Art. vs. Obscenity
Edouard Manet - the first shock artist

"A Surprising Survey of African American Woman's Art", by Jane Harris, 12/14/04, Village Voice

PBS' art in the twenty-first century: Sally Mann

Take a virtual tour of The Body Farm

Art on Trial: Nudity

Art on Trial: Censorship

Art on Trial: Violence and Threatening Imagery

Art on Trial: Dread Scott and his flag installation

Peter Schjeldahl, The Art World, “A Woman’s Work,” The New Yorker, June 29, 2009, p. 80,

The Metropolitan Museum's (MMA) text on Woman with a Parrot by Courbet Edelman Gallery


New York Magazine - A review of Serrano's recent work

National Endowment for the Arts

Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Censorship: A World Encyclopedia (Mapplethorpe entry)

Notes for Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses

Miller v. California

Village Voice article "The Way We Were" (Dirty Pictures review and info on the trial)

Judith Leyster, 1609-1660, The Rejected Offer or The Proposition, 1631.

From The New Yorker, 6/29/09: "The show’s brochure, written by art historian Frima Fox Hofrichter, tells us that 'to sew' was, as it remains, Dutch slang for sex, giving an unmistakable spin to an offer of money for a woman’s sewing. In Leyster’s work, social and sexual anxieties tingle with fire-alarm immediacy."

Woman with a Parrot, 1760-61, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1696-1770.

Although Tiepolo did from time to time produce excellent portraits, this luminous painting may not be a portrait at all. It is, however, almost a symbol of eighteenth-century grace. [Source]

Woman with a Parrot by Courbet, 1866.

When this painting was shown in the Salon of 1866, critics censured Courbet's "lack of taste" as well as his model's "ungainly" pose and "disheveled hair." Clearly, Courbet's woman was perceived as provocative. The picture, however, was admired by contemporary artists: Cézanne seems to have carried a small photograph of it in his wallet, and in 1866 Manet began his version of the subject, Young Lady in 1866 (Woman with a Parrot) (89.21.3). [MMA]

Woman with a Parrot, 1866. Edouard Manet, French Realist, 1832-1883.

The theme of a woman and her parrot-confidante has literary and pictorial antecedents. But this picture, for which Victorine Meurent posed in 1866, was probably Manet's answer to Courbet's Woman with a Parrot (29.100.57), exhibited in the Salon of 1866. When Manet's picture was shown in the Salon of 1868, one critic wrote that "he has borrowed the parrot from his friend Courbet and placed it on a perch next to a young woman in a pink peignoir. These realists are capable of anything!" Most critics ignored the subject, however, in favor of ridiculing Manet's "present vice … a sort of pantheism in which the head is esteemed no more than a slipper." The picture was exhibited on three occasions during Manet's lifetime. [MMA]

Olympia, Manet, 1863.

Venus of Urbino, Titian, 1538.

The Absinthe Drinker, Manet, 1858-1859.

The Glass of Absinthe, 1876, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French Realist, 1834-1917.

Sally Mann in her darkroom

Sally Mann was born in 1951 in Lexington, Virginia, where she continues to live and work. She received a BA from Hollins College in 1974, and an MA in writing from the same school in 1975. Her early series of photographs of her three children and husband resulted in a series called “Immediate Family.” In her recent series of landscapes of Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, and Georgia, Mann has stated that she “wanted to go right into the heart of the deep dark South.” Using damaged lenses and a camera that requires the artist to use her hand as a shutter, these photographs are marked by the scratches, light leaks, and shifts in focus that were part of the photographic process as it developed during the 19th century. Mann has won numerous awards, including Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. Her books of photographs include “Immediate Family,” “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women;” and “Mother Land: Recent Landscapes of Georgia and Virginia.” Her photographs are in the permanent collections of many museums, including The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. [Source: PBS]

Mann, Candy Cigarette, 1989.

Click here for a review of this series, and click here or here for more images, in case any of the following are censored.

Mann, Immediate Family, 1996.

Mann, Naptime, 1989.

Mann, Damaged Child, 1984.

