?

Pierre Fontaine said...

She wanted to start a conversation and she certainly succeeded. Any conversation should be two way and your defense of the painting is certainly a valid point in this conversation. Removing the painting is a catalyst to a dialogue about art and what it represents. I hope that the painting will be returned at the appropriate time.

Ultimately, I agree with your assessment and it should be heard. Hopefully your thoughts as well as others might sway those who might have an opposite opinion but their opinion might give us something to think about as well.

Kathy Bush said...

Sad to think one person has the right to decide how art is viewed and interpreted. This woman is using an ‘of the moment’ populist lens to view a wonderful painting by a talented artist. He’s rolling over in his grave I’m sure.

Karl Kanner said...

Fairly ridiculous. Can't we have a conversation without censoring artwork? What century are we in?

Unknown said...

Great post!

Removing the Waterhouse seems like a misappropriation of #metoo, which focuses on men who are perpetrators in 'real life' not on the art they create. What the curator charges Waterhouse with is more akin to a "male gaze", the objectification of women for men in art. A more apt target would probably be Pablo Picasso.

You mentioned that the myth behind the painting is empowering to women. Perhaps, but we should not lose sight of 19th century context. Absolutely such paintings served to be sexually gratifying to men. It was "all we had" in that sense. Paintings citing mythology are at their heart thinly veiled pornography (tasteful though they may be). Is the myth of Hylas and the Nymphs so fascinating it should be depicted hundreds of times for any other reason? Juxtapose the image of nude nymphs with the societal expectations of 19th C. women and the empowering sentiment is as lost as Hylas's innocence.


Just my thoughts! Thanks for continually sparking our interest in art history!

Tom Hart said...

So well put, James, that I can't think of much to add. Thank you for bringing this poorly conceived censorship to light. Even if we were to agree that the painting shows women as a "passive decorative form", which you successfully refute, how can any curator justify erasing history? What could be next in Gannaway's sites?

Linda Navroth said...

"...and Gannaway has not answered questions posed to her in the forum, nor has she responded to my request for comment.: --That's not much of a conversation then. It's just people stating their opinions about it.

Sunila aka DragonladyCH said...

Misreading the myths is common, but this is ridiculous. Ah well.

Susan Krzywicki said...

I think it is wonderful that this is occurring. This is how we learn: someone does something that seems outrageous, and then all the debate it generates causes change. And because I firmly believe that life is progressive, then these conversations do bring us to a better place in the long term. No idea where this is leading...so let's keep poking around in it.

It is aggravating, in the short term. And it may seem silly. And it may BE silly. I am not able to judge. But just reading your post has made me think. I've never really considered why there are so many female nude scenes. Nudes and Battles. Nudes and Battles.

And, being no classics scholar, I have zero context on the power dynamics and message of this piece. But it sure is fascinating to think about now.

So, the whole thing may be an opening to another way of analyzing. And it may be a way of exploring the edge of going too far. But because we are all chattering about it, it will help us see more clearly. In time...not just right now...

Tom Hart said...

Susan, I initially had a reaction similar to yours. But on further reflection, I can't agree that Gannaway's action is a harmless invitation to discussion. For one thing, as James reports, the "... comment section on the Museum's website [is] heavily moderated, and many comments on the Museum's discussion page have been deleted. Gannaway has not answered questions posed to her in the forum, nor has she responded to [James's] emailed request for comment." Given that, Gannaway's censorship (for that's what it is) goes beyond silliness. If conversation is the goal, why remove the paintings?

GJ said...

The painting is a bit raunchy, you must admit; though Waterhouse is usually tougher than that. But it's nowhere near so vomit-making as Boucher. gj

A Colonel of Truth said...

Good grief. The offended - grow some epidermis and get along with life.

Martin Dimitrov said...

Agreed.

Duchess Owl said...

