Rodin, The Kiss

Rodin, Auguste. The Kiss. Bronze. Between 1898 and 1918.

On loan from the Bayly Art Museum. Gift of George Hammond Sullivan in memory of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Algernon Sydney Sullivan.

In the late 1990s, the Brigham Young University Museum of Art exhibited a show of Auguste Rodin's sculpture; however, the director and other high-ranking university officials made an eleventh-hour decision to omit the famous statue The Kiss and three other Rodin works. The museum director feared that the omitted works did not mesh well with the theme of the exhibition, indicating that "the nature of those works are such that the viewer will be concentrating on them in a way that is not good for us." University officials denied that the decision was based on concern that the nudity and passionate embrace of The Kiss might offend Provo, Utah's conservative and largely Mormon audience. This was not the first act of censorship against The Kiss. In 1913, the sculpture, thought to be "too daring," was removed from an exhibition at the Corporation of Lewes in London.

How often is censorship motivated by a fear of offending or alienating others rather than by any personal objection?

Sally Mann's photography has a beautiful, haunting quality. She has produced a substantial number of landscapes, portraits, and other experimental works that Mann says, "tend toward the soft and evocative". They reveal my intense commitment to my home, to the gentle hills of the Shenandoah Valley where I have lived almost all my life." However, Mann remains best known for her controversial photographs of nude children (usually her own), depicting childhood through an unsentimental, often frightening lens. Mann has argued that all of her pictures of children are consensual, but her detractors have accused her art of being exploitative. Can children give consent to be photographed in the nude? Can their parents?

Mann, Sally. Jessie Bites. Silver gelatin print. Ca.1985.

On loan from the Bayly Art Museum.


Mann, Sally. Still Time. New York: Aperture, c1994.

Andres Serrano's 1987 photograph, Piss Christ, showing a crucifix in urine caused an uproar when it was exhibited. (The work on display is from that same series). Some viewers wanted to understand the artist's motivation before judging his works; others simply found the photograph too objectionable to tolerate. As an added source of pique, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts had funded Serrano's work.

Are some symbols too sacred to alter in any way? Serrano has courted controversy repeatedly, having created a series called The History of Sex and another depicting the Ku Klux Klan. Is Serrano making a political statement by pushing at the boundaries of what we consider "acceptable" artwork? Or, is he just trying to shock people? Is the former motivation more deserving of protection from censorship than the latter?

Serrano, Andres. Crucifixion, #2/10. Cibachrome print. 1987.

On loan from the Bayly Art Museum.

Robert Mapplethorpe had a long and distinguished career as a photographer before succumbing to AIDS in March 1989. His traveling exhibition entitled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment included beautiful still-life photographs of lilies, poppies, jack-in-the-pulpits, and other flowers, as well as portraits and figure studies. In the summer of 1989, this exhibition was cancelled at the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C., several weeks before opening, because of controversy over some overt homoerotic images included in the exhibit. The museum director, Christina Orr-Cahal, cited her "concern that the show would become embroiled in a political battle over federal funding of artistic work that may offend." However, the exhibition had aroused no particular controversy when shown previously in Chicago and Philadelphia, and the cancellation engendered huge protests. On the eve of what was to have been the opening of the exhibition, over 900 people gathered at the Corcoran and projected enlargements of Mapplethorpe's photographs onto the side of the gallery. Orr-Cahal resigned soon after having made the decision to cancel Mapplethorpe's exhibit. If you were the director of a privately owned museum, would you have made the same decisions?

Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

   On display: Dennis Walsh, New York, 1976 and Patrice, New York, 1977.

Kardon, Janet. Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1990, c1988.

   On display: Flowers in Vase, 1985 and Irises, 1986.