Last week, New York-based culture critic Charles Shafaieh drew up a list of 10 instances where politics impacted art. His tabulation took in the art of literature and performing arts as well as visual arts -- all of which have riled members of government at one time or another.
Dressing down “The Spirit of Justice”
On the list was sculptor C. Paul Jennewein, whose works grace numerous government buildings. One of them, a 12-foot-tall, bare-breasted female figure known as “The Spirit of Justice,” has been standing in the U.S. Justice Department Great Hall for more than half a century. The figure made headlines in 1986 after Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered it shrouded after spotting a breast over his head during a televised news conference.
Another artwork that got government folks’ dander up was Andre Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” a photograph of a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine, which he intended as a protest against the commercialization of Christ. Serrano won a $15,000 fellowship for the work from the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, a group sponsored in part by the National Endowment of the Arts. U.S. Senators Al D'Amato and Jesse Helms sought to defund the NEA over the photo.
Countries undaunted by controversial art
Both of those examples share a common adversary: a government official bent on ruling over art. Allow me to suggest a different roll call, this one of governments that okay provocative artwork.
A new mural painted on an Australian powerhouse building boldly delineates male and female frontal nudity on a scale so gargantuan that our reproductive organs look inflated. Nudity in art isn’t new, of course, but seeing our anatomy in jumbo size towering over a street is new. Even so, the Geellong Council in Australia refuses to censor the image.
Another example of letting nudity in art go is the exhibit of Anish Kapoor’s mammoth tunnel-shaped sculpture called “Queen’s Vagina” set in the Garden of Versailles. The mayor of Versailles, François de Mazières, saw no problem with the metalwork and tweeted his defense this way: “Any controversy will just bring more visitors.”
More figure art in the altogether
New to the controversial art scene is Illma Gore’s full length nude portrait of Donald Trump with noticeably tiny genitals that got her suspended from Facebook. Galleries in the U.S. also refused to exhibit the portrait, but there was no ban on public viewing in London. Gore’s painting could be seen at the Maddox Gallery this month. Why? Gore told the press, "It seems like the United Kingdom has such an appreciation for art and is far removed enough to see the idea behind it." Gallery director James Nicholls put it another way: Maddox Gallery is giving London the chance to view the original artwork and make up their own minds."
What this run-through plainly demonstrates is that while Australia, France, and England refused to censor artwork, none of this work got a pass in the land of the free and the home of the brave. #GOP