Yikes, this is a complicated issue! I agree that this exact painting shouldn't have been taken down as representative of the #MeToo movement. Further, removing a painting from public view is akin to censorship, which is never productive. Perhaps a different Victorian painting would have served as a better conversation starter about the objectification and eroticisation of female passivity (Gerome's 'Slave Auction'?). Although you point out that realist painters may be looking beyond the message to glean from technique, we can't really separate the social message from the art, nor should we, even if it is a message we don't like. I will reiterate: censorship is not the answer. In regard to art and oppression/ abuse, Amanda Hess wrote: "This conversation is often framed, unhelpfully, as an either-or: Whose work do we support, and whose do we discard forever?...Drawing connections between art and abuse can actually help us see the works more clearly, to understand them in all of their complexity, and to connect them to our real lives and experiences — even if those experiences are negative." https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/10/arts/sexual-harassment-art-hollywood.html

However, I think you are correct that this issue wasn't Waterhouse's particular foible in his paintings.

rotm81 said...

Excellent post, James. My wife and I agree completely.

James Gurney said...

Unknown, I'll willingly grant that someone else might have a different reading of "Hylas" than the one I offered. One could argue that the whole Greek-myth construct is just a rationale for repressed Victorians to indulge in a little titillation. Even if you grant that analysis, who is harmed? The theme of sexual desire has been woven through art since the Willendorf Venus. The curators who profess to be upset by the Victorian 'male gaze' would strenuously defend the free speech rights of contemporary performance artists who pose naked in public, such as Deborah de Robertis or Poppy Jackson. This action by the curators at the Manchester Art Gallery strikes me as both disingenuous and hypocritical, possibly a page from a new playbook for post-modern-art museum officials who want to hamstring the undeniably popular realism of yore.

Barbara said...

I think it's interesting, and I do not fault the museum. This is how thoughts and perceptions evolve. Someone pointed out to me many years ago that depictions of naked women in museums outnumber works by women by orders of magnitude.

ági said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ági said...

representative art (as everything pretty much) is already inherently political. and those nudes do have those connotations regardless of the mythical context (the myth is one thing and the way you choose to represent it is another). i'm so tired of people throwing around the censorship argument instead of trying to understand the core problem

babangada r said...

I just sent this to Clare Gannaway:

This ‘removal’ is an appalling misunderstanding of how to start a ‘conversation’.
I speak as someone who has been a feminist her whole life. This action of yours only makes it much more difficult to have rational ‘conversation’ when you take censorial actions which resemble those of some governments in attempts to control what their citizens think.

Please return a great work of art to a place of importance.

I have come to your museum many times from the US primarily in order to see that very painting.
I won’t come back until and unless it is restored and i will suggest to my Manchester friends that they stop going or contributing to an organization which views itself as not an educational institution and a holder of our shared history but apparently now one whose responsibility it is to control what people think by removing those things thought to contribute to what is not ‘approved’.
jada

Updated said...

She has broken a sacred rule of art- don't post, use or call art you haven't done your own- or use it as your own. To twist someone else's creative genius to benefit your political soap box is not only plagiary it's cheap and disgusting. This is happening everywhere, political ads using the work of dead artists to get likes and comments while superimposing propaganda. The good thing is, young people like myself see right through it.

Steve said...

I'm reading about this on a day when a friend of mine, a woman painter, posted images -- female nudes -- from her weekly life drawing class. In the past, she has also posted images of male nudes. The naked human body is an unending source of artistic interest and challenge. The majority of people I know -- male and female -- seem to regard the female human body as more aesthetically interesting and beautiful than the male. If desire or sexual interest is to be kept completely out of the process and product, we may be left with precious little meeting the standard for being displayed.

The previous commentator, Barbara, makes an important and valid point that "naked women in museums outnumber works by women by orders of magnitude." There is no question women have historically had far less freedom and opportunity to be artists -- along with virtually every other vocation -- than have men.

Still, I would hope the path to balance comes through inclusion rather than censorship/unending storage. If past works of art must pass a purity test to continue being displayed -- guessing at the inner thoughts and desires of the painter -- we risk pretending to know what we cannot know. Each of us inevitably projects interpretations on what we see. It's presumptuous to automatically assign motives, thoughts, and feelings to someone else; particularly someone long gone.

It could be said that people living during what we call Victorian times had complicated, flawed, and imperfect approaches to many things in life. Perhaps their sexual mores -- especially male privilege and dominance -- could lead the list of those imperfections. If that means all art which may share the consciousness level of its times must be rejected -- and if that standard is extended to other periods of history -- we will, again, be left with little on our walls.

