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A (very) Brief Survey of Provocative and Censored Art

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1 A (very) Brief Survey of Provocative and Censored Art
By Marjorie Heins Free Expression Policy Project ©2008 – Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives License Contact for further information about using this slide show

2 Pompeii, Goat and Satyr La Camera Segretta (the secret room), Naples Archeological Museum
See Walter Kendrick, The Secret Museum One of the first artifacts discovered during the excavations at Pompeii, it was placed in a “secret room” in the Naples Archeological Museum

3 Pompeii Tile Mosaic, Pan & Hamadryad La Camera Segretta (the secret room), Naples Archeological Museum

4 Pompeii Wall Mural of Mercury/Priapus La Camera Segretta (the secret room), Naples Archeological Museum Hermes (Mercury) is portrayed as a bearded god with enlarged phallus, winged sandals and caduceus wand.

5 Michelangelo, David (1504) Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence
Michelangelo depicts David before the battle with Goliath. For Michelangelo’s city-state of Florence, surrounded by enemies at the time, the statue was a political symbol of fortezza and ira, strength and anger. From University of Colorado website, In 1991, a photograph of the celebrated statute was deleted from a TV news report shown in an Oregon junior high school. The school’s media specialist explained: “We wouldn’t want to show anything parents would be offended by.” Marjorie Heins, Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America’s Censorship Wars

6 Titian, “Venus of Urbino” (1538) Uffizi, Florence
Although an opponent of censorship in literature, Mark Twain did not extend the same license to visual art. In the first draft of his 1880 book A Tramp Abroad, he called the “Venus of Urbino” “purely the Goddess of the Beastly (Bestial).” And “because the fingers of her left hand quite explicitly rested between her legs on her mons, Twain indignantly expanded this reaction for the book itself to say that Titian had painted ‘the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses.’” From Richard Bridgman, Traveling in Mark Twain, Mark Twain called the “Venus of Urbino” “purely the Goddess of the Beastly (Bestial) … the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses.”

7 Francisco de Goya, “La Maja Desnuda” (1798-1800) Museo del Prado, Madrid
In 1991 a female professor at Penn. State University complained that a poster reproduction of “Maja Desnuda” on her classroom wall constituted sexual harassment. The university’s Commission for Women agreed, and the poster, along with three others, was taken down. After students protested, the works were rehung in the student lounge. From Marjorie Heins, Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America’s Censorship Wars In 1959, the U.S. Post Office banned the mailing of a reproduction of “La Maja Desnuda” that was being used to promote a movie about Goya’s life.

8 Édouard Manet, “Olympia” (1863) Musée d’Orsay, Paris
“Why were visitors to the Paris gallery, already quite familiar with art featuring the naked body, so outraged by the painting that the gallery was forced to hire two policemen to protect the canvas? The objections … had more to do with the realism of the subject matter than the fact that the model was nude. While Olympia's pose had classic precedents, the subject of the painting represented a prostitute. … not the sort of scene previously depicted in the art of the era.” From “The Shock of the Nude: Manet’s Olympia” (PBS), Perhaps the style seemed at the time too close to cheap “pornography” than “high art.” Similar to today’s distinction between museum nudes and Playboy centerfolds? Manet painted “Olympia” the same year as “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe,” a picnic scene with a naked female and two fully clothed males. “Déjeuner” was rejected by the Paris Salon, the prestigious annual art exhibit, and Manet waited two years before submitting “Olympia.” “Olympia” was accepted for exhibition, but it caused a furor, and was bitterly attacked by critics.

9 Gustave Courbet, “L’Origine du Monde” (1866) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Insecula, Guide Intégral du Voyageur, Sex objectification or protest against prudery? Commissioned by a Turkish diplomat, the painting was later found in Budapest after the financial failure of the collector, and was eventually acquired by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. It came to the Musée d’Orsay in 1995.

