A sculpture in Gdansk, Poland describing a Red Army soldier raping a pregnant woman intended by the artist to dramatize rape victims’ suffering, has put him at risk of imprisonment with the charge of promoting national hatred.
Note: the work stood in place without permission for one night next to a memorial to Red Army soldiers who freed the city from the Nazis in 1945. Outraged Russian ambassador in Warsaw, called for an "appropriate reaction" from Polish authorities, saying the artist “defiled” the memory of Soviet servicemen who gave their lives for the freedom and the independence of Poland.
Seeming to suggest that a when it comes to “defiled,” the victim is the military, this incident brings back memories of another brouhaha with an unclear point. I’m thinking of 2010 when the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery removed a video of a crucified Jesus covered in ants. The artist, David Wojnarowicz, made it as a commentary on the suffering that HIV/AIDS causes. And it wasn’t clear whether the furor was over the reference to homosexuality or to the Catholic League charge that the video is hate speech against Christianity.
Congressman Eric Cantor said at the time that taxpayer-funded museums should uphold “common standards of decency.” This column then wondered about all the rape paintings held in museums that escape judgment and pose the question: Are rape paintings OK as long as the sex is heterosexual? Art experts certainly seem to say as much.
Kerry Downes, a Rubens expert, sees Rubens’ “Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus," which shows two unclothed females forcibly taken by a pair of burly young men on horseback, as a "romance, not, violence."
Art historian, Kenneth Clark has said of "Jupiter and Antiope," a rape painting by Corregio, “As our eyes follow every undulation, it passes refreshed from shade to light."
Then there are Cezanne’s thick, dark, crude-stroked paintings of bloody stabbings, stranglings, rape and other cruelties. Describing the tortured scenes, art aficionado Robert Simon used words like "idiosyncratic commingling" and "esthetic density."
Because objections to art will always be subjective, maybe we should all decide that censorship is just a very bad idea.