Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a Member »

Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.

The censored replica of Michelangelo’s David in St. Petersburg (photo via @misha.ivanov/Instagram)

St. Petersburg residents will vote on how to dress a replica statue of Michelangelo’s “David” that came to the city in May, following a complaint from a woman who said his nudity “spoils the city’s historic appearance and warps children’s souls.”

Erected as part of the ongoing Michelangelo. World Creation exhibition at St. Anne’s Lutheran Church in central St. Petersburg, the 16-foot-tall plastic copy compelled the outraged local to pen a letter last week to the Children’s Right’s Ombudsman, as Lenta first reported.

Covering up David’s parts (GIF by the author for Hyperallergic via @annetttta/Instagram)

“How could you put this bloke without any trousers on in the center of St Petersburg, next to a school and a church?,” asks the letter, whose writer is identified on the ombudsman’s website only as “Inna.” While the online post notes that officials have tried to convince Inna that many other naked statues have stood around town for years, she said she still intends to write to all relevant authorities to achieve an “early elimination of the giant.” Parents and teachers have also apparently complained about the replica, which is scheduled to remain up until the exhibition ends in October.

The organizers of the show have been quite accommodating, though — or at least quick to identify promotional opportunities — and decided to allow the public to settle the situation through an unnecessarily tedious process. This week, they launched the monthlong “Dress David” initiative, which invites people to play stylist to the famous nude Renaissance work and submit ideas for outfits, complete with explanations for why David should appear in the proposed garb. An online voting session for selected concepts will open on August 16, with a winner announced a week later. Voters will also have the option to leave the statue as Michelangelo’s original has stood for centuries.

“Next, we will make a costume for the [winning idea] and put him in a solemn ceremony on 30 August,” a spokesperson for the exhibition told RIA-Novosti. ” Or we will not do anything.”

In the meantime, organizers have crudely taped a black circular object over the statue’s offending member to protect the untainted souls of passing schoolchildren.

The Latest

Required Reading

This week, a Frank Stella is installed as a public artwork in NYC, the women behind some iconic buildings, looting Cambodia, fighting anti-boycott laws, and more.

Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

8 replies on “Russians Vote to Dress Up “David” Replica to Appease Local Prudes”

  1. A St. Petersburg woman with a warped soul lacking a single aesthetic bone in her body tries to cover up one of the greatest works of art ever created, for the stupidest reasons imaginable…

    1. I wouldnt get too smug. I’d happily bet that were this in a few places in the US, we’d be hearing much the same thing.

      1. Oh, I would presume that most places in the world have individuals with stunted warped souls, the strength to overcome the powerful influences of culture and religion is not commonplace but it is growing…

  2. This reminds me of a story that still goes around my hometown of Sioux Falls, SD.

    Back in the late 1960s, the Fawicks, a millionaire couple who had started out here in the early 1900s with the invention of Mr. Fawick’s “Fawick Flyer” automobile, decided to give a gift of appreciation.

    Mrs. Fawick was extremely fond of Renaissance art and persuaded her husband to begin the process of getting bronze copies of Michelangelo’s “Moses” & “David.” They ran into unexpected delays due to the bureaucracy of the Italian government and its reluctance to permit access to the molds that had been made directly from the original sculptures. The Fawicks were nothing if persistent and brought their friend, the sculptor Felix de Weldon, into the fray to help them. Mr. de Weldon was able to cut much of the red tape and secured permission for the use of the molds.

    The Fawicks had originally wanted to put both sculptures in the oldest park in Sioux Falls at McKennan Park, in one of the historic districts. Local residents were fine with Moses, but not at all comfortable with David. The Fawicks then tried to move the duo to Augustana College (now University). The college was gracious as the school body thought that Moses would make a splendid and inspirational reminder to students to work hard and be moral. David, on the other hand, elicited the same discomfort and was declined by the school.

