A new exhibition “Pop Life” by artist Richard Prince opened to the public a few days ago at Tate Modern in the UK. The show had previously been showed at the Guggenheim without stir and very little controversy. However, when Pop Life opened to the public at Tate Modern the police were waiting with an order to have one artwork removed pending an investigation as to whether or not it violates the UK’s obscenity laws.
The artwork in question is a piece called “Spiritual America.” The image is of a nude, prepubescent Brooke Shields. It dates back to 1975 and was originally taken by Gary Gross with contractual consent from Brooke Shields’ mother. The images taken in this series were published and displayed several times leading up to a lawsuit in 1981 filed by Shields against Gross. The lawsuit was long and drawn out, but in the end Gross won and retained all rights associated with the images. (see image below)
The actual photograph that was removed from the Tate was a photograph of the original framed work taken by Prince in 1983 and titled “Spiritual America.” Prince later made a deal with Gross and obtained the rights to the image.
Throughout the images history it has been controversial, with two very clear stances being taken. One side of the argument believes that image is lewd and pornographic, as Shields had make-up applied, was oiled, and was posed provocatively. There were many complaints filed against the Tate on these grounds.
Gross is disappointed that the image has been removed and does not consider it pornographic, though he says, “she was supposed to look like a sexy woman.”
The other side argues that image was taken legally and up until this point has never been ordered removed by the authorities. They also argue that the people who do consider this type of imagery as pornographic should question their own sexual motives and desires, as images such as this should not illicit sexual responses in normal people.
In recent years the UK has been extremely cautious when it comes to photographs of children in art. Two years ago Police seized two images taken by Nan Goldin of two girls dancing nude, despite the fact that six years prior the Crown Prosecuting Service had deemed the images decent.
Whether or not “Spiritual America” is returned to the exhibition is still up in the air. The authorities have not released anymore information on the investigation.