...In fact, what Mann was seeking, with the willing participation of her young subjects, was an honest record of childhood and growing up. But what she recognized from the start of her project was that nothing about childhood is uncomplicated. It’s not the knowing but the uncertainty, on the part of children and adults, that most distinctively marks this territory. The first picture Mann took in the series, “Damaged Child,” shows a little girl who looks beaten, when in fact she has been badly bitten by gnats. But the viewer, with only the visual evidence on display, is left to wonder exactly what is going on. For all its absurd clarity—and every picture in the sequence is a marvel of composition and printing—this photograph nails our inability to ever know the whole truth about, well, about anything, but certainly about childhood first and last...[Source]

Renee Cox (photo by David Shankbone, 2008 at the Tribeca Film Festival)

Renée Cox was born 1960 in Jamaica. She is an artist, photographer, political activist and curator. At three months old, she and her family moved to Queens, where Cox eventually attended Catholic school. She was was the first girl to play on the boys’ basketball team. When she was 14, she and her family moved with her family to Scarsdale, New York. in 1974, hers was one of only seven black families living in that neighborhood. Cox still lives and works in NYC and added to the already enormous controversy in 1998 over the Brooklyn Museum's Sensation exhibition. Read below:

Feb. 22, 2001 | Artist Renée Cox was thrust into the news Friday when the New York Times ran a front-page story on the ire one of her photographic works raised in New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He called the work (in which the artist is nude, standing in place of Jesus in a rendition of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper") "disgusting," "outrageous" and "anti-Catholic" and called for a decency panel to keep such work out of museums that receive public money. Cox said, "Get over it," and went skiing for the Presidents Day weekend. Salon caught up with her Tuesday at her studio in Brooklyn. She had just come in from teaching her class on fundamentals of photography at New York University.

Have you talked to Giuliani or heard anything new since the front-page New York Times story on Friday?

I haven't heard anything personally. I heard he might have said some things on TV this weekend but I wasn't around.

You say your work isn't about sex. Why isn't it? You are there, naked, and it's sexual; it's not like Botticelli's Venus.

When I do these images, the sexual element isn't there for me at all. It's about the body and the form. It's not like I have an image there with me and a dildo flying around. People keep trying to put it in this context. The thing is, here in America, it still is a very puritanical state of mind going on and when people of Giuliani's ilk see something that is nude, somehow they react that it's obscene. I say you should refer back to Greek antiquities. The Met is full of naked Greek statues and no one is upset about that. [Go to the source for the rest of this interview by Karen Croft at]

Cox, Yo Mama's Last Supper, 1996.

Cox, Yo Mama's Pieta, c. 1996.

Click here, enter, and go to Galleries then Flippin' It for similar work.

Joel-Peter Witkin (born September 13, 1939, in Brooklyn, New York City). He was born to Jewish father and a Roman Catholic mother. His parents divorced when Witkin was young because they were unable to transcend their religious differences. He attended grammar school at Saint Cecelia's in Brooklyn and went on to Grover Cleveland High School. He worked as war photographer between 1961 and 1964 during the Vietnam war.

Witkin, Obscure Saint, 1990s

Donatello's David, 1408-1409.

Portrait of a Young Woman as Saint Agatha, Cariani (Giovanni Busi), 1516-17.

(Detail from The Final Judgment) Michelangelo, Self-Portait as Saint Bartholomew, 1534.

Head of a Dead Man, 1990.

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1488.

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1485.

Untitled, Sally Mann, 2000.

Witkin, Portrait as a Vanité, New Mexico, 1994.

Witkin, Woman on a Table, New Mexico, 1987.

Venus de Milo

Witkin, Le Basier, 1982.

Witkin, Woman Was Once a Bird, 1990.

Bush's Ship of Fools, Joel-Peter Witkin, 2006.

From Witkin:

There are many parallels to the Raft of the Medusa and the Presidency of George W. Bush. The Captain of the Medusa was an incompetent, a nobleman who owed his appointment to the ministerial favor and not seamanship. George W. Bush is also incompetent, a rich man's son who gained the presidency through favor and deceit, rather than statesmanship. As politician and president, he is a demagogue, a leader who make use of popular prejudices, false claims and promises in order to gain and hold power. Both these men, the captain of the Medusa, Hugnes de Chaumareges and George W. Bush are murderers. The making of the Raft of the Medusa was the result of the "the Captain and many of his senior officers who, caring only for their own safety, brutally commandeered the seaworthy life boats, leaving it to the lower ranks and the soldiers to try their luck on a raft." The abandoned people left on the ship built a raft sixty five feet in length and twenty-eight feet wide out of the masts and beams, crudely lashed together before the Medusa sank.

One hundred and fifty people, including one woman, were herded into the slippery beams. So closely were the people huddled together that it was impossible to move a single step. Mutiny, murder, cannibalism and madness followed. After fifteen days, only fifteen survived.

The people on the Medusa were victims of class struggle. The people on the Raft of George Bush-his party and regime-are the victims of their own rationale, their conservative elitism, their hunger for political and social power and their unilateral military ambitions. It took a very sick group of people to dream up a phony war from the tragedy of 9/11, against a country which had nothing to do with 9/11.

In my photograph, I want to show the leaders of this regime as royalty without clothes. As the fools they really are.

The president is seen wearing a McDonald's gold paper crown. His despair is the result of a mind distorted by extremism. By the lies, torture, pain and death he has caused. He is the Lear of all inept politicians. He holds the naked body of "Condi Rice". She is his ideal black woman. His brain-dead muse. Secretary of Defense "Rummy" lies face down nearby, holding his glasses, wrapped in a flag of the nation. Former Secretary of State Powell is pictured dressed only in military epaulets holding the "proof" he presented at the United Nations for justification for the war against Iraq. The vice-president and his wife are shown as an operatic star and diva straining to proselytize their doctrines in song. Barbara Bush is tied to a mast. She holds a sun-reflector under her chin-representing her joy in basking in the sunlight of power yet always looking like "The Quaker Oats Man". Near her is a conservative minister trying to hang himself while a sailor performs fellatio on him. Finally, an African American waves the flag of his mother country as he sights the Medusa's survivors, a Chinese junk and a Space Ship. -- Joel-Peter Witkin, 2006.

Raft of the Medusa, Théodore Géricault, 1818-1819.

Andres Serrano (born August 15, 1950) Serrano is from a half Honduran, half Afro-Cuban background and was raised a strict Roman Catholic. The New-York-born artist studied from 1967 to 1969 at the Brooklyn Museum and Art School, and lives and works in New York.

Serrano, Piss Christ, 1987.

This piece was a winner of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art's "Awards in the Visual Arts" competition. The award is sponsored in part by the United States National Endowment for the Arts, which offers support and funding for projects that exhibit artistic excellence.

Serrano, Piss Discus, 1988 (from The Fluids Series).

Serrano, Untitled VII (Ejaculate in Trajectory), 1989.

Serrano, Klansman, 1990.

Serrano, The Morgue Series: Rat Poison Suicide, 1992. Ben Lifson "Andres Serrano". ArtForum. 14 Dec. 2008.

Caravaggio, The Death of the Virgin [Mary], 1606.

Robert Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, famous for his large-scale, highly-stylized black & white portraits, photos of flowers and male nudes. The frank, erotic nature of some of the work of his middle period triggered a more general controversy about the public funding of artworks. Mapplethorpe was born and grew up as a Roman Catholic in Floral Park, Long Island, New York, of English and Irish heritage. He received a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where he produced artwork in a variety of media. Mapplethorpe took his first photographs soon thereafter, using a Polaroid camera. In the mid-1970s, he acquired a large-format press camera and began taking photographs of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including artists, composers, socialites, pornographic film stars, and visitors to the underground sex clubs. During the 1980s, his photographs became more refined with an emphasis on formal beauty. He concentrated on statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and formal portraits of artists and celebrities.

Mapplethorpe, Flag, 1977.

Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyons, 1981.

Louise Bouregois, 1982.

Mapplethorpe, Irises, 1982.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Iris, 1936.

Mapplethorpe, Man in Polyester Suit, 1980.

Calla Lily, 1986.

The Great Masturbator, Salvador Dali, 1929.
Mapplethorpe made a study of Surrealism. Surrealists incorporated the use of flowers and other phallic imagery in ironic compositions like this.

Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily, c. 1986.

Mapplethorpe, Untitled, 1980.

Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, 1987.