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X-rated exhibition in London October 12, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts.
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An oversize fig leaf made to spare Queen Victoria’s blushes from a glimpse of the male anatomy greets visitors at an exhibition exploring the line between art and obscenity.

A show, which opens at the capital’s Barbican Centre on Friday, brings together two and a half millennia of erotic art and according to its curators is the largest of its kind ever staged. The more than 300 works on display range from images of copulation on ancient Greek cups to contemporary billboard-size photographs of love-making by American artist Jeff Koons.

The Barbican’s Head of Art Galleries Kate Bush said the exhibition contained nothing salacious or gratuitous, even though it is barred to minors under 18. “This is not an exhibition about sex and it’s not an exhibition about pornography. It’s a serious work of art history and curatorship,” she said. “It’s an exhibition about how artists presented sex as a fundamental experience which connects everybody.”

The 18 inch (46 cm) high fig leaf, cast in white plaster, was hung over the private parts of a copy of Michelangelo’s monumental “David”, presented to Queen Victoria by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857. It forms a motif for the show, which unashamedly displays erotic works as striking for their explicitness as their artifice.

“Much of the material here has been censored at some point,” said Marina Wallace, one of the show’s curators and a director of London’s Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design. “It’s very important for us now to realise when it was censored and why, by looking at the history of its particular acceptability,” she said.

The show brings together many ancient erotic works once hidden the behind closed doors of museums. It includes items from a collection of 434 phallic and other sexual objects from Greece, India and beyond, presented to the British Museum in 1856 by antiquarian George Witt, a year before Britain passed its first Obscene Publications Act. Witt’s collection was suppressed and formed the basis of the Museum’s closed “Secretum” of erotic works, only open to scholars by strict appointment.

Roman sexual works discovered at Herculaneum and Pompeii, also on show at the Barbican, were similarly hidden away in a “Reserved Cabinet” of the Bourbon Museum in Naples in 1819. But curiosity got the better of many, and records show that by 1824 some 300 visitors, mostly English, French and German, had requested access to the Naples collection, which included frescos painted for Roman brothels of couples having sex.

The Barbican show also includes works of modern controversy, including 13 sado-masochistic homosexual portraits by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, shown together in public for the first time. When some of these were displayed in Cincinnati in the United States in 1990 it led to the gallery’s director being indicted for obscenity, though he was eventually acquitted.

The exhibition, “Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now”, runs until January 27, 2008.

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