Comment: Let artists follow their instincts
Date: 26 Sep 2007 | | Views: 4795
Source: Telegraph (UK) (www.telegraph.co.uk), by Richard Dorment
Nine times out of ten, the best way for a gallery to deal with a potentially offensive image is simply to put up a sign at the entrance to the show warning the public that some of the work on view is not suitable for children.
That’s what the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art did last year with a show of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work that contained several of his most explicit photographs, and nobody (that I’ve heard of) seemed to mind.
The trouble with censorship of any kind is that what shocks us today has a way of looking completely innocuous to the next generation.
Picasso’s erotic etchings once couldn’t be shown in public; in the age of the internet they look positively quaint.
Anyway, who decides what’s offensive?
When the police removed photographs of nude children from the Saatchi Gallery in 2001, the photographer turned out to be the children’s own mother, who expressed bewilderment that anyone could find her family snapshots anything but innocent.
Honi soit qui mal y pense.
One of the artists featured in the Baltic exhibition that was visited by police is the American Nan Goldin, a drug addict who moves in the bohemian milieu her photographs chronicle.
Some of her shots of drag queens, drug addicts, whores and pimps can indeed be hard to take, at least for those of us who only know abut that world at second hand, through reading Last Exit to Brooklyn or Naked Lunch.
But like Toulouse-Lautrec when he took up residence in Parisian brothels to observe his subjects at close range, only someone who is an intimate of these people can show them as they really are, because only in the presence of a friend, lover and confidant would they behave so unselfconsciously.
Goldin is creating a vast visual diary chronicling her life.
The minute you remove one element from that diary, you reduce its overall value as a work of art.
I recognize that there are borderline cases. But in general, artists must be allowed to follow their own instincts.
It is not the gallery’s job not to censor their work but to inform the public of what they are about to see.
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