Is she censored for her pregnancy or her nakedness?

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In my last Art Talk, I mentioned an amazing, rare painting by Gustav Klimt of a pregnant, naked woman, Hope I, which is proudly displayed at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Following the broadcast, my report, along with images, were posted to the KCRW website, Huffington Post, and Facebook.

Gustav Klimt, "The Hope I," 1903

To my surprise, I got a note from Facebook that this image was removed due to a violation of Community Standards. Now, I want you to look at this image on the KCRW website for this report, and tell me, unless you are kindergarteners, are you offended? By what? By her nakedness, or by her pregnancy? Indeed, it's an extremely rare and direct presentation of pregnancy in a major work of art. Yes, once upon a time, in polite society, it was totally inappropriate to use the word "pregnancy;" instead, a pregnant woman was referred to as being in an "interesting" state. So, my friends, are we back in the 18th century?

Still from "Guggenheim Pulls Controversial Works amid Outcry from Activists"
New York Post, September 26, 2017

And, talking about censorship… last week, in another surprising instance of censorship, we learned that the Guggenheim Museum pulled three major works from its current exhibition due to pressure from animal rights supporters, who marched outside the museum demanding "cruelty-free exhibitions." In one of the videos, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, one can see two dogs ready to attack each other, but unable to do so due to harnesses. It's definitely not a pleasant video to watch, but as an artistic statement, it reminds you about so much violence that we hear and learn about every day.

Matthias Grünewald, "The Small Crucifixion," 1522/1520
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Think about the hundreds, if not thousands, of images of the Crucifixion in museums around the world. Take a look at this image of Jesus Christ, painted by German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald (1522/1520). Should Christians demand that museums remove from display all such images that show violence against humanity?

Book cover, "Picasso Érotique" exhibition catalogue

And now, back to nudity and sex. In 2001, a crowd-drawing traveling exhibition, Picasso Érotique, traveled from Paris, to Montreal, and then to Barcelona. But, it never made its way to any American museums. None of them had the guts – or should I say balls – to bring this show to us.

Atelier Van Lieshout, "Domestikator," 2015
Image courtesy of the artist

But here is amusing news coming from – of all places – Paris. Due to pressure from protestors, officials at the Louvre Museum have withdrawn from display in the Tuileries Gardens a large sculpture by the Dutch art and design collective Atelier Van Lieshout, entitled Domestikator, for being sexually explicit. So, here's more homework for you, my listeners. Take a look at the picture of this large-scale architectural structure depicting a sexual encounter. It's definitely a more abstract than realistic artistic depiction of the act. And, would you agree that it comes across with a good dose of humor?

So, is it the end of the world as we know it, if even our French friends, so liberated and culturally advanced, are afraid of art érotique?



Benjamin Gottlieb