In Brief

Police Cut Images from Artwork over Kiddie Porn Concerns

by Claire Voon on August 21, 2014

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Installation view, “Everything is Fucked” at Linden Centre of Contemporary Arts (all photos by John Brash, courtesy Neon Parc Gallery)

In an ongoing case, Australian artist Paul Yore is facing child pornography charges following complaints concerning his work in a group show on view last year at Melbourne’s Linden Centre of Contemporary Arts. The art in question is part of Yore’s site-specific, large-scale installation “Everything is Fucked,” a tottering mountain of colorful bric-a-brac that viewers could enter. As part of the work, seven photographs of children’s faces were overlaid on images of male bodies engaged in sexual activity, prompting a gallery visitor to file a complaint to the police, The Age reported. The exhibition, Like Mikeis a tribute to Australian artist Mike Brown, who was the only Australian artist ever convicted of obscenity. Brown was sentenced to three months of hard labor for a group of paintings he exhibited in 1966, but it was late reduced to a $20 fine on appeal.

In response to the protests, Australian police, armed with a warrant and a box cutter, cut out the images last May; however, the Melbourne Magistrates Court ruled on the first day of Yore’s hearing that the exhibition was actually suitable for viewers 18 and older according to standards set by the Australian Classification Board. Yore has pleaded not guilty to both charges of producing and possessing child pornography.

_DSC0129“I see the work as a celebration of queer culture,” Yore said in a podcast produced by Linden Centre. “There’s a lot of phallocentric imagery, and going inside the work is an idea of penetrating the work, and I guess I wanted to talk about the the phallocentric nature of our culture as well, especially in relation to the natural world, the way our civilization has this very destructive relationship with the natural world.

“I really wanted to try and push it as far as I could,” he continued, “and it’s almost teetering on the edge, and this is the element of the work that is kind of borderline uncomfortable.”

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether or not Yore’s work constitutes child pornography and whether it has artistic merit; various art experts, including Director of the Heide Museum of Modern Art Jason Smith defended the work on the hearing’s first day, saying that “Everything Is Fucked” does hold artistic merit and that removing certain parts destroyed Yore’s intent as an artist, according to The Age.

Interestingly, Smith’s definition of a work’s merit seems to hinge on its creator’s reputation, as The Australian reported:

Mr. Smith said an artwork had merit if it was produced by an artist of merit. Asked by Ms. Wall whether an artwork produced by Leonardo da Vinci depicting two male children committing fellatio would have artistic merit purely because of its creator, Mr Smith replied, “perhaps so”.

Echoing Smith’s response, Director of the Australian Tapestry Workshop Antonia Syne also came to Yore’s defense with a terse statement: “Putti. Leonardo did lots of naked children.”

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The prosecutor, however, asserted that children’s safety takes priority over the work’s artistic merit, adding that Yore never requested consent from the minors or their parents to use the photos, effectively subjecting them to his sexualized collages.

The case has incensed much of the art world, with some arguing that the imagery Yore used is readily available for anyone to use and condemning the police action as unnecessary censorship that infringes on Yore’s artistic freedom of expression.

The National Association for the Visual Arts, “a long-standing defender of artists’ freedom of expression,” asserted that “Australian citizens have the democratic right to make judgements about what they want to see and respond to according to their own understandings and value systems.”

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On the second day of Yore’s hearing, Magistrate Amanda Chambers decided to reserve judgment until October 1 on whether the case will proceed to trial, calling the decision “difficult.” Despite the legal dispute, Yore is still listed as part of Primavera 2014: Young Australian Artists, a group show opening this September at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney that will feature new works by the artist.

“I have chosen Paul Yore because he is an excellent young artist,” curator Mikala Dwyer told Guardian. “I find deeply intriguing his extraordinary ability to process and transform huge expanses of capitalist rubble into political, magical, and almost spiritual zones of contemplation.”

Hyperallergic reached out to Neon Parc Gallery for comment, but a representative said Yore could not “comment on the proceedings presently.”

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  • Cat Weaver

    Arrrrg: so painful.

  • thorn

    oh give us all a break, mr law enforcement douche bag. Paul Yore’s art is cool AND harmless. PLEASE grow up + grow some balls while you’re @ it + let us celebrate
    the freedom of expression! After all, I hear we may still be a democracy!

  • Vincent M Aloia

    “Mr. Smith said an artwork had merit if it was produced by an artist of merit”. This is a terrible argument. This is a sentiment that is ruling and rotting away the art world. It is far more important and more interesting than if Yore likes to include child faces with dicks in his art- perhaps equal with the fear of censorship.

    • hdc77494

      More likely he included kids faces to generate press.

  • hdc77494

    I didn’t’t have a problem with this artwork until I realized he used kids faces w/o permission and sexualized them. I find that exploitive.

  • Seph

    I wish that “much of the art world” wasn’t galvanized by this kind of (fairly tepid) work in the name of protecting artistic “freedom of expression” (I’m quoting the article, not being sarcastic). There are honestly bigger fish to fry and the work strikes me as somewhat derivative and uninspiring, plus the way the artist talks about it, it’s utterly weak tea. (He wants to highlight phallocentrism, really? In this obvious and sexualized a manner?)

    I wish the art world got galvanized around issues of interns being exploited for free labor; around the paucity of really thoughtful, beautiful, tough criticism; around the unfairly miserable grind of adjuncts who are often artists being exploited by academia; around the way that art fairs privilege commerce over meaning; around the often frivolous, silly bacchanal of well financed, much-promoted but empty exhibitions like the Whitney Biennial.

    It seems like the rest of culture can count on us to raise cries of “freedom of expressioin!” and so on, but what about the work? Honestly, we keep playing to same roles and that allows funding agencies, government bodies, to keep playing the same roles too.

  • Seph

    Dear Gemma,

    Respectfully, I haven’t issued a call to refine aesthetic preferences; rather, I think it’s a call to place our politics, that is our relations of power, in the main discussion of art–to do so always and consistently and particularly around issues of censorship. My point is exactly that the brouhaha excited by this work quickly (perhaps instantaneously) collapses into a claim of artistic freedom and the right to explore vs. the awful blinkered state and the walking death of bourgeois values, etc. All well and good, but that’s low hanging fruit.

    Yes, it is worthwhile to talk about, discuss, argue, fight for the notion that one should not be threatened with prison for making an aesthetic statement. But that discussion does not seem to revolve around power, for example the power of the state and its insistence on creating a state of emergency under the auspices of which it can declare art work obscene, or the paucity of thought put into the judging of whether or not the art constitutes a threat by depicting children’s bodies, or whatever else. All of this palaver ends up too quickly in that well of freedom vs. the thought police and our politics, and our sense of what constitutes our politics are impoverished by this tendency.

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