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Royal Academy of Arts

Anti-American slogans by artists are painted over, allegedly for fear of alienating a US sponsor

An act of censorship or tact?

At the opening of the RA’s Galleries exhibition on 12 September the talk was not of the big bang caused by pyrotechnic Chinese artist Cai-Guo-Qiang’s giant exploding money bag (which was accompanied by complimentary earplugs) but of less conspicuous financial matters. The evening’s hot topic was the censorship of a text by artist’s collective Inventory, whose anti-imperialist tirade, sprayed directly onto the RA’s walls, had been expunged of all American references.

According to several sources, this blacking-out had taken place at the last minute in order to appease the offended sensibilities of one of the RA’s major backers.

“The alterations were made the day before, when one backer threatened to withdraw his support of the Academy if the piece remained up in its original form,” says one source who preferred not to be named.

“Everybody has their own interpretation of what happened here,” says Galleries show co-curator Max Wigram. “All I can tell you is that the RA decided that it was too close to 11 September; we thought it was rude, and we didn’t see the point. I’m not particularly happy about what happened, but I do understand the sensitivity of the matter.”

Neither Mr Wigram nor the RA would confirm whether this sensitivity extended to the Patrons of the august institution. According to Jake Miller, director of The Approach, who are showing Inventory’s piece.“There was a lot of debate and discussion; they [Inventory] were very opposed to the original proposal that it be completely whitewashed out. Of course, the artists would have been happier if nothing had happened at all, but they are OK about the fact that there are visible signs of it being altered and that this is giving cause for discussion.” Sometimes, it seems, black squares can speak louder than words.

• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper under the headline 'Censorship or tact?'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 129 October 2002