    By this point, the Fawick’s were understandably beginning to feel like a generous gift was being disrespected and publicly made it known that they were preparing to take their gift and present it to a more hospitable city like Cleveland, where they were currently living.

    Art professors from Augustana and other nearby schools argued that both Moses and David would make important cultural additions to Sioux Falls while religious leaders and many conservative citizens argued that accepting David would turn Sioux Falls into the Sodom of the Upper Midwest (“Sodom on the Big Sioux” if my memory serves me right). At a board meeting, the conservative faction went so far as to argue that if David were accepted at all, that locals would soon be participating on lewd acts, that homosexuals would be out in the open corrupting children and there would be an explosion of public nudity followed by a just punishment as the result of the wrath of God.

    As the city council debated and argued, a local matron who was above reproach and well-respected by the entire community spoke up. She stated that David was a work of art based on the beauty of the human body as created by God Almighty. Anyone who took offense to the human body was being disrespectful to God and insulting his great intelligence. Then she wryly added that if people took to the streets and paraded about nude, as long as they looked as good as David, then “…Praise God Hallelujah!”The city council quickly accepted David.

    The final problem was where to set David up. The city council was still squeamish about the frank nudity of David, so it settled on a small tract of industrial wasteland along the Big Sioux River just east of downtown by the railroad tracks. The tract of land had been the site of a former coal gasification plant and had toxic pollution all over it from the waste simply being dumped outside the former plant. The land was also bordered to the north and south by traffic viaducts that travelled over the river and railroad tracks. The city quickly dug a small plaza to set David in and planted sod over the ground. As a final flourish fast-growing trees and bushes were densely planted to screen David from view of passing motorists. This was a sop to the outraged local conservatives who were still howling angrily about morality being subverted in favor of perversion. The Fawicks, while satisfied that Sioux Falls had accepted the gift, were still disappointed by the way David was effectively hidden from view. The only way anyone could see it was to park outside the newly christened “Fawick Park” and walk a winding short path through bushes, shrubs and trees to finally emerge inside a small plaza with David standing at the center of it.

    The dedication of David and Fawick Park took place in 1971. There were sporadic complaints for years after about the nudity. David was the victim of a few pranks where high school and college kids would put a diaper on it. By the 1990s, David had become a kind of point of pride for the city, but still wasn’t very widely promoted. When the EPA informed Sioux Falls that the toxic legacy under Fawick Park was polluting the Big Sioux River, the city had to clean up the park. This involved removing David from its pedestal and storing it at an undisclosed location (which turned out to the be the city’s snow plow fleet shed). The entire park, vegetation, concrete and earth, was excavated out to be dealt with away from the city. The resulting cleanup left a wide open hollow scar between the two viaducts.

    The city started debating if David should return to the old location or be set up elsewhere? The ensuing debate became heated as morality was pitted against art with a few artistic academic purists demanding that David and Moses be broken down for scrap as they violated the “artistic integrity” of Michelangelo. Whatever.

    After some vigorous debating along with the strong influence of cost, the city decided to restore Fawick Park and return David to its former location. Since the land was radically altered and prone to flooding now, David was moved far to the southern edge of Fawick Park on the highest point of land. The former circular plaza that it had stood in was replaced by a smaller triangular platform with David turned around to look towards downtown instead of away as before. The city finally recognized the beauty and value of David and made sure that the trees that were planted in the park were smaller and didn’t block motorists view anymore. Instead of dense shrubs and bushes, flowerbeds and flowering bushes were planted to the rear of David.

    David is now greatly admired by the current generation of people living here. The story of how it came to be is an amusing lesson in how much hyperbole, false morality and exaggeration some people were willing to use when the notion of the gift of a twenty foot male nude bronze came up as a topic.

    1. My friends and I used to joke that, when you went to Sioux Falls you had to turn your watch back 20 years..,.I guess we would have to go even further back…WAYYYY back.

Comments are closed.