10 Jasper Johns, “Flag” (1954-55) Museum of Modern Art, New York
“It is a complex mix of paint and collage, with cuttings from newspapers showing through the layers of paint. Rather than being flat, Flag has real texture and a wonderful three-dimensional quality that has inspired me to bring a little of its richness into my designs.”  Andy Clarke, “Johns’s rendering of the American flag “startled an art world that was still largely preoccupied with abstraction. … Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art wanted to purchase the work but worried that it might be seen as unpatriotic by his board, so he arranged for someone else to buy it and later donate it to the museum.” The Warhol: Lessons and Resources,

11 Kate Millett, “The American Dream Goes to Pot” (1970) Originally exhibited at “People’s Flag Show,” Judson Memorial Church, New York, 1970 David S. Rubin, Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art Twenty-four year later, the work was included in the traveling exhibition, “Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art,” curated by the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art. Although this show ran in Cleveland without incident, it was greeting with angry protests from veterans’ groups when it was mounted in Phoenix, Arizona in Some protesters sabotaged the exhibit by removing flags from the works by Millett and “Dread” Scott Tyler.  Time Line by the Phoenix Art Museum, See also the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) (ruling that “desecration” of the flag is protected by the First Amendment) Organized in response to the arrest of an art dealer in 1966 for exhibiting anti-Vietnam War sculptures made from American flags, and the arrest of Abbie Hoffman in 1968 for wearing a shirt made from an American flag at a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the “People’s Flag Show” included works by more than 200 artists, including Millett.

12 “Dread” Scott Tyler, What Is the Proper Way to Display a U. S. Flag
“Dread” Scott Tyler, What Is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? Installation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1988; later included in the traveling exhibition, “Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art.”  Viewers do not have to step on the flag in order to see the book and images on the wall, but it is the easiest way to do so. Within a week of the exhibition’s opening at the School of the Art Institute, veterans organizations filed suit (unsuccessfully) to close down the show. Bomb threats and physical threats to students, faculty, staff continued. State funding for the School of The Art Institute was cut from $70,000 to $1. In 1994, the work was included in the traveling exhibition, “Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art,” curated by the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art. Although this show ran in Cleveland without incident, it was greeting with angry protests from veterans’ groups when it was mounted in Phoenix, Arizona in Some protesters sabotaged the exhibit by removing flags from Tyler’s work, as well as Millett’s “American Dream Goes to Pot.” The judge noted: “This exhibit is as much an invitation to think about the flag as it is an invitation to step on it.” Bomb threats and physical threats to students, faculty, staff continued, however. The Chicago Police Department informed the school that any viewer who walked on the flag might be charged with a felony. The exhibition remained in the show, but Tyler was not allowed to submit the work as his thesis project. State funding for the School of The Art Institute of Chicago was cut from $70,000 to $1. The FileRoom.org,

13 David Nelson, Mirth and Girth (1988)
This student painting depicting recently deceased Chicago Mayor Harold Washington was displayed in May 1988 as part of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s student competition. Three city aldermen, outraged, went to the Art Institute, took the painting off the wall, and attempted to remove it from campus. They were stopped by a school official, and ultimately the police took custody of the painting. In the lawsuit that followed, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the aldermen’s action violated the First Amendment. “Art on Trial,” Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression, See also Nelson v. Streeter, 16 F.3d 145 (7th Cir. 1994)

14 Judy Chicago, Primordial Goddess, from “The Dinner Party” ( ) (mixed media installation, Brooklyn Museum of Art) “The Dinner Party” is a massive triangular table with 39 place settings, each honoring an important woman from myth or history with designs based on vulvar and butterfly forms; another 999 women’s names are inscribed in gold on the floor below the table. The work was constructed by a team of women, and for years had no permanent home. Some critics thought the work pedagogical and reductive, but it is “an important icon of 1970s feminist art,” according to the Brooklyn Museum, which eventually acquired it and in 2007 put it on permanent display. “Long-Term Installation, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art,”

15 Andres Serrano, “Piss Christ” (1987) (photograph)
It was the title of this luminous photograph that caused an uproar in 1989 after it was discovered that a North Carolina museum had included it in an exhibition supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. (Serrano also received $15,000.) Senator Jesse Helms fulminated on the Senate floor: Serrano “is a jerk, but let him be a jerk on his own time and with his own resources. Do not dishonor our Lord. I resent it and I think the vast majority of the American people do.” Attacks on the NEA and threats to its existence continued for the next decade. Free Expression Policy Project, Free Expression in Arts Funding: A Public Policy Report. See also Richard Bolton, ed., Culture Wars

16 Robert Mapplethorpe, “Joe” (1978) (photograph from the X Portfolio)
The X Portfolio, documenting sadomasochistic practices, was part of a traveling exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, “The Perfect Moment,” organized by the U. of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art. In June 1989, Rep. Dick Armey and 107 fellow congressmen wrote an open letter to the National Endowment for the Arts protesting its support of the exhibition; in response, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC cancelled its scheduled showing of “The Perfect Moment.” Along with congressional outrage over Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” the Mapplethorpe brouhaha put the existence of the NEA at risk for the next decade. Free Expression Policy Project, Free Expression in Arts Funding: A Public Policy Report. See also Richard Bolton, ed., Culture Wars

