In Brief

Too Nude for the News? Colbert on the Arbitrary Censorship of Art

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Modigliani’s 1917 painting “Nu couché” (Reclining Nude) made headlines this week after Chinese billionaire art collector Liu Yiquan purchased it for $170.4 million, but some media outlets revealed their prudishness in their coverage of the full-frontal portrait, partially censoring it. The Financial Times, for example, covered the sitter’s oh-so-criminal bits with crudely Photoshopped black rectangles; TV outlets from Bloomberg to CNBC simply blurred them out, turning the finely rendered torso into a pulpy smudge. This series of erasures recalls Fox 5 News’ recent one of four pairs of breasts on Picasso’s ‘Women of Algiers” (1955) when the painting set a sales record in May. Now Stephen Colbert has addressed this bizarre treatment of art on “The Late Show” in a brief segment that aired last night, examining what network televisions can and cannot broadcast.

As Colbert points out, the censorships naturally beg the question of where we draw the line between art and pornography, and he brings up the fact that Fox 5 News didn’t deem one butt in the Picasso painting obscene enough to receive the executive scrub. He points out that CBS — which airs “The Late Show” — isn’t allowed to place on screen a complete, unimpeded view of the Modigliani, then reveals a pretty ridiculous fact: that he is allowed to display “only a distant picture of [Michelangelo’s] David for … a total of two seconds.” Finally, to make clear the incredibly arbitrary nature of network guidelines to showcasing visual art, Colbert takes a pen to paper, draws some simple shapes, and illustrates how even a few lines may dictate a network’s iron rules.

Watch the entire clip below:

Editor’s note, 11/16: The Financial Times contacted Hyperallergic following the publication of this article to explain that “international publishers are banned from printing and distributing nude images in some countries according to local governing laws.” So while Modigliani’s “Nu Couché” appeared censored in some editions of the paper, it was printed uncensored in most editions.

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