A copy of Michelangelo's sculpture David in a public park in Okuizumo, Japan will be wearing underpants if residents have anything to say about it. They find exposure of the statue’s genitals embarrassing.
No one in Florence, where the original statue stands, has ever minded. In fact, “David" - a hit from the start in 1504 - was supposed to surmount the dome of the Cathedral of Florence. But because it was more secular-looking than religious, officials opted to install it in their main square, so everyone could see the shepherd boy protecting his people.
The weirdest part of the Okuizumo story is that the Japanese never minded nudity before. I’m thinking of “Shunga” - the 19th century woodblock prints that are so graphic, I hesitate to illustrate this column with them. Not only do they depict a variety sexual positions, but they also enlarge male genitalia http://www.examiner.com/article/the-body-beautiful to outsized proportions.
And why not? After all, the early Japanese religions included phallic worship.
But here’s the big thing. If the citizens of Okuizumo succeed in putting underwear on David, they will negate Michelangelo’s point: to contrast an unclad youth with an armored giant.
Cloaking the nudity of this centuries-old icon of courage in battle is a little like what Sarasota, Florida did in the ‘60s. The city had adopted the statue – a replica stands in the local museum’s courtyard - as a city symbol. But it was pictured on city letterheads only from the rear. Even in 1988, when officials turned the figure around, it was pictured in silhouette and remains that way to this day.
Seeing “David” only from the rear, like seeing it in underwear, casts aside a key part of the story. You can’t tell from the back that the boy-warrior is readying to do battle. Portraying David in the nude emphasizes his vulnerability, which renders him all the more valiant.
Listen up, Okuizumo. Check your country’s art history before you mess with another’s.