17 Robert Mapplethorpe, “Self-Portrait” (1978) (photograph from the X Portfolio)
The X Portfolio formed the basis for an obscenity prosecution against the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center, which hosted “The Perfect Moment,” in The Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, were acquitted at trial. The X Portfolio, photographs documenting sadomasochistic practices, was part of a large retrospective traveling exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, “The Perfect Moment,” organized by the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art. In June 1989, Rep. Dick Armey and 107 fellow congressmen wrote an open letter to the National Endowment for the Arts protesting its support of the exhibition; the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC then cancelled its scheduled showing of “The Perfect Moment.” Along with congressional outrage over Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” the Mapplethorpe brouhaha put the future funding of the NEA at risk for the next decade. Free Expression Policy Project, Free Expression in Arts Funding: A Public Policy Report.

18 Robert Mapplethorpe, “Self-Portrait” (1985) (photograph)
Although not in the X Portfolio, this self-portrait is part of a series that documents Mapplethorpe’s evolving self-image as his unconventional life and career unfolded. He died of AIDS in 1989.

19 Karen Finley in Performance (1990)
Finley was the most prominent of four performance artists who sued the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990 after sensational publicity and pressure from Congress led the NEA to veto their recommended fellowships. Finley became known as the “chocolate-smeared woman” because of a performance in which she smeared chocolate over her nude body to symbolize society’s abuse of women. Although the four artists – Finley, Holly Hughes, Tim Miller, and John Fleck – received their grants after a federal trial court ruled in their favor, their lawsuit continued as a challenge to a federal law that required the NEA to consider “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public” in awarding grants. Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld the law. Free Expression Policy Project, Free Expression in Arts Funding: A Public Policy Report ; See also Richard Bolton, ed., Culture Wars;

20 Dayton Claudio, “Sex, Laws, and Coathangers” (1992)
Claudio applied for and received a permit to exhibit a painting in the lobby of a federal building in Raleigh, North Carolina as part of the Public Buildings Cooperative Use program, which encourages art in public spaces. Once they saw the work, administrators revoked Claudio’s permit and forced him to remove the painting, saying that it was “controversial,” “political,” and likely to offend North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. Claudio sued, but the U.S. district court ruled that despite the purposes of the Cooperative Use program (to encourage art in public buildings), the government could prohibit the display of such a “gory and graphic” painting. “Art on Trial,” Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression, See also Claudio v. General Services Administration, 836 F. Supp (E.D.N.C. 1993).

21 Jerry Boyle, “Holier Than Thou” (2003) (sculpture)
Each year, Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas sponsors an outdoor sculpture contest; once selected, the winning entries are displayed around campus for several months. One of the five winning entries in 2003 was Jerry Boyle’s “Holier Than Thou,” showing the upper body of a clergyman that critics claimed was grotesque. A professor and a student filed suit in federal court demanding the removal of the statue on the ground that it conveyed an impermissible state-sponsored message of disapproval of the Catholic religion. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that, viewed in context with the other sculptures on campus, “any reasonable observer ... would understand the university had not endorsed that message.” Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression, “Art on Trial,”

22 Chris Ofili, “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996)
Ofili uses dried elephant dung, a sacramental element in African rituals, in his artworks. New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani considered “Holy Virgin Mary” blasphemous and froze city funds to the Brooklyn Museum in 1999 after it refused his demands to remove the work. A federal court ruled that the mayor’s actions were unconstitutional. Ofili, an English-born painter of Nigerian heritage, includes dried elephant dung, which is used in African rituals, as a sacramental element in some of his works. His “Holy Virgin Mary,” part of the British exhibition “Sensation,” which traveled to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999, offended New York’s then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who threatened to freeze city funding to the museum and evict it from its premises if the museum did not cancel the show. The city’s arts community generally supported the museum, but it was a federal lawsuit that forced Giuliani to restore funding. The court ruled that the mayor’s coercive actions were an unconstitutional effort to penalize the museum because of the perceived viewpoint of the art on display. Free Expression Policy Project, Free Expression in Arts Funding: A Public Policy Report. See also Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences v. City of New York, 64 F. Supp.2d 184 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).

23 Tom Forsythe, “Malted Barbie” (1999) (photograph from the “Food Chain Barbie” series)
Forsythe was sued by Mattel, maker of the Barbie doll, for copyright and trademark infringement, after he created a series of satirical and socially critical images. Ultimately, he won the case, and Mattel was ordered to pay attorneys’ fees to Forsythe’s pro bono lawyers. The court ruled that Forsythe’s use of the Barbie doll constituted “fair use” under both copyright and trademark law: “The benefits to the public in allowing such use – allowing artistic freedom and … criticism of a cultural icon – are great.” Marjorie Heins and Tricia Beckles, Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control (Free Expression Policy Project)  See also Mattel v. Walking Mountain Productions, 353 F.3d 792 (9th Cir. 2003)

24 Tom Forsythe, “Every Barbie For Herself” (1997) (photograph from the “Food Chain Barbie” series)
One of the images in the “Food Chain Barbie” series which was the subject of an unsuccessful copyright and trademark suit by Mattel. The court ruled that Forsythe’s artistic commentary on the Barbie doll was not copyright infringement but fair use. Marjorie Heins and Tricia Beckles, Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control (Free Expression Policy Project)  See also Mattel v. Walking Mountain Productions, 353 F.3d 792 (9th Cir. 2003)

25 Adbusters, “Joe Chemo” (1996)
Joe Chemo was invented by psychology professor Scott Plous after his father nearly died from smoking. The image first appeared in Adbusters magazine in 1996. Joe Chemo is one of many uses of copyrighted and trademarked material for social commentary – a deliberate challenge to the attempts of some corporations to exercise total control over the use of their logos and symbols. Adbusters, a Canadian organization, has received cease and desist letters threatening legal action, but welcomes the possibility of litigation to test its right to use these images. Giselle Fahimian, “How the IP Guerrillas Won: ®TMark, Adbusters, Negativland, and the ‘Bullying Back’ of Creative Freedom and Social Commentary,” 2004 Stanford Technology Law Review 1 (2004). The Washington State Department of Health has distributed 10,000 Joe Chemo posters to public schools, and other anti-smoking organizations have given away Joe Chemo t-shirts. In 1997, the Federal Trade Commission charged that the Joe Camel advertising campaign violated federal fair trade practice laws by promoting a lethal and addictive product to children and adolescents. Two months later, Reynolds announced that its 23-year-old Joe Camel advertising campaign would be discontinued. From

26 Wally Wood, “Disneyland Memorial Orgy” (1967)
One of the original Mad Magazine illustrators, Wally Wood published this poster in The Realist, an underground newsletter, in An inside source at Disney told Realist editor Paul Krassner that the company chose not to sue to avoid drawing attention to what could ultimately be a losing battle. However, Disney was not so reluctant when an entrepreneur pirated the drawing and sold it as a poster. The commercial nature of the poster – as well as its potential to reach an audience far larger than The Realist – was probably what prompted Disney to file a lawsuit, which was ultimately settled out of court. From Copyright infringement or fair use?

27 Kieron Dwyer, “Consumer Whore” (1999)
In 2000, a year after Kieron Dwyer made comic books, t-shirts, and stickers with his version of the Starbucks logo, the company sued him for copyright and trademark infringement, obtaining an injunction that prevented Dwyer from using the parody until the case was scheduled to go to court over a year later. When the case was finally settled, Dwyer agreed not to display, reproduce, publish, distribute, or sell his design, exscept on his web site, and only if unaccompanied by advertising or the sale of any product. The settlement did not bind the organizers of the “Illegal Art” show, and despite some cease and desist letters, no lawsuit was filed to stop the show. If Dwyer had had pro bono as Tom Forsythe did, he might have won his case on “fair use” grounds. From Marjorie Heins and Tricia Beckles, Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control (Free Expression Policy Project); Starbucks sued artist Kieron Dwyer for using this image on comic books, t-shirts, and stickers.

28 Ashley Holt, “Notmickey” (2002)
Holt created a pad of clipart, a ready-to-cut image of a familiar cartoon character, and a handy pair of scissors, all in one. It says “Don’t Sue,” and Disney didn’t. From Mickey says “Don’t sue,” and Disney didn’t.

29 Is it censorship? Only two pictures of blues singer Robert Johnson exist. In one of them a cigarette dangles from his lips. When, in 1994, the post office used that photo to create a stamp honoring him, they carefully removed the offensive cigarette. A few years later they did the same thing with a Jackson Pollock photo used for a stamp.  From


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