Garrett said...

If they need a place to keep the painting in the meantime, I've got a ton of wall space!

Lester Yocum said...

Is there a correlation between taking down nude paintings because they offend the #metoo movement and taking down Civil War monuments because they offend #blacklivesmatter advocates? What is fair game; what are the limits?

Lester Yocum said...

BTW, thanks for posting this, James, and for taking a stand.

Meera Rao said...

Here is an article about Chuck Close's art - an exhibition of his works indefinitely postponed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery :https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/28/arts/design/chuck-close-exhibit-harassment-accusations.html?action=click&contentCollection=Art%20%26%20Design&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

Again, the question is just present art or do the museums have an active role in these discourses?

James Gurney said...

Lester, I think there are similarities and differences between this case and the removal of monuments. This removal of this individual painting was meant as a provocative publicity exercise to incite reaction (in that it succeeded) and it was presented as a temporary removal (let's hope so). The Waterhouse, we're told, will be put back up in a gallery space again, but with new interpretive materials. As a matter of course, curators are always rotating works in and out of storage.

The monument removal seems more irretrievable, given the unlikelihood that equestrian bronzes ever be returned to their plinths. What the two actions have in common is the decision by a minority in power to remove images that they deem unfit for our eyes to see because they fear if we see those images, we will be infected with the odious ideas that they purportedly convey. It should be noted that there are also those on the left who feel racist or misogynist works, rather than being destroyed, should be brought forward and seen to remind us of the unpleasant parts of our history.

Some removal decisions are irretrievable, such as selling off a museum's collection or pulling down a statue, or putting dynamite to a temple. To the extent that they are, we should think about how we explain it to our grandchildren. Our motives for cleansing ourselves of dangerous art, which may seem sensible now may appear unwise later. They must appear so now to the people of China as a consequence of the actions of Mao's Red Guard during the Great Leap Forward. In the name of improving society, they put to the torch vast amounts of China's creative heritage that was at that moment regarded as decadent. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

You ask: what's fair game and what are the limits? I'd say this: The best cure for bad art is to make good art.

Robert Cosgrove said...

About forty years ago, I was in Britain for the first time. I had decided I was a fan of J.W.Turner (something that hasn't changed) and made it a point to get to the Tate, which I had learned had a number of Turners. I still remember how stunned I was when I saw, for the first time, a painting I had never heard of by a painter I had never heard of. It was "The Lady of Shalott" (1888) by J. W. Waterhouse. I became an instant admirer. Decades later, I was thrilled to be able to make my first trip to Montreal for the express purpose of seeing the Waterhouse show.

Sadly, we have learned all too well what it means when someone says they want to "have a conversation." It doesn't mean that they desire to elicit a change of views, with the hope of mutual learning. It means, "sit there, and shut up, while I instruct you on your moral and intellectual failings, and by the time I'm through, with luck, I shall have twisted your head so that it is facing the right direction."

I'm sick of these little tyrants. Firing Gannaway would be an act of hygiene.

jytte said...

I would suggest that Gannaway han up Nick Scott's version LOL :o)

Karen Robinson said...

Why stop with Mr Waterhouse? Botticelli’s Venus needs covering up if not removing ‘to start a converstion’. In the interests of gender equality, Michelangelo’s David needs some knickers or at any rate a fig-leaf. And what about all those fat little cherubs and naughty cupids? Dress ‘em all up in onesies, perhaps. And let’s not stop at bottoms and boobs. That one of Ophelia floating down the river, dead - very worrying. You could be commissioned, James, to paint her a life-jacket and/or a trigger warning notice to pin alongside. You could paint it in gouache like that client’s logo you showed us the other day, so it looks authentically art-y: “Don’t Try This At Home” or some similar message.

James Gurney said...

@Babaganda R: "This ‘removal’ is an appalling misunderstanding of how to start a ‘conversation’.

Thanks for writing that letter. Yes, it's like telling your neighbor, 'Don't worry, I've got your dog in a cage in my basement. Now that I've got your attention, let's have a conversation about how you feel about domesticated animals.'

Nicholas Elliott said...

