Mapplethorpe Show in Portugal Sparks Censorship Controversy: Curator Resigns, Open Letter Circulates, Artist's ...
Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait,1983.
Â©ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE FOUNDATION, USED WITH PERMISSION
On Thursday, September 20, a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition titled âPicturesâ opened at the Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal, with 159 works by the photographer, including portraits, still lifes, and other imagery. However, 20 works originally intended for the show were not present, for reasons that remain unclear. One day after the opening, on Friday, JoÃ£o Ribas, the museumâs artistic director, announced his resignation, and an open letter has circulated accusing the institution of censorship. The Mapplethorpe Foundation, in response, has pushed back against that c laim.
While Ribasâs reasons for leaving the institution are unclear (attempts to reach him have not yet been successful), reports by Spanish and Portuguese publications attributed his resignation to a stipulation by the museumâs board that a disclaimer be posted in reference to sexually explicit works, among them prints featuring S&M imagery. The disclaimer text reads: âWe would like to draw attention to the provocative and possibly shocking nature of the sexual imagery in some of the works on display. Only persons aged 18 and over may enter this room,â according to an image from the exhibition reproduced in the Madrid-based newspaper El PaÃs. In interviews leading up to the show, Ribas had said that Mapplethorpeâs more sexually explicit work would be shown alongside his other work without restrictions.
The open letter, addressed to the Serralves Foundationâs president, Ana Pinho, alleges that the showâs restriction was imposed âagainst the will of its curator,â Ribas, who became the Serralves Foundation Museumâs artistic director in January after having served as chief curator and deputy director since 2014.
In a statement published in part by El PaÃs, the Serralves Foundation denied that it had removed any work from the exhibition and said that Ribas himself selected all of the art in the show. The newspaperâs report says that the removal of the 20 works was a curatorial decision by Ribas. âFrom the beginning,â the statement reads, âthe proposal of the exhibition was to present the works of an explicit sexual nature in an area with restricted access, given the tenor of several exhibited works and being that Serralves is an institution visited annually by almost a million people of all backgrounds, ages and nationalities, including thousands of children and hundreds of schools, the foundation considered that the visiting public should be alerted, in accordance with the legislation in force. â
The open letter in support of Ribas reads, in part, âIt is with sadness that we continue to see [Mapplethorpeâs] work being apparently censored by institutions such as Serralves onâ"we suspectâ"a purely moral basis.â Noting the museumâs mention of Portuguese pornography laws in its decision-making around the exhibition, it goes on to state that many canonical works from throughout Western art history have subjects that could be perceived as pornographic and that such work had âpreviously displayed in your museum without equal enforcement of age restrictions.â
The open letter, which has since been closed, was signed by some 400 arts professionals, including artists Tania Bruguera, Barbara Hammer, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Carlos Motta, A. L. Steiner, and Wolfgang Tillmans, as well as curators Stuart Comer (of the Museum of Modern Art in New York), Ann Gallagher (of the Tate in London), and CuauhtÃ©moc Medina (of the Museo Universitario Arte ContemporÃ¡neo in Mexico City). A message at the top of the letter notes that it had been officially sent to be Pinho.
In a statement sent to ARTnews made in response to Ribasâs departure, the Mapplethorpe Foundation said there has been âa lot of unnecessary confusion in Porto,â noting that some works were edited out of the exhibition during the installation process âfor reasons of exhibition design, repetition, etc.â
âWe do not believe that any censorship occurred,â the Mapplethorpe Foundation said. âThe restrictive signs posted outside the two smaller galleries reflect the decision of the board of the Serralves.â The foundation said that it has never taken a position âto impose on any community a requirement to exhibit or not exhibit, to restrict or not restrict, or how to restrict entrance. We try not to interfere with any curatorial decisions nor with any museumâs internal issues.â
The Mapplethorpe Foundationâs statement also questioned the â dramatic timingâ of Ribasâs resignation, adding that it took away from âthe high quality of Mr. Ribasâ exhibition and the importance of the artist.â
As the open letter states, Mapplethorpeâs work has long been a target for censorship and political recriminations. In 1989, months after the celebrated photographer died of AIDS-related causes at the age of 42, a planned show of his work was canceled by officials at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., just weeks before it opened.
The Corcoranâs leadership feared that the exhibition, which included works from Mapplethorpeâs âX Portfolio,â a series of 13 sadomasochistic photographs, as well as others with sexually frank subjects, would receive sustained protests and attacks from conservatives like Republican senator Jesse Helms, since it had received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, which many on the right had regularly attacked for supporting âobsceneâ art. (Earlier that year, Helms had also similarly denounced the work of Andres Serrano, who had received an NEA artist grantâ"that program was effectively defunded as a result.)
At the time, artists and activists alleged censorship and protested the Corcoranâs decision to shut down the show. In 1990, it traveled to the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, where prosecutors charged the museum and its then director with obscenity for displaying the âX Portfolio.â They were later acquitted by a jury.
In 2016, the âX Portfolioâ appeared in full at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, as part of a two-venue retrospective held in partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That presentation, which also included an advisory at the entrance of the gallery with the âX Portfolioâ for its graphic content, drew no protests.Source: Google News Portugal | Netizen 24 Portugal