Fairs United Kingdom

Richard Prince photo withdrawal “not in public interest”

Tate was threatened with prosecution and sex offenders register

Metropolitan police officers warned Tate that the gallery would face almost certain prosecution unless a Richard Prince photograph showing a naked image of Brooke Shields, aged ten, was removed from display. According to sources close to the story, they also warned that conviction would automatically lead to the names of the senior individuals deemed responsible for the exhibition being included on the sex offenders register.

Officers from the police’s obscene publications unit visited Tate on 30 September to discuss the inclusion of the Prince work, Spiritual America, 1983, in the gallery’s “Pop Life: Art in a Material World” exhibition. They advised that the image was “indecent” under the Protection of Children Act of 1978 and that by showing it, Tate would be committing an offence. The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed yesterday that the Metropolitan police had sought its advice before the Tate meeting.

Following the visit from the police, the photograph, which was in a separate room with a warning about its content, was removed from display and the catalogues for the show were withdrawn.

A spokesman for the police denied that officers had “threatened” Tate staff but confirmed that they “explained the legal position which is clear that anyone convicted of distributing or showing an indecent image of a child would automatically be placed on the sex offenders register”.

However, art world insiders accused the police of heavy-handed tactics. Mark Stephens, an art lawyer with Finers Stephens Innocent, who has advised on many exhibitions and has also worked to remove paedophile images from the internet, said: “Not only must you commit an offence but it must also be in the public interest to prosecute. With exhibitions in cultural institutions [it] can rarely, if ever, be in the ‘public interest’ to prosecute. It [would not be] in the public interest to prosecute [Tate over] this Richard Prince image, particularly taking account its long history of public exhibition.”

Spiritual America was included in the Guggenheim’s Richard Prince retrospective in 2007-08, where it gave its title to the exhibition.

“This smacks of over-zealous policemen with little cultural understanding, tromping about the Tate in their hobnail boots, to the cultural deficit of society and this exhibition,” said Stephens.

Yesterday, Tate reopened the Richard Prince room in the “Pop Life” ex.hibition with a later version of the Richard Prince work, Spiritual America IV, 2005. The gallery said in a statement that this work had been produced “in collaboration with Brooke Shields”. The catalogue remains unavailable as discussions continue with the gallery’s legal advisers. Tate had printed 10,000 paperback copies of the catalogue, priced at £24.99, and 2,000 copies at £35, making a total retail value of almost £320,000.

Spiritual America is an appropriation of a picture originally taken by the commercial photographer Gary Gross for a Playboy publication in 1976 with permission from Shields’s mother, who was paid $450 for the image. Brooke Shields later attempted to suppress the picture.

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29 Oct 09
23:29 CET


This is not the only instance of recent self-censorship by the Tate. The Tate has in its collection 34 works by artist Graham Ovenden, which were online at the Tate collection website until recently, when they were quietly removed. But they have been restored on a protest site and the Tate is criticized for its quisling ways. http://notthetate.blogspot.com/

18 Oct 09
23:7 CET


Mr Prince makes copies of other peoples' photographs. Why is his work so expensive ? The Emperor's New Clothes, methinks.

16 Oct 09
17:33 CET


It's the Bow Wow Wow farago all over again. It's a nonsense, of course. Don't these philistines realize that context changes everything? Kate Andrews rightly points out the hypocrisy of the press but the public is complicit in these paranoic witch hunts and should be brought book. The police should know better.This is an appropraited image and offends no more than the daily diet of porn in Britain's tabloid press - but its context makes us think again. Like Manet's Olympia and Picasso's Demoiselles it makes us aware of our complicity. Does it offend? I do hope so. It is a function of art to do just this and it's time the gutter press, police and philistine public grew up and realized this.

15 Oct 09
13:41 CET


I understand the 'opt-out in disapproval' stance you are advocating but the fact remains that in this country there are a whole set of reactionary laws (ostensibly, of course, to protect our children— which is a noble and important intention) about the circulation and display of inappropriate materials. However, in deciding what is or is not 'appropriate' there is a whole grey fog surrounding it all and notions of 'artstic intention' are not really taken into account—oh, unless they are old Masters that is! Britain is cloaked in reactionary paranoia now to the extent that parents can no longer film their children's school plays. The media-fuelled hysteria (in the same British newspapers which sexualise young people and sensationalise sexual deviance on a daily basis) cannot even be critiqued without leading to further censorship—see the Brasseye scandal 2001.

15 Oct 09
13:40 CET


OH YES I DO REMEMBER: The Mapplethorpe Exhibition in Full, in Boston, at the same time that Saddam was marching into Kuwait: There were a handful of pix which offended SOME — two naked-kid pix which were NOT anything even remotely like child pornography, which some silly people like Esther Rantzen in England later said they were. There were a few quite innocuous and only mildly exciting prick pictures and a very few and surprisingly — or disappointingly — small pix of rather weirder stuff: Mapplethorpe shoving the handle of a bullwhip up his own bum and not looking like he had any real feelings one way or the other while he was doing it, a leatherboy biker pissing in another biker's mouth and one scary S/M photo of a man's dickie and balls shoved through a nasty rough ripped hole in plywood and tied around with thin wire, the whole horrid painful mess apparently dripping blood — or was it 'real' at all. It MIGHT have not been a real live dickie and balls at all, you see.

14 Oct 09
22:51 CET


If someone forces you or drags you in the art-show, call 911. The Mapplethorpe controversy/censorship: Cincinnati Spring 1990..If you do not like the idea, don't go...?

14 Oct 09
20:20 CET


Don't you just love the trouble authorities step into when they attempt to censor? Let the public censor it by not viewing it. As for pornography, this a very old story. The Internet, for one, wouldn't be as speedy and wouldn't have as much gadgets if it weren't for pornography which accounts for something like 45% of all monies generated on the web. Which means: People want to see naked people (for what it's worth), and like seeing naked celebrities best. As for Richard Prince, he's made his name as a provacteur. He's the one who benefits most from censorship.

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