For Pete's sake this is becoming ridiculous! Gannaway clearly doesn't understand the painting. Perhaps she is trying to make a name for herself? What will become of Life Classes I wonder?

David Webb said...

In the words of another well known artist 'In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes'.

Enjoy it while it lasts, Ms Gannaway.

Jim Serrett said...

Absolutely Absurd !
It is censorship, shows complete lack of knowledge of art.
Completely ignorant.
BOYCOTT THIS MUSEUM!

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Meanwhile, interesting how he painted all the nymphs with the same face. We could start a conversation about that - is it an act of objectification or maybe a commentary on something else (nymphs as a sort of robots?)

Tom Hart said...

Gannaway's focus seems to be that which has plagued academic Art History through the years. In that field, art seems to be viewed primarily, and sometimes solely, through a socio/political lens, as if that is the only legitimate way to view art. This approach sometimes appears to rely heavily on guesswork and scholarship of relatively thin evidence. The result can be boring exhibitions, and in the worst cases, a type of censorship, intentional or incidental. Sadly it also minimizes or completely ignores the study of method, technique and appreciation of the piece as a literal object, which is the way that many of us (and I venture to say most of the general public) primarily appreciates art.

Jessica Yang said...

James, thanks for this post and the great images that accompany it. This card-carrying queer feminist agrees completely. I've always found Waterhouse's women full of a mysterious intriguing sense of self-possession and confidence. What a shame this curator took the easy way out.

scottT said...

I think this would have been better if Sonia Boyce had taken full responsibility for this removal (with approval) as an act of appropriation in order to make a statement related to her own upcoming exhibit. As it is, Gannaway seems to be running interference and letting the museum take most of the heat, thus diluting what would have been more effective as a personal artistic political/conceptual statement.

It's Gannaway's statements I find the most concerning as she seems to have the power to make decisions which have a real and lasting effect on the museum's exhibits and policy. The removal of the popular gift shop images of this painting is particularly mean spirited and is a cautionary on just how far censorship is willing to go once we start down that road.

Will Dudla said...

The lack of response on her part seems to me like this was all just a big marketing tactic to drive museum traffic (both without the painting and with it back on the wall). If she really wanted to have a "discussion" she would be replying in the comments.

James Gurney said...

Scott, I agree. Especially if the removal was Boyce's idea, your suggestion would have given the museum more cover to justify the act as a conceptual statement. However, whether Boyce were to do such a thing with the museum's blessing, or Gannaway does it to attract media attention, they will invite other acts of protest and even sabotage from museum-goers who feel the need to make their own "artistic" statements. Turning the art museum into a theater of political protest is probably not what the board of directors of the museum really want.

Will, I'll cut Gannaway some slack and presume that she really does want an exchange of views and that she didn't respond to my blog post and my email because A) they're swamped with input (they said they're still have hundreds of new comments to moderate) and B) Let's face it, GurneyJourney is not the BBC.

But if she does bother to read through these comments and wishes to respond, I respectfully have the following questions for her, the same ones that I emailed to her, and would be grateful for a thoughtful reply, which I'll post.

1. How has the reaction so far surprised you?
2. Why did you feel you needed to remove the painting from view, as opposed to talking about it with the painting on display?
3. How do you respond to the allegations that you are censor, a Puritan, and/or an authoritarian?
4. What do you see as the role of museums and museum curators with respect to issues of free speech and expression?

Leonid Ilyukhin said...

To tell the truth, Hylas was the victim of a harassment. The nymphs were abusers :)

jeff jordan said...

My whole career as an artist I've had people tell me"You shouldn't paint something like that." Which makes me want to do it even more. In my arena, if someone hates it, that's as good as if someone loves it. I'm a surrealist, seems normal for these times. I suppose it's a good thing she doesn't have control over Courbet's Origin of the World. Waterhouse raunchy? I fear where censorship is taking us. Nobody's gonna tell me what or what not to do. Sounds like the Peter Principle, to me. She needs to be replaced.

David R. Darrow said...

