Sunday, September 9, 2012

The intersection of art and porn

The Overland Park Arboretum in Kansas has come under fire for a bronze statue on display that a group of citizens finds obscene.
The statue depicts a woman taking a photograph of her exposed breasts. The work, called “Choice,” is by Chinese artist Yu Chang. But the American Family Association believes the statue encourages “sexting” and violates community standards on obscenity, according to Fox 4 News in Kansas City and the Huffington Post.
The dispute comes down to a subjective judgment about the nature of art. Even art that crosses the line of good taste or depicts sexuality can still be art.
Art comments on the human condition and often provokes strong emotions. This leads to healthy discussions about societal norms and other big issues.
The controversial Overland Park Arboretum sculpture is such a work of art. Photos of the sculpture raise a lot of questions in my mind. Let me pose a couple.
Why is the sculpture headless? Perhaps it’s to show that sexting dehumanizes by focusing on body parts instead of the whole person?
Why are the torso and limbs cut and repositioned off kilter? Perhaps it’s because sexting is a sign of our fractured moral fiber. Or maybe people who text or do stupid things with their mobile devices end up in horrible accidents.
Only the artist knows for sure what he was trying to say. But the fun of artistic interpretation is in evaluating a work for its subtleties and bigger themes.
I hope that cooler heads prevail here and let the work stay put.
So what if it depicts bare breasts. Big deal. Even little kids know what boobies are.

Artists pushing boundaries with depictions of sex


The Kansas sculpture is tame compared with other artists’ works.
Last year, an art gallery in New York City caught flack from neighborhood residents for displaying a collection of works by painter Nick Weber. The oil paintings were stylized reproductions of hard-core porn scenes. (See articles by the New York Post, Gothamist, Animal and WPIX.)


British artist Jonathan Yeo has created a stir with his portraits of famous people like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Tiger Woods. Yeo creates collage-style portraits using cuttings from hard-core pornographic magazines. (See articles by The Week, Huffington Post, ArtInfo and Wooster Collective.)


South African artist Von Brandis also uses pornographic photos for his art. But he censors out the sex in white silhouettes for effect. (See articles by the Frisky and Ufunk.net.)


London-based Luciano Foglia, a multidisciplinary visual artist, created a controversial app for Apple and Google Android smartphones that simulated sexual activity using geometric shapes. Apple and Google rejected the Geometric Porn app because it contained objectionable or crude content.

Photos, in descending order: “Choice” by Yu Chang (photo by John Buchan), “On the Couch” by Nick Weber, “Sarah Palin” by Jonathan Yeo, “Obscene Interiors” by Von Brandis, and “Geometric Porn” by Luciano Foglia.

Update (Sept. 19, 2015): Late artist Stephen Irwin created fascinating works of art by taking pornographic pictures and erasing much of the image, leaving suggestions of the sexual acts that are occurring. (See image below and article by Huffington Post.)


Related reading:

Porn-inspired art (March 12, 2013).

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