Examples of art censorship?
May 8, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

What are the most interesting examples of art censorship from the past 20 years? I am considering how the government and public institutions shield the public from specific imagery. I am aware of the recent controversy at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington-- removing a video by David Wojnarowicz. Other examples of art censorship for sexual, political, ethical, religious, or other reasons would be most appreciated.
posted by mortaddams to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It was so weird for me on 9/11 to see Mayor Giuliani become this hero/saint nationally, because at the time in NYC, the two big stories about him were him parading his mistress around town while still married with wife/kids still living in the mayoral residence, and this.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:07 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

"A display due to go on show to the public at Tate Modern tomorrow has been withdrawn after a warning from Scotland Yard that the naked image of actor Brooke Shields aged 10 and heavily made up could break obscenity laws."
posted by afx237vi at 9:10 AM on May 8, 2011

"Tumbling Woman"
posted by hermitosis at 9:31 AM on May 8, 2011

There's the very recent Bizzaro World case of Governor Paul LePage's order to remove a mural depicting the history of the labor movement from...wait for it...the Department of Labor building, claiming it was too pro-labor.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:31 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Two years over your limit, but there was the 1989 Corcoran Scandal involving homoerotic photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe. The museum called off the exhibition after members of Congress expressed horror - and the whole mess resulted in the all-too-familiar Moral Outrage posturings of politicians re public funding for the arts. (You, too can play "Define Obscene While Diddling Your Prostitute"!)
posted by likeso at 9:32 AM on May 8, 2011

Maine Governor Paul LePage.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2011

At the National Gallery in Bulawayo, Zimbabwean artist Owen Maseko was arrested last year and his exhibit, based on Gukurahundi atrocites, was shuttered. He is supposedly still awaiting trial.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 9:47 AM on May 8, 2011

"During a retrospective of Andres Serrano's work at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1997, the then Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, sought an injunction from the Supreme Court of Victoria to restrain the National Gallery of Victoria from publicly displaying Piss Christ, which was not granted. Some days later, one patron attempted to remove the work from the gallery wall, and two teenagers later attacked it with a hammer. The director of the NGV cancelled the show, allegedly out of concern for a Rembrandt exhibition that was also on display at the time." Wikipedia, Piss Christ

"On 22 May 2008, the opening night of Bill Henson's 2007-2008 exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Paddington, Sydney, was cancelled after eight individual complaints were made to Police voicing concerns about an email invitation from the Gallery to a "Private View" that depicted photographs of a nude 13-year old girl. Hetty Johnston, a child protection advocate (Bravehearts), also lodged a complaint with the New South Wales police." Wikipedia, Bill Henson

"In 1998, the University of Central England was involved in a controversy when a book by Mapplethorpe was confiscated. A final year undergraduate student was writing a paper on the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and intended to illustrate the paper with a few photographs from Mapplethorpe, a book of the photographer's work. She took the photographs to the local chemist to be developed and the chemist informed West Midlands Police because of the unusual nature of the images. The police confiscated the library book from the student and informed the university that the book would have to be destroyed. If the university agreed to the destruction, no further action would be taken." Wikipedia, Robert Mapplethorpe
posted by hot soup girl at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2011

London Dec 2010 Queer art censored at queer arts festival
New York July 201 Painted Flag Censored From Brooklyn Art Show
Check out Illegal Art art and ideas on the legal fringes of intellectual property.
In 2009 A nude model was arrested at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
posted by adamvasco at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2011

Back in the late Eighties, early Nineties I worked as a manager in a bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. As progressives in a generally progressive town, we were very upset about the Mapplethorp/Serrano debacle mentioned above which led to threats for a significant reduction in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. We were also troubled by the Texas v. Johnson case, or more specifically the legislation that sometimes passed as a result of that case. In response I created an art piece which we hung in the display window near the entrance of the store. It was pretty simple. It was an American flag that I had burned the words of the First Amendment into.

The display created a minor uproar. The store received multiple bomb threats, I was spat upon, I had to turn my phones off, and I was under police protection for a short while. But I’ll give my boss credit, he refused to take the display down. It was scheduled to be displayed for a month and it stayed. For the whole month.

It was an incredibly frightening experience. I was a manager so it was already my job to deal with the public, and a lot of the public was supportive. But those who were not were sometimes violently so. Windows were broken, threats occurred frequently. I knew that we had to keep the thing up, but dreaded every minute of it. It really took on a life of its own.

After that experience, I felt I had an altogether unique perspective of the power of symbols. And the extent to which it’s possible for objects to have a power of their own, entirely independent of their creator. I suppose this doesn’t actually apply to your question as it wasn’t censored, but there was certainly a lot of pressure to do so. And I never publicly displayed this flag again. But for me anyway, it was pretty interesting.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:44 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

An example of a recent-ish infamously controversial artwork that was NOT censored by the authorities (although they inspected it before exhibition -- and in spite of extended public protests, vandalism attempts, and objections from the subject herself) is Marcus Harvey's painting of a famous photograph of the British child killer Myra Hindley
posted by Bwithh at 10:47 AM on May 8, 2011

This is one of my favourite examples. Huma Mulji, a well known Pakistani artist, displayed this piece as a comment on Pakistani labour in the UAE. The Dubai authorities were not amused, and removed it from display. Aside from the controversy, the piece is very good, I think.
posted by tavegyl at 11:16 AM on May 8, 2011

I saw a great talk at a recent library conference called America's War on Sex. One of the examples the speaker gave was how, when there had been a recent art defacement, the painting of two women when shown on the nightly news, had the breasts of the women covered up. So while this isn't censorship per se, this is definitely one of those weird "Hey it's okay to show it in an art museum, but when it's on the nightly news it's suddenly porn" situations. What we often see in the library world is people pre-censoring because they believe people might be offended, so they sort of concern troll their way into censoring stuff that they are worried other unnamed people might be offended by. Because who is going to call the nightly news offended that the breasts were covered, besides maybe a bunch of angry librarians?
posted by jessamyn at 11:18 AM on May 8, 2011

It's about 25 years before your timeframe, but Ed Kienholz's Back Seat Dodge '38 caused quite the moral panic when it was first shown in Los Angeles in 1966.
posted by scody at 1:54 PM on May 8, 2011

Three years ago the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies canceled an art exhibit after there were complaints of an anti-Israel slant. I made an FPP about it.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:11 PM on May 8, 2011

Index on Censorship may be your friend. For example.
posted by londongeezer at 5:13 PM on May 8, 2011

Mirth & Girth, a controversial painting of the late Harold Washington, former mayor of Chicago.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:39 PM on May 8, 2011

Sorry, I guess my example is outside your time frame, but it was huge for a while.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:41 PM on May 8, 2011

Performance artist Cheng Li has just been sentenced to a year of re-education through labour for the sexual content of a piece he did in March. His lawyer is saying that the sentence far exceeds the provisions of legislation banning 'obscene performances'.
posted by Abiezer at 10:03 PM on May 8, 2011

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