I have lived to have in my life's experience The Moral Majority (Right) and now the Even More Moral Than You Left. It's all BS. It's all angering. The irony and hypocrisy are too thick to wade.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

I think it is OK to reassess what's acceptable or not to the society as we progress. For example, I think the recent brouhaha about Therese Dreaming by Balthus is OK and reexamination of whether such a painting can be exhibited in a family-friendly place like the Met is warranted.
The maneuver in this does seem heavy handed but maybe that was part Gannaway's calculation. I find it is always better to wait a little bit before jumping to conclusions about such matters.

David Webb said...

GOOD NEWS:

The painting is back on the wall! Just heard on the BBC news.

My Pen Name said...

Interesting that we are less tolerant and more censoring than the Victorians who we constantly ridicule for being 'uptight' sexually.

A side note, our perception of Victorians covering piano 'legs' because of the sexual implication comes from a Bloomsbury satire of Victorian mores- not actual Victorians.

Second side not, it seems its often women who do these things (censor or remove historic statues, paintings, plaques) and often the article will include a picture the woman with this self-satisfied smile - I think a lot of these actions are actually female narcissism and virtue signalling.

Limn Illustration said...

David, I saw that the BBC article but did you see how it was worded in byline? "A gallery is to put a Victorian painting of NAKED ADOLESCENT GIRLS back on display after a row over censorship." Is that what is depicted? Sure, but I feel like thats just to get people riled up and on the side of those who wanted this "discussion".

Andy said...

I recall many years ago, as a young man, contemplating my first life-drawing class. I wondered how I would cope but, maybe surprisingly, maybe not, I felt no sense of titillation throughout the one-and-a-half hours of drawing pose after pose of a naked twenty-something woman. Sure I found artistic pleasure in the lines of her form, but the next week we had a naked guy, and similar artistic pleasure was discovered there too.

Maybe it's those who can only view any image of a naked woman through the lens of sexual exploitation who have the real problem.

NICHOLAS LA PARA said...

I don't necessarily agree with the curator's action, but I don't agree with your analysis of the painting either. It looks like slickly wrapped pornography to me. One glance shows that.
Nicholas La Para

The Painter of Parks said...

I saw a show of this and other Pre-Raphaelites in Japan two years ago. Let me know if you want some close ups.

Lou said...

Lord save us from Politically Correct art/artists/museums/libraries/bookstores/authors.

Peter Drubetskoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Drubetskoy said...

Lou, art does not have to be "PC", but let's not pretend that there is not a discussion to be had about public places that display art. I am not a prude, I draw from nude models every week, but I don't want to go to a museum with my daughters and see, say, Jeff Koons' "Made in Heaven" (look it up, if you are not familiar.) Museums should definitely exercise judgement as to what is OK and not to show to the wide public. We can disagree with the curator about this particular case (I think I don't) but to pretend that there is not an issue in general is silly.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Andy, well said. When drawing from a model, it is hard enough and demands such concentration of mental abilities, that any titillation, even if present, is very secondary. And yes, even drawing old models or males produces the same pleasure in simply depicting the human form.

David Webb said...

Limn, yes I did notice the way the article was worded. Not exactly impartial on the BBC's part. They could've just named the painting title and the artist but there you go.

Limn Illustration said...

Peter, I understand what you are saying about your daughters seeing a piece of art like that. And I have several thoughts on this:

1. put a warning label in a section of a gallery: this would probably be the most reasonable way to handle it but who determines what is appropriate for what age group? If there is nudity in any capacity should we warn parents? Or is it about the context? And how is this regulated across other museums, assuming they would all participate in this system?

2. keep "inappropriate" art in a separate area: aside from issues that would arise with determining what is deemed "appropriate", a separate viewing area suddenly makes this "deviant" art feel like the space it occupies is the back of a Blockbuster video. Is that right? What about the people who choose to go back there? Are they perverts for looking at the work?

3. its the responsibility of the parents: we all know that most museums have their collections searchable online. So if someone wants to take their kids to the museum and are concerned about what their children are exposed to than shouldn't it be up to the parent to research and decide ahead of time instead of telling a museum it needs to change when many other visitors take no issue with it.

Andy said...

From the main article: “Throughout the painting’s seven day absence, it’s been clear that many people feel very strongly about the issues raised, and we now plan to harness this strength of feeling for some further debate on these wider issues.”

