Richard Prince photo withdrawn from Tate exhibition after Met threatened organisers with sex offenders' register

The 'indecent' image of Brooke Shields renders catalogues unsellable


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 10, 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 entitled Spiritual America in the gallery’s Pop Life 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 Met 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was in a separate room with a warning about its content, was removed from display and the catalogues for the show were withdrawn.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 hob nail boots, to the cultural deficit of society and this exhibition,” said Stephens.

Yesterday Tate reopened the Richard Prince room in the Pop Life exhibition 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 advisors. 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 a photograph of another photograph 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.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Richard Prince photo withdrawal'