Nude Photo Of Young Brooke Shields Pulled From Museum
A 1983 Richard Prince photo was removed from the Tate Modern in London yesterday after police officials told the museum that the image may possibly violate British obscenity laws. The Guardian reports that the exhibition catalogue has also been withdrawn.
Spiritual America depicts a heavily made up Brooke Shields, ten years old, totally naked and covered in oil. (Very creepy, very NSFW image here.) Garry Gross took the original photograph in 1975, which was sanctioned by Shields' mother. "The photo has been infamous from the day I took it and I intended it to be," Gross told the Telegraph.
The young Shields would become no stranger to controversy. In 1978, she appeared nude as a twelve-year old prostitute in Louis Malle's Pretty Baby. And then she was in The Blue Lagoon at fifteen. But in 1981 she attempted unsuccessfully to buy Gross's negatives back. Prince's work, inspired by the idea of Shields as an abstract entity, is actually a photograph of the Gross photo.
Prince is known mainly for appropriating cultural images and presenting them as his own. He was a major New York art figure in the eighties, and this piece is just one part of the Tate's Pop Life exhibit, designed to show the interplay between the art world and the real world. Other highlights include a 1989 Jeff Koons photo of himself having sex with porn star La Cicciolina, and a Takashi Murikami sculpture of a girl jumping rope with her own breast milk. (Also there's a collaboration between Murikami and director McG that involves Kirsten Dunst singing the racist masturbation classic "Turning Japanese", though reviews indicate that is not actually a highlight of the show.)
Spiritual America got its own dark red room at the museum, behind a sign warning viewers that they are about to view a controversial image. The Guardian finds the piece troubling: "Shields, who was groomed as a child star even before she was one, coerces us with her gaze – but she's been coerced into the situation, too. Prince dramatises our engagement."
Spiritual America was also the title of a 2007 Prince retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York which also appeared last year at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis without attracting much fuss. The Walker described the photo as an example of the conflicts that the artist works with. "[Spiritual America] is quintessential Prince, playing to conflicting impulses—the seeking of attention while maintaining a high moral ground—that are at the heart of contemporary American culture."
Though the photo is controversial--and, let's be honest, completely icky--it's very disheartening to see the museum pulling down the art before anyone actually even complained about it.
[Update: The same image was displayed in a Brussels museum without controversy - machine translated article here]