On July 13, three days before the opening of the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative (PAC) membersí exhibit in the visitorsí center of the Benjamin E. Chester Building, PAC president Patricia Zacks informed contributor David Gold that two of his photographs would be removed because of their objectionable content. Gold, a Pawtucket businessman-cum-photographer who had submitted the photos, along with two other pieces deemed admissible by Zacks and the PAC, insisted that he was being unfairly censored, and removed all four of his photos in response. He has contacted the ACLU and is demanding a meeting with Zacks, Pawtucket Mayor James Doyle, and other officials to discuss why his photos were accepted, and then removed from the exhibit.
The two works in question, "Alina I" and "Alina II," feature a nude woman reposing in a forest. In both works, the modelís breasts are exposed, though lighting and foliage combine to somewhat veil her chest in shadow. Gold says he intended nothing insidious or pornographic. "Itís about the feeling of life and nature," he asserts. "What the hell is better than that?"
Gold maintains that his two photos continue an artistic tradition of nude portraits dating from Greek antiquity through the Renaissance to the present. Zacks, however, says the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative eventually rejected "Alina I" and "Alina II" not because of a lack of artistic merit, but because of social decorum. "[The PAC] has a working relationship with the visitorsí center ó we get to use the empty walls for free," she explains, noting how the Chester Building, managed by the public Pawtucket Planning and Redevelopment Agency, doesnít charge the PAC for the use of its space. "We can use the walls provided that the works are suitable," she says, adding that the nudity in Goldís photos places them outside this realm of acceptability.
To gauge the propriety of the works for the Chester Building, Zacks relied on guidelines set forth by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA). In an e-mail written by a RISCA staffer and forwarded to Gold, RISCA asks curators of exhibits in public spaces, like the visitorsí center of the Chester Building, that "a great deal of discretion be exercised in the presentation of works that contain nudity, or which touch on racial, ethnic, or political issues." Gold, who read this sentence aloud to me twice, asked aghast, "Who does this come from? Stalin?"
Gold believes that RISCA and the PACís approach to regulating art in the public sphere is wrong, and that the censorship may encroach on his First Amendment rights. Randy Rosenbaum, RISCAís executive director, thinks otherwise. Rosenbaum says artwork must be regulated for content in pubic spaces since the environment is not like a gallery ó where patrons consciously enter to view art ó but a place where people travel without the same intent. As such, he believes that any display should not offend.
Rosenbaum, who has not seen the "Alina" photos, maintains that the best way to avoid censorship conflicts is for curators and artists to communicate and for curators to commit to the artwork they agree to display. According to Gold, the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative did not abide by the latter by reneging on a commitment to show his "Alina" works. "Donít accept it, hang it, and pull it down," he says. "Thatís why crossed the line for me." Zacks admits the PAC made a mistake by initially accepting Goldís photographs ó she says that a "young gallery committee" let the photographs slip through ó but notes that the PAC offered Gold the chance to replace "Alina I" and "Alina II" with two of his other photographs. Gold ó who still hopes to back from Doyle, Rosenbaum, and others ó scoffed at the offer.
Issue Date: July 30 - August 5, 2004
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