…..news flash…..

This just in:


Detail of ‘Spiritual America’, Richard Prince 1983

Here’s a strange coincidence. As I was working on my latest show, ‘Finders Keepers’ {featuring work that uses found imagery}, the Tate wound up in the middle of a controversy over exactly that.

A few days ago a nude photograph Brooke Shields, at the age of 10, was removed from the walls of the Tate. Children’s campaigners are calling it pornography, not art. This is where the line gets fuzzy. The original photograph, taken by Gary Gross in 1975, certainly looks like child pornography… Brooke’s mom consented to this photo by the way. Years later that same image is rephotographed by artist Richard Prince, in order to make a statement about ‘a society that would celebrate the commodification of a little girl’, and therefore becomes art  – right? It was supposed to be included in the current exhibition, ‘Pop Life: Art in a Material World’, at the Tate Modern, but was taken down before the show even opened. I guess all we can do now is ponder the age old question, What is art?  Makes your head hurt a little bit doesn’t it?

comments (7)

  1. Jesse Lu /// 10.07.2009 /// 8:37pm

    I dunno… provokative? yes. pornography? no way. Art? I’m not sure.

    What does Brooke Shields say. She must have had to consent to the photograph being publicized in the first place.

  2. The Jealous Curator /// 10.07.2009 /// 9:23pm

    Yep, there’s going to be a million different opinions on this. Porn? Art? A bad decision in the 70’s?

    And yes, that was one of my first thoughts too… I wonder what Brooke thinks of this? I have been looking everywhere for a statement from her but haven’t found anything yet. Apparently her mother signed away the rights to the photo in 1975 and since then both she and Brooke have tried to get the rights back without success. This rephotographed piece hung in Richard Prince’s major retrospective, Spiritual America, at the Guggenheim in New York recently without any major controversy, but this was the first time the image has been shown in the UK… and probably the last I’m guessing.

  3. Jen /// 10.08.2009 /// 3:14am

    The same thing happened in Australia last year. Bill Henson was set to have a whole exhibition of naked girls and it blew up enormously. I of course never saw the whole thing but it didn’t look provocative, i guess having young girls makes it instantly into a fetishistic pornographic image.


  4. The Jealous Curator /// 10.09.2009 /// 7:54pm

    Thanks for the link, I just went and read it. It really does get confusing doesn’t it? This is how I felt through most of my undergrad when the debate about ‘what is art’ inevitably came up. It’s so subjective and so personal, but for me it now comes down to this: Purpose/meaning/intent… is there one, or is the artist just trying to do something provocative that they know will get attention, whether it’s positive or negative. If there truly is a valid message, then should the medium in which it’s delivered be judged, and then censored? Art is supposed to get people thinking and talking. Brooke Shields, age 10 sure is creating a couple of discussions – art vs. porn, the commodification/sexualization of young girls… wasn’t that Richard Prince’s point? Or, wait a second, was he just trying to get famous? … Oh man, my headache is back.

  5. Jen /// 10.10.2009 /// 1:13am

    Yeah it is pretty confusing. In my first semester of uni this year there was an old man in my visual arts course and when the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon came up he kept asking our (awesome) lecturer if he thought it was art and if if was aesthetically pleasing to him. I think that maybe it’s the older generations who are so pigeonholed into certain ideals of nudes that when someone approaches them in a radical way they immediately put it down. I bet in 50 years we’ll scoff at the ridiculous new nudes that come out, circle of life!

  6. otto117 /// 10.23.2009 /// 8:35pm

    And the Tate has disgraced itself one more time by censoring 34 images by Graham Ovenden which were on its site. The proof is here: http://notthetate.blogspot.com/

    Whether they were removed from the website in the wake of the Pop Life scandal or in anticipation of Mr. Ovenden’s trial at Truro Crown Court is unclear. (The jury in Mr. Ovenden’s case was discharged yesterday in a mistrial. No new date has been set.)

    Can I correct some misinformation? The Jealous Curator wrote: “Apparently her mother signed away the rights to the photo in 1975 and since then both she and Brooke have tried to get the rights back without success.” This isn’t really true. Brooke’s mother, as guardian, tried once and lost. There are indirect comments on line which Brooke has made about the photographs to Richard Prince’s assistant – specifically that she really didn’t have a problem with the images. The proof, of course, is that she has collaborated with Richard Prince, even as he continues to show the famous photograph.

  7. The Jealous Curator /// 10.23.2009 /// 9:04pm

    Thanks for the comment and giving more information about Brooke’s view on the whole thing. I searched and searched for comments from her and only found a few articles that said she and her mother tried to get the rights back at some point. Well, good to know she’s not bothered by it. That was actually the first thing I wondered when I saw it.