Nan Goldin closure at Baltic, UK
I see from this week's British Journal of Photography that the Nan Goldin show "Thanskgiving" at the Baltic Art Center in Gateshead, North-East UK, has closed as the result of the withdrawal of the entire 139 images by their owner, Elton John. This was subsequent to the police visiting the gallery at the request of the gallery management, who feared prosecution for obscenity for showing an image "Klara and Edda Belly-Dancing" of two little girls playing around in an apartment, one of which (aged maybe 2 or 3) was lying naked on the floor with genitals exposed. The police removed this image after visiting the gallery (emphasize, by invitation) and were trying to decide whether it was obscene or not at the time of the closure of the show. I would guess the reason Elton John pulled the pictures was irritation at being branded indirectly as a pervert.
What do people think of this case? I feel on the one hand the image in question was needlessly provocative, on the other I think it ominous that the gallery and the owner of the work have reacted so extremely and prematurely (surely if the police had felt the work was obscene, they would have ordered the show closed immediately?). Would be interested in others' views.
It is worth reading the press release by Elton Johns photography curator Jane Jackson.
It is yet another case of the British police taking it on themselves to become the moral arbitors. Note the image was made in 1998 and has been shown widely around the world.
I'm not surprised that Elton John removed the pictures. Here in Australia one news channel led with a headline that read "Child porn confiscated from Elton John's private collection", shame on you *** news.
Personally I don't think the picture is obscene, I don't like it at all but I do think there's a problem when children's genitals in normal settings are considered obscene.
I think that our current problem with paedophilia is directly linked to our sexualisation of younger and younger children. By classifiying this picture as obscene we only reinforce the warped view of some that children are sexual.
Children are children, if they are not ashamed of their bodies then why should we make them ashamed? Having said that I do think that taking pictures of their innocence and calling it art and selling it for wads of cash could be exploitative, regardless of any fees paid to the children as models.
Last edited by Matthew Gorringe; 10-12-2007 at 05:05 AM. Click to view previous post history.
The photo has been around for years and shown at many respectable venues, without this sort of fuss. Why did the Baltic Art Centre feel the need to bring the police in? Probably some administrator felt the need to do something "important". What did they expect the police to do but take it away for evaluation? I'm sure they don't think themselves qualified to judge.
If I had been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better arrangement of the Universe.
Alfonso the Wise, 1221-1284
I said this on largeformatphotography.info/forum already so I'm not going to be nearly as verbose here.
Originally Posted by Mattg
The problem with that image is that frankly I think it does depict something that is mildly sexual. Maybe you guys all had very different childhood experiences, but I remember messing around (innocently and really not that seriously) with neighborhood kids as part of what I think would be considered normal sexual development. Some of the scenes probably looked like that picture (I found it on google after the scandal erupted, it has since been pulled from the link I found so I can't link to it for this discussion).
Frankly I don't think adults have any business getting involved with this kind of scene, either in reality, or by photographic proxy. Remember that photography requires the presence of at least one adult anyway - the photographer.
Childhood presexuality is the domain of children and adult involvement in it is pretty well known to have detrimental effects.
I'm not interested in seeing it. I don't think it's good for the children involved in the actual photographic act. And there's the very slight chance that it could precipitate some pedophilic feelings in the wrong person (though I suspect an image like that wouldn't just make Joe Average into a pedophile, it takes something else, often childhood sexual abuse of the pedophile).
There's a world of a difference between plain nudity, and nudity that has sexual overtones. That image belongs in the latter category, and so it's not our business as adults to be involved in any way.
I might be way off base in my interpretation here, but like I said, kids mildly messing around with other kids seems normal from everything I know (and everything I've heard from other people with whom I've been close enough to have these kinds of frank discussions). Adults getting involved is not.
Last edited by walter23; 10-12-2007 at 04:24 AM. Click to view previous post history.
The universe is a haunted house. -Coil
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I just want to clarify; what I was talking about in my previous post was not sexuality in the sense of adult sexuality. Obviously kids don't have sex. But didn't you play "I'll show you mine, you show me yours" and that kind of thing with other kids in the neighborhood when you were a kid? I think I saw mention in some psychology textbook that this kind of thing is a perfectly normal part of development. If not, maybe it was just my neighborhood
Originally Posted by Mattg
In any event, I don't think adults belong in that arena, because adults *are* sexual, and so they really can only interpret these kinds of presexual play acts as something sexual. In that respect I think photography of that kind of thing does prematurely sexualize the kids. And everybody knows that's bad. It screws with normal social and sexual development and ruins people.
The universe is a haunted house. -Coil
Yes I think "doctors and nurses" is pretty universal but I'm not sure that it is really sexual. I also don't agree that adults necessarily interpret scenes including genitals or presexual play as sexual. I think most of us can remember some time in our youth and giggle at how innocent we were.
Originally Posted by walter23
Last edited by Matthew Gorringe; 10-12-2007 at 04:50 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Frankly, if I were in Sir Elton's shoes, I would not only have pulled the exhibit from the gallery, I'd sue them for the value of the image, if the police retain it. The gallery had no business doing that. If the gallery manager was concerned about the image, the time to say something about it was during negotiation of the loan with Sir Elton, not after the show was hung on the wall. It speaks of several cultural phenomena - moral busybodyness and the cult of celebrity. The gallery manager must have been so star-struck at having "Sir Elton" loan them work that they either just said yes to anything and everything without question just because it was Elton, or they turned a blind eye when agreeing to the show because having Elton John's name associated with the gallery would be a big boost and loads of free publicity. In either case, it is a huge betrayal of trust, and if I were a major collector of art with a collection to loan, you can bet that I would NEVER loan works to that gallery, regardless of content.
That said, it isn't an image I would ever have bought, or an image I would ever have made. It makes me squirm to look at it, but then perhaps that's the point, and as such it succeeds as a work of art, because it makes you think. I don't like it also because it is a high example of the "artless art" mode of photography, in which cult Nan Goldin is a high priestess. I think it feels more pornographic because it is so artless and amateur in style, so it feels like a polaroid still from a 70's porn set, kind of like that series of ads Calvin Klein did for either his underwear or for a new cologne back in the 90s, where he had what appeared to be teenagers essentially stripping for the camera, in front of some cheesy faux-wood paneling, while taking direction from an off-camera voice (incidentally, the man providing the off-camera voice was in fact a porno director). The ads didn't last very long at all - I think they ran about 1 week, then got pulled over the controversy.
as far as i know the exhibition didn't even open - so no one even saw it.... very odd. I would normally go to anything photographic at the Baltic working next door at the Sage and all - but i didn't know this was even on until it was off...
The Side Gallerys current exhibition on the opposite bank is fantstic though, and well worth a visit if you happen to be in Newcastle.
I think TheFlyingCamera and Matt have both made some extremely well thought out and pertinent comments about the image and the exhibition, and I fully agree with them both.
If you read further about the police investigation you will find that they are also looking into previous owners of the image, this copy and presumably others. Does this mean asking US police to investigate art collector Elaine Dannheiser who sold a copy at Sothebys ?
What ever we might think about an individual image, or the work as a whole, incidents like this show that common sense does not always prevail.