"I don't know how you're going to get away with anything like that. You aren't planning to show it, are you?"

That was Alfred Stieglitz – New York photographer/gallery owner and husband to Georgia O'Keeffe – worrying about her floral close-ups that look like the female sex organ.

At least, Stieglitz had some basis for concern. It's beyond comprehension why Poland's Fort Gerhard Museum – a military museum known for displays of uniforms and weaponry from Frederick the Great to the end of the Cold War – is asking visitors to stop having sex in the galleries.

The Fort Gerhard advisory goes like this: "Guests in love, please understand — most of the exhibits in our museum are objects 'born' many years ago and subject to completely different moral standards."

Make love, not war

It's not clear what moral standards the exhibits are reflecting, unless the libidinous visitors are making a statement: "Make love, not war." How else to explain the multiple sex acts caught on CCTV cameras installed throughout the museum?

Museum director Piotr Piwowarczyk offered a likely explanation to the Polish media, and it has nothing to do with the exhibits. He ascribes the illicit activity to the "illusion of intimacy" in its dimly lit corners. The atmosphere in the fort is dark, with many nooks and crannies."

I probably wouldn't have bothered with this news at the Fort Gerhard Museum if it weren't for an equally incomprehensible tale of titillation out of London the same week.

An Art News magazine headline tells the story: "Students protest 'phallic' Antony Gormley sculpture planned for London school."

The students, attending the South Kensington Campus at the Imperial College in London, are upset about having Gormley's abstract sculpture "Alert" in their front yard owing to what they see as a "phallic" look.

Seeing things that aren't there

More than that, they say the perceived male member looks erect, which is a stretch. You might as well say that the Empire State Building is the picture of the sex organ at the ready.

The take on the Gormley abstraction is as far-fetched as seeing the Polish Museum exhibit examples of war as erotic.

No matter how satyric you are, it's hard to find anything anatomical in this sculpture. Consider some facts.

Gormley's sculpture is a 20-foot-tall architectural form reminiscent of something Louise Nevelson used to do. What you see are stacks of different-size rectangular blocks, each hard-edged and geometric, without a sign of a body part anywhere.

The student's written motion says otherwise: "Regardless of artistic intent, 'Alert' is interpreted by many as phallic." Their statement said that while there's nothing wrong with depicting the phallus, the sculpture's "preoccupation with the penis is inappropriate for a grand public display, especially given the statue's size."

Notably, most of the student body is male.

Only 39 percent are women. So, there's no issue of penis envy. Gormley says the title of the work, "Alert," speaks to a state of mind - "alive and awake" – not the body.

All of which raises this question: when does abstract art get tossed because of someone's interpretation? When Richard Serra's abstraction "Tilted Arc" was booted off a New York sidewalk by public demand, it was because it interfered with foot traffic. An interpretation was never the issue.

I suspect the issue at the London college is not a sex organ, but scorn for modern art. One look at where the statue will be installed makes the case.

"Alert" will stand in front of the college's science building. If these science students continue to see what they claim to see, they need to get out more. Auditing a class in art appreciation might be useful, too.