Nudity in Art is Not Indecent Exposure

The arrest of Zach Hyman’s nude model during a photo shoot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was predictable in spite of the irony of the location. Whereas marble and oil nudes are usually left at peace (not always though: art containing nudity is a frequent target of censorship), a living woman posing naked for an artist is guilty of exposure. Some of the absurdity of that situation, however, is

Met Museum photo shoot

tempered by the fact that New York’s ban on public nudity provides an exemption for “any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show, or entertainment.” In other words, nudity for artistic purposes is not illegal: a detail apparently unknown to those who arrested Hyman’s model.

In a case argued ten years ago, involving the artist Spencer Tunick who photographs groups of nude people in public places, the U.S. Court of Appeals (Second circuit) found that the exemption for a “play, show, exhibition, or entertainment” should, indeed, apply to a photo shoot, otherwise the law may run into constitutional problems. As the court noted, “It is enough to ask why a nude performance with an audience would be permitted, and a photo shoot in the same place would be prohibited, to suggest that significant constitutional problems, based on irrationality, attend the City’s reading of the statute.” (TUNICK v. SAFIR, 228 F.3d 135 (2nd Cir. 2000))

We hope the case against Hyman’s model is dropped. We value art as it challenges the drabness of the everyday, Met Museum photo shootthe routine of the expected – the juxtaposition of a live nude with the artwork of the Met, opens this kind of provocative middle conceptual ground between the museum visitors’ present and the art on display. Is the model just another visitor disregarding the social norm that forces us to cover our bodies or is she like the artwork – exposing her body for the delight of the camera and the spectator? It is precisely questions like this that Hyman’s work raises – let’s hope we remain free to discuss these questions without police interference.

Now Hyman will stir some more serious controversy – and offer some real challenges is he starts working not with beautiful female models in fetching poses but with nude men and less then perfect women. Will he dare?

About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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12 Responses to Nudity in Art is Not Indecent Exposure

  1. Dan Kleinman says:

    The picture has the model’s posterior pixelated out. I’ll assume the NCAC did not itself pixelate that posterior. Correct?

    Notice the boy is the only person not looking at the model, at least at the time the snapshot was taken. Interesting, no?

  2. You are correct, we did not alter the photo. It was hard to find a non-pixelated picture, in fact…

  3. Panit says:

    good articles thanks you

  4. hass says:

    Unfortunately, the same rules that apply on the streets in NYC do not necessarily apply on the property of the Met. Too bad not enough policemen know the law and the TUnnick ruling.

  5. Censorship is way out of control. Civil liberties like free speech and freedom of the press are supposed to be inalienable. Free speech and press are not supposed to be subject to a popularity contest. Allowing people’s speech, photographs, music, articles etc. to be in blacklisted, flagged, banned or censored because it is unpopular or offends some prude is the hallmark of tyranny and totalitarianism. At a time when media consolidation has occurred to the extent that a handful of people control the wires airwaves and satellite assisted communication the kind of censorship you are talking