It’s been nearly a century since the Austrian painter Egon Schiele died, but his art — charged with erotic energy and usually showing more than a little skin — still ruffles feathers. A series of 4 advertisements showing Schiele’s graphically contorted bodies with explicitly rendered private parts didn’t make it past the critical eyes of those selling advertising space, in Britain and Germany, for the Vienna tourist board’s year-long retrospective of Viennese modernism.
The primary gender characteristics of the nudes had to be covered with a white text field in Hamburg, Cologne and London’s subway, which the Vienna tourist board also used as a vehicle for their message. The question “100 years old. And still too daring?” was extensively discussed by the audience on social media using the hashtag #DerKunstihreFreiheit — #ToArtItsFreedom.
In the meantime, something like that is happening towards the Balthus’ painting, Thérèse rêvant / Thérèse Dreaming, at the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. A certain Ms. Mia Merrill started a petition to ask the Met to remove the painting arguing that it depicts a young girl in a sexually suggestive pose from a man’s point of view.
Fortunately the museum refuses to take down the artwork, despite the eleven thousand signatures collected. In reference to the museum’s decision, the Met’s chief communications officer, Ken Weine, said, “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.”
Thérèse Dreaming is not the only painting by Balthus, born Balthasar Klossowski, that portrays girls and adolescents in a controversial manner. Girl with Cat, which is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, uses the same subject and pose as Thérèse Dreaming, while his painting Young Girl in a White Shirt shows a teenager with her breasts exposed.
Ms. Merrill said that she’s not asking for this painting to be censored, destroyed or never seen again. She’s just asking The Met to seriously consider the implications of hanging particular pieces of art on their walls, and to be more conscientious in how they contextualize those pieces to the masses. But, according to Jonathan Jones of The Guardian, “Merrill’s petition confuses acts and images in a way that is deeply dangerous. Art and life are related, but they are not the same. A painting is not an assault. It’s just a painting — even when the content and style seem utterly offensive, you can walk away, leaving it to gather dust on the museum wall. Arguing over art is right but trying to ban it is the work of fascists.”
It’s not a mystery anymore how this kind of regression is getting out of hand today. We are experiencing it for some time. More and more people seem to have found a reason to live in reporting “too daring” posts on social networks. Suddenly, the world seems to have fallen into a sort of medieval fear that targets primarily art and the sensual naturalness of some of its subjects. Needless to underline once again how certain increasing cultural gaps are at the center of this havoc. We’re becoming more and more convinced that the censorship of these days is nothing but the symbol of one of the most dangerous closed attitudes of all times. And many people are still unaware of how much they favor the porn industry every time they rely on it.
In these very days, our friend Tiane Doan na Champassak published his project, Censored, by which he drew from his collection of over 4000 photographic details, exploring the themes of censorship and eroticism. Over the course of his travels for the last ten years Tiane has been collecting Thai erotic magazines dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. With representations of nudity banned at the time, the magazines’ censorship is applied with great creativity and care. Just another way to say again that it’s all about art. And culture.