Nude Art Show Moved to Tent to Avoid ControversyBy Sandra Knispel | Published 28 Sep 2011 09:06am |
Art that had been too controversial for a public venue, drew at least 130 visitors to a small, private tent in downtown Oxford. MPB’s Sandra Knispel has more..
“She’s 18 months old. I’m not sure that she really has a clue of what she’s seeing. She’s more interested in her finger. I’m a local business owner and I knew right away if the mayor did not like it, I was going to love it.”
That was Jason Plunk with his young daughter in his arms. As the old adage goes: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. In this case, the show Scratch and Sniff, by Katherine Rhodes Fields, which was originally supposed to be shown for one night only at the Powerhouse, ended up instead in a private tent outside a juice bar on University Avenue after some controversy. One thing the organizers show no longer had to worry about was publicity.
“I heard the story this morning and I told the people at the Powerhouse I thought it was all a stunt to get more people out who normally wouldn’t have come otherwise,” says Will Hustwit. Reporter: “Have you scratched and sniffed?” Hustwit: “I did. I smelled cinnamon rolls, I smelled lemons … I was told Goldfish.“
Visiting Ole Miss history professor Will Hustwit is looking at scantily-clad 1970s Playboy centerfolds printed on canvases surrounded by the fruit women’s sexual organs are often called … melons, cherries, peaches and even limes in a picture titled “Sour Puss.” The artist, Katherine Rhodes Fields, a visiting professor in the University of Mississippi’s Art department, explains:
“I’m trying to create a moment of synaesthesia were sight and smell come together to create an experience.”
I’m standing in front of a canvas called “Finger Licking Good”. The nude Brunette, is shown sideways on her back, her legs pulled up demurely. The breasts are hidden behind a light brown paper disk, that looking more closely actually is a photograph of fried chicken skin. Behind her on the canvas are fried chicken legs. The disk says “scratch and sniff” ….. And, you probably guessed it – it smells of fried chicken. [to artist] Tell me why the drum sticks?
“You know because they call ladies’ legs sticks, stems, drum sticks. And also breasts, chicken breasts,” explains Fields. Reporter: “I thought it was because you also call girls ‘chicks’?” Fields: “Oh, that too.”
Fields offered the publicly-funded Powerhouse a way out when City leaders strongly urged Wayne Andrews, the executive director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, to reconsider putting the show in this public space. Instead, the artist managed to line up a private tent on private property.
“It think it allowed us to reach the goal we wanted, which was to provide access to a nationally-recognized art exhibit without the controversy and without calling into question all the other programs that we do. We do 320 days worth of arts programming every year,” says Andrews.
While Oxford mayor Pat Patterson says he never threatened Andrews with withholding future funding his displeasure was clear:
“I was concerned and I think that we have to be careful there. There’s a publicly-funded building and a partially-publicly funded arts project. I think it needs to be open to everybody, Sandra. I think it’s important that we do not have to restrict a portion of that building to something that could be of questionable taste or inappropriate. And I got some complaints right off the top.”
Andrews for his part did not want to put the Powerhouse’s future in jeopardy once he realized that pre-show advertising and interviews had touched some raw nerves.
“The thought of maybe having nudes that were incorporated into artwork that had food and that you touched and that became tactile – maybe broke a barrier or reached beyond something people were comfortable with,” Andrews says.
After having told MPB on Monday that he would check it out, Mayor Patterson, came to see the exhibit and had a brief, somewhat tense conversation with the artist:
Mayor Patterson: “After observing the art…” Katherine Rhodes Fields: “You have to smile and laugh and enjoy!” Mayor: “I’m going to smile but I think we made the right decision not having it at the Powerhouse. How about that? Pleasure meeting you!” Fields: “Thank you so much for coming.”
But if the mayor did not like it, the numbers painted a different picture, with turnout well above average. Again Wayne Andrews:
“We’ve got people from Tupelo, Yazoo City and Grenada that have come in. I think maybe a little controversy got people interested.”
Maybe, Oxonians, after all do not need as much protection as some city and church leaders thought necessary. Or, maybe curiosity was simply too hard to resist.
Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.
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