With accusations of sexual abuse and harassment shaking the politics and entertainment business, it was only a matter of time before accusations surfaced in the world of fine arts. But what to do when the accused – in this case, the Polish-French painter Balthus – is dead and can not defend his work?
Many of Balthus' paintings depict pubescent girls. He always denied the accusations of pedophilia, but many see eroticism in these works, which some find disturbing, even creepy. Mia Merrill is among those people. She is the creator of an online petition requesting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to remove one of those paintings, "Thérèse Dreaming" (1938).
"It is unsettling that the Met proudly displays such an image," wrote Merrill, who described the painting as "an evocative portrait of a preadolescent girl relaxing in a chair with her legs up and her underwear exposed … can strongly argue that this painting idealizes the sexualization of a child ".
The Met, by the way, has owned the painting since 1998. In addition, it has no plans to tear it down. Kenneth Weine, a museum spokesperson, told Newsweek in an email that "moments like this provide an opportunity to converse, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have to reflect on the past and present, and encourage the continuous evolution of the existing culture through an informed discussion and respect for creative expression. "
Merrill's petition, which garnered more than 9,000 signatures, said it does not necessarily demand that the work be "censored, destroyed or never seen " again, "it should simply be removed from the gallery or accompanied by a line like" some viewers find this piece offensive or disturbing, given Balthus' artistic infatuation with young girls. "She went on to say that, by showing the painting," The Met is, perhaps unintentionally, supporting the voyeurism and objectification of children. "
Even with the" maybe ", that is a harsh accusation." The idea that this painting suggests that the Met supports, on an institutional level, an unhealthy sexualization of young women does not understand the role of a cultural institution, "said Nora Pelizzari, spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). , Newsweek . " The art of attack is counterproductive to the open discussion necessary to address the realities of sexual harassment and abuse, "the NCAC said in an earlier statement.
The anti-censorship organization applauded the Met's decision to keep the painting in sight. In her opinion, Pelizzari said, "hiding the potential sexualization of young women through their history does not help … the current conversation about sexual harassment."
PEN America, which works to protect literary and artistic expression, They see such requests as part of a disturbing trend. "We are alarmed by what appears to be a growing tendency to resort to artistic censorship as a way of expressing social, political or other grievances," said PEN America. in a statement to Newsweek . "Some advocates seem to have decided that artists and art institutions represent easy targets, more vulnerable to public campaigns than the real power structures that perpetuate the evils these activists struggle against. "
The concern with both organizations is that censorship of art does nothing, in the end, to address systemic problems. In addition, it closes the necessary debates that lead to the reform.