This reminds of the time our major community art exhibition awarded no prize in one of the categories with the judges effectively saying "you all need to try harder" [paraphrased]. For the record, there were some magnificent works submitted by successful, award-winning artists.

At the opening night's award presentation, the presenter declared that this decision was surely a good thing because controversy means "people are talking about art".

Who decided controversy in art is good? And what "controversy" can we expect next from a gallery that holds this same view?

My Pen Name said...

@andy
yeah - this is museums as entertainment or museums as political - not as cathedrals of culture - musuems cannot and should not try to compete with popular culture. T

Concerning nudes- yes I explain to people that drawing nudes is like being a surgeon you're concentrating too much to think about sex - it also is completely disrespectful of the model.

and frankly there is nothing in my opinion overtly 'sexy' about a nude we draw nudes so we can understand structure get bone placement right,etc but ultimately as humans we all understand the penalty of Adam and nude, to me =vulnerability.

Warren JB said...

What they can't see, Andy, is when it gets people talking about art, it's usually to wish that the people who were put in charge of art... weren't.

BetsyL said...

James Gurney:
"In the case of us working realist painters, we look to Waterhouse as a master of composition and paint technique, quite apart from the social messages that may or may not be in his work. The public has a interest in seeing its heritage in art displayed without a lot of curatorial manipulation and politicization."

Toni Morrison:
"All of that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS. What are these people talking about? Are you really telling me that Shakespeare and Aeschylus weren’t writing about kings? All good art is political! There is none that isn’t. And the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status quo.’ We’ve just dirtied the word ‘politics,’ made it sound like it’s unpatriotic or something. That all started in the period of state art, when you had the communists and fascists running around doing this poster stuff, and the reaction was ‘No, no, no; there’s only aesthetics.’ My point is that is has to be both: beautiful and political at the same time. I’m not interested in art that is not in the world.”

Artemisia Sage said...

There are some thoughtful points raised on this thread. James, you host one of the more civilised corners of the web.

I have to agree that removing a painting (and further, this particular one, though there may be reasons it was possible to use this one and not others) from view was less than ideal. I disagree, however, that the curator was taking an easy way out, given the level of personal backlash women experience making any statement in the public eye. I don't think it was a cynical move, as the personal cost is too high.

A preponderance of female nudes is certainly intertwined with the politics of power as well as with what constitutes aesthetic value and for whom.

I don't know how one would go about sparking good-faith discussion, which enriches all participants, on any sort of scale; it's an issue a lot of people are trying to solve right now.

James Gurney said...

Artemisia, I see what you're saying, but the reason I doubt the motives of the removal is that the #MeToo rationale is mixed up with the promotion of an upcoming exhibit for this artist Sonia Boyce.

Boyce has previously done conceptual "artworks" where she has restricted access to other works of art. In Brighton, she wrapped cases of ethnographic objects in paper to make a point about colonialism. Boyce doesn't paint anymore apparently, so she does these stunts instead. Gannaway and other museum officials have admitted that their main reason for the removal is to generate publicity for the Boyce show.

I'm not doubting that Gannaway really has gender issues she wants to discuss, but this all explains why they went about it in a way that is deliberately provocative and arrogant. The sad thing is that they could have arranged really valuable discussions in the presence of the painting, the way any other museum would do.

Because of the way they executed the action, at best they shifted the debate from legitimate questions about male/female relations to justifiable outrage over their heavy-handed act of censorship, and at worst they gave fuel to their political opposition who could easily frame the whole thing as feminism run amok or a form of moral totalitarianism.

babangada r said...

Totally agree Jim, I have already received those kinds of comments claiming her actions are an example of how feminism runs amok ...just what might have been predicted.

Removing artwork from view (never mind the postcards) is a far cry from a genuine confrontation of the wrongful use of power. The taking of a bus seat in a racially prohibited section and the accusations of Dr. Nassar are examples of the real deal!

On the other hand, if the museum just wanted to provoke interest in the upcoming show, they should have claimed they were going to prevent Boyce from having an exhibition.

Andy said...

Stunts like this are the reason some women, including my twenty-something daughter, choose not identify as feminists.