It’s a difficult topic and one that is by far not new. Art censorship has been a heated discussion from the early 16th century, starting with Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” to “Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B” in 2014 ( see a brief history of art censorship: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/16/art-censorship_n_6465010.html )
Historically art censorship has come from the top, from high culture; be it for religious, political or socioeconomic reasons. Yet artists have always tried to push the boundaries and after all, isn’t it in the responsibility of art and the artist to criticise, depict or raise awareness of circumstances outside of comfort zones?
What is new is that some claim the #metoo movement might now lead to art censorship from the bottom up and that maybe even on a large scale. A petition started by Mia Merrill against the depiction of the work by Polish-French artist Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, known as Balthus in New York’s Met museum is causing quite some stir these days.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY
Merrill called out to #metoo allies to support her petition to take down the painters work titled: Therese Dreaming (1938) (https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/489977)
She tweeted: “I put together a petition asking the Met to take down a piece of art that is undeniably romanticizing the sexualization of a child. If you are a part of the
#metoo movement or ever think about the implications of art on life, please support this effort.”
Merrill said she was “shocked” to see the painting depicting a young girl “in a sexually suggestive pose.”
She added: “Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses without providing any type of clarification, The Met is, perhaps unintentionally, supporting voyeurism and the objectification of children.”
The petition gained nearly 11.000 signatures in just a few hours. Some supporters commenting things like:
“This artist was more than likely a pedophile. Notwithstanding, this picture promotes and normalizes sexual exploitation of children because it is given the seal of approval by the “elites” in the art world.” (Steven M.)
“This is clearly meant to stimulate a sexual fantasy with a child. At some point, any “discussion” the Met wants to stimulate simply furthers an indulgence in the fantasy.” (Tara W.)
“I have found this painting to be so disturbing and disgusting in so many ways that as much as I love painting with a passion, I always walk by this Balthus quickly and don’t even look at it. In displaying this painting, the Met is endorsing pedophilia.” (anonymous)
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY
German magazine “Die Zeit” wrote an interesting essay stating:
Those who wander the museums of this world will discover a myriad of naked women and men and they don’t fall short of naked children. On top of that, there is a lot of violence on display: When Tizian paints, how Tarquinius forces himself on Lucrezia. How Anthonis van Dyck depicts how two white old men paw Susanna in “Susanna and the Elders”, or when Pablo Picasso paints the Demoiselles d’Avignon as a prostitute. These paintings all belong to the greatest art treasures of history, and many of them will now be viewed in a totally different light, thanks to #metoo. Some of these works, that seems certain, will fall in disgrace.
But can we really censor art like an advertising campaign on sexual objectification?
WHAT THE MUSEUM SAYS
The Met strongly disagrees:
“The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s mission is to ‘…collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas.’ ”
“Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/06/new-yorks-met-museum-refuses-remove-balthus-painting-despite/)
Since taking photos is for free, we no longer preserve the special moments, but urge to depict the tritely. The picture becomes a medium of ordinary conversation and art turns into a commodity, captured in passing, as a selfie background. The protective environment of museums does no longer exist. It falls victim to a society, in which many tend to refer everything categorically to them.
It reigns the self-identifying point of view, as forced upon us from Instagram, Facebook, and co. With that, even art must obey the rules of what these mediums deem presentable and must abide by the need to bow down to a culture where the picture and the depicted are often put on the same playing field. What has been valued as of yet as a historical relict, a depiction of bettered circumstances and tolerated as such, must now suffice the sensitivities of today.
Until now the Metropolitan Museum in New York withstands the storm. But the petition will draw its circles and whilst even the petitioner now admits, that the painting does not need to vanish altogether and that a few warning signs and explanatory text might help to defang it, this is the first step to abolish the role and neutrality of museums altogether and there is a chance that it will awaken a storm of deeply stirred followers.
We’d love to hear your opinion. Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts…