Last year, it was Byron Taylor’s paintings of women in various states of undress. A bit of soft porn, maybe, but not shocking. This year the Arkansas League of Artists decided to give Taylor’s painting above the boot, asking him to come pick it up from the Cox Center, where the ALA spring show is going up.
Taylor posted about the incident on his Facebook page:
So this is happening – again. The Arkansas League of Artists is proving themselves to be, not a league of artists, but a club of prudish hobbyist painters. I got a call this morning to remove my painting, Legacy II, from the Spring Art Show, because it is “offensive.” This was apparently not a decision made by the Cox Center, where the show is hung, but by the woman who hung the show, who assures me that she has a “long background in art.” This is not how the bylaws read, but I suspect that they will soon. Does anyone want to start a REAL Arts League, where people actually appreciate art and don’t get their panties in a twist because of nudity or social commentary? I am supposed to pick it up at the Cox Center at 2:00 this afternoon.
Since the post, he has apparently been able to meet with someone in the ALA, though I don’t know what the outcome of the talk will be, and the ALA has not responded to a message I sent them, though it is Saturday and beautiful so people really shouldn’t be online anyway.
Censorship of art is and endlessly fascinating story. How do you make the call? Is it always wrong? What about taking into account where the art will hang and the likelihood it will be seen by children? That question was answered by Shannon Dillard Mitchell years ago when she decided to hang an erotic work in an upstairs gallery rather than in the main galleries of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I think she made the right call; it was still on view, but the kids of SLUFY didn’t get distracted by it.
On the other hand, when a photograph that featured an interracial couple at the Children’s Museum raised a few hackles, the director resisted, though if memory serves me correctly, because it was a major donor who objected, the picture was moved. That was 20 years ago; surely that would not happen again (though these days, you never know). More recently, I believe a volunteer at the Historic Arkansas Museum asked that a painting be taken down, and to appease her it was. My favorite censorship story took place at the Arkansas Arts Center, when Townsend Wolfe refused to take down a photograph of a derriere being tickled by a feather.
Can an artist expect the ALA to embrace a painting of a dead woman, blood flowing from between her legs? You know, probably not. The ALA is all about landscapes and fish and flowers and fields and portraits of people playing musical instruments. Sweetness and light. Not a whole lot of political statement going on there. It’s the Arkansas League of Artists, not the Avant Garde League of Artists. However, once something is accepted into a show, shouldn’t it hang? After all, “Legacy II” may be bloody but it’s no “Piss Christ.”
I, in fact, think it should hang at the State Capitol.
Hope to hear from the league.
UPDATE: Taylor updates things on Facebook. The painting is up and something of a standoff of opinions continues.
UPDATE 2: The painting remains. I just got this message from the ALA, though I’m not sure of the sender:
Hello Leslie, Byron’s painting was not taking down, the Show Chairman and a few other of our members on hand at the time the piece was initially hung, had such a strong initial reaction to the piece, in a disturbing way, that they initially felt it inappropriate. But after careful consideration of the content and the over all depiction and message behind the piece, it was decided to let the piece remain in our show. Byron has been informed of our decision, and we’re really looking forward to a great Spring Show. We hope everyone will come out and see Byron’s painting in person, along with the rest of our artists’ work.