Tate Curators-Sex Offenders?

Art Monthly, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Tate Curators-Sex Offenders?


The whole sorry saga of Tate Modern's removal of a Richard Prince artwork took an absurd twist when it was revealed that senior figures from Tate could have been placed on the sex offenders register had the work been exhibited. The story goes like this: Prince's Spiritual America, 1983, a photograph which depicts a nude ten-year-old girl (actress Brooke Shields), was to be included in the 'Pop Life' exhibition--located in a room of its own with signs outside warning of the image's content. Tate's curators had previously consulted lawyers regarding the image and, after getting the green light, selected the piece for the show. Just before the exhibition opened, officers from the Metropolitan Police's Obscene Publications Unit visited and advised Tate officials, after consulting the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), that the photograph was indecent under the terms of the Protection of Children Act, and that exhibiting it would most likely lead to prosecution on child pornography charges. Furthermore, if the defendants--ie all those at Tate responsible for the exhibition were found guilty, their names would automatically be added to the UK sex offenders register. Not surprisingly, the work was removed from the show and the exhibition catalogue, which had already been printed in large numbers, had to be pulled from the shelves. Curators subsequently replaced the offending work with a later version, Spiritual America IV, 2005, which depicts an adult Shields in a bikini.

Whatever the merits, or otherwise, of Prince's 1983 artwork, the advice from the Metropolitan Police ensured that Tate curators had no real choice but to remove it, unless they wanted to make a legal stand that, at best, would have cost Tate time and money and, at worst, would have cost them their liberty (as might yet be the case in Bordeaux, with the legal action that followed the 'Presumed Innocent: Contemporary Art and Childhood' exhibition at CAPC in 2000--see Artnotes AM330). So the police and the CPS effectively censored Tate. Before the exhibition opened, a Met Police spokesperson said: 'The officers have specialist experience in this field and are keen to work with gallery management to ensure that they do not inadvertently break the law or cause any offence to their visitors.

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