Thursday, October 02, 2003

"I left her breasts bare, because that's what she feeds the world with symbolically"

From the Sacramento Bee...

Nude Art Exposes Controversy
By Jocelyn Wiener

Officials stripped nude paintings from a Nevada City government building Wednesday evening, leaving the walls bare and a community enveloped in controversy.

The exhibit had been housed in the Rood Center as part of a monthlong celebration of "Arts, Culture and Humanities" month -- a national celebration supported by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. Of some 50 paintings and sculptures put on display Saturday, five featured some detailed nude form.

County officials considered that five too many.

Officials said the controversy began Saturday when an employee asked that an artist remove a nude painting, and the artist protested.

Soon, other artists -- and their nude paintings --
also were involved.

"This thing has really kind of snowballed," said County Executive Officer Rick Haffey.

Haffey said the Rood Center has exhibited children's art, watercolors and oil paintings in the past. When the artwork was deemed questionable for a government office, he said, artists generally agreed to take it down.

"When people come to a public building and they don't expect to see something that ... ," he paused, "thought-provoking, they may be surprised. If it's overly thought-provoking, there could be employees who could say it makes them uncomfortable."

County officials allowed a Tuesday night reception to go forward after business hours but asked the Nevada County Arts Council to remove all art by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Alexi Bonifield, marketing director for the council, said the group is negotiating to reopen the show at the Center for the Arts in downtown Grass Valley.

Many of the artists and aficionados attending Tuesday's opening held signs criticizing U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and censorship.

Several discussed what they see as Orwellian behavior among officials -- both local and national -- while munching on brie and baby carrots.

"It's not about me, and it's not about my work even," said Irene Nicolas, 64, of Grass Valley. "It's about First Amendment rights."

Sue Horne, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, disagreed.

"People come in (to the Rood Center) for housing assistance, to pay their taxes and for building permits, and they don't come in expecting to see nudity on the wall," she said. "This is not about whether or not these pictures are in any way obscene or lewd. I don't think they are ... but it is about whether it is the appropriate place."

At Tuesday's opening, someone taped a "censored" sign over Horne's photo. Someone else quickly removed it.

Although political commentary -- in all forms -- was pervasive, many focused their attention on lifting the small "censored" signs artists taped over their subjects' two-dimensional anatomical parts.

Nicolas' painting of Hathar, whom she describes as an ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility, love and beauty, was a popular exhibit.

"I left her breasts bare, because that's what she feeds the world with symbolically," Nicolas said.

"She'd look funny if she didn't have a set," chimed in Dee Hedenland, 65, of Grass Valley.

Jennifer Breiling, 55, of Nevada City, lifted the "censored" sign covering Hathar's upper half.

"The funny thing is, I'm finding myself peeping," she said. "I've never done that before. It feels like there's a little excitement to the piece when you lift the strip. It's like a bikini."

Barak Michener, a Bear River High School senior, looked on.

"The content you'll find in high school is a lot worse than you'll find here," he mused. "I've seen worse, much worse, and I'm only 17."

At one point, the crowd gathered to listen to speakers.

"We should stand up for our rights," said Kurt Niederhaus, creator of one of the more controversial pieces. "I think that's the only way to bring our county into the 21st century."

"Whoo!" yelled a woman wearing a "Censored" T-shirt.

Tracie Krause, an art docent for the Nevada City school district, examined Niederhaus' "Patriot."

The painting features the phrase "Support Our Boobs" underneath a depiction of two miniature men using poles to support the breasts of a very tall woman. The piece, Niederhaus said, is a "humorous jab" at "Support Our Troops."

Krause said her 8-year-old daughter heard about the art show controversy and wanted to know why this art differed from Picasso paintings her mother had shown her last year. Those paintings showed breasts, and she asked whether something was wrong with that.

"I said, 'I don't have a problem with it,' " Krause said.

  • Sacramento Bee

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