Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Art, Law and Mapplethorpe

A Mapplethorpe Exhibition opens later this week at Towner in Eastborne. I'm not sure if it's the first Mapplethorpe exhibition in England and Wales since the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act and in any case it looks as if the exhibition is decidedly safe on that front.

The exhibition looks as if it will include some of my favourite Mapplethorpe pieces (I am a bit of a fan) but not some of the ones that have me in utter delight (and censors having palpitations). It left me wondering how a broader collection of his work would be dealt with by a gallery today. What would their legal advice say? This continues to remain a rapidly developing and muddled area of law. You can see the pictures that feature in the exhibition here and read a review of the show here.

Mapplethorpe has long been controversial. Carl Stychin noted in his work Law's Desire that US legislators found his work troubling in the 80s forcing the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC to cancel an exhibition and contributed to controversy about arts funding in the US. More recently, the writer Daryl Champion has chronicled how Peter Knight, then Vice Chancellor of the University of Central England found himself at the centre of another Mapplethorpe scandal in 1998 when Police seized a Mapplethorpe book from the library that featured a collection of his black and white photos. Knight took on the Police and fought for the right of his university (and all universities) to have such a book int heir collection.

He won but that was before the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act was passed and although that Act should not stop the possession of such a book by a library it inevitably created confusion for collection holders.

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