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City Councilmen Cry “Porn” Over Pregnant Nude at MOCA Jacksonville

Installation view of 'Project Atrium: Angela Strassheim' at MOCA Jacksonville (photo by Thomas Hager for MOCA Jacksonville)
A view of ‘Project Atrium: Angela Strassheim’ at MOCA Jacksonville (photo by Thomas Hager for MOCA Jacksonville)

Jacksonville, Florida, may be stuck in the 19th century: an image of a reclining nude woman on view at a local museum has local politicians hot and bothered.

“Untitled (Janine Eight Months Pregnant)” (2013) is part of an exhibition of photographs by the Connecticut-based artist Angela Strassheim in the atrium of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) of Jacksonville. Its subject, a pregnant woman, appears nude, basking in the sunlight pouring in from a window that gives way to a chilly winter landscape.

But last week Clay Yarborough, the president of Jacksonville’s city council, called the photo pornography and demanded that the city’s mayor, Alvin Brown, take back a $230,000 grant the city’s Cultural Council had given to MOCA, according to local CNN affiliate News4Jax. In a statement released to the station on Friday, Yarborough especially objected to the work’s prominent placement in the museum atrium, which he says puts children (even those only wishing to visit Café Nola, the museum’s restaurant) at risk of seeing an image of a pregnant woman.

Angela Strassheim, "Untitled (Janine Eight Months Pregnant)" (2013) (Courtesy of the artist and Andrea Meislin Gallery)
Angela Strassheim, “Untitled (Janine Eight Months Pregnant)” (2013) (courtesy the artist and Andrea Meislin Gallery)

Yarborough explained in his statement:

In order to get to Café Nola, one is required to enter the doors of MOCA because there is no other way through which the public can access the restaurant. Upon entering the doors of MOCA on Tuesday for a lunch meeting at Café Nola, I observed the picture hanging on the gallery wall in plain view of anyone entering, including children. Unlike other venues that may contain such pictures, no admission fee is required to enter the lobby and view the picture. While we may all differ on the definition of art, the real question is should an adult and/or children who wish to eat at Café Nola be forcibly exposed to the picture upon entering the public, taxpayer-owned building if they do not wish to see it? As a parent of young children, I support parental choice and believe no parent should be put in the position of having to answer awkward questions that could arise from their child seeing a picture like that. The Mayor’s position is still unknown and the Cultural Council’s response suggests an unwillingness to compromise, which is unfortunate in this situation. Since this issue surfaced, it is also interesting that all public-facing media outlets, including Facebook, have either blurred or removed the image due to content.

The councilman is apparently not aware that Facebook’s puritanical nudity standards and overzealous censorship policies may not be the sturdiest yardstick by which to measure what is and is not appropriate.

Jacksonville’s Cultural Council responded to Yarborough’s charges by asserting that it “stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees,” the Jacksonville Daily Record reported.

Not all members of Jacksonville’s city council are standing with Yarborough. “I don’t think we would ever support that,” City Councilman Richard Clark told News4Jax. “I think we need to support the arts more, not less.” On the other hand, Councilman Don Redman seemed to agree with Yarborough. “I think that a nude body to a young child is pornography, yes,” he told the TV station.

Installation view of 'Project Atrium: Angela Strassheim' at MOCA Jacksonville (photo by Thomas Hager for MOCA Jacksonville)
Installation view of ‘Project Atrium: Angela Strassheim’ at MOCA Jacksonville (photo by Thomas Hager for MOCA Jacksonville)

The local art community plans to show its support for Strassheim and MOCA by rallying at the institution on December 3 during Jacksonville Art Walk, a citywide art event that takes place on the first Wednesday of every month.

Meanwhile, according to the Daily Record, the chief of staff for Mayor Brown has forwarded Yarborough’s request to retract MOCA’s funding to the Office of General Counsel in light of the First Amendment implications of such a decision.

Project Atrium: Angela Strassheim is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (333 North Laura Street, Jacksonville, Florida) through March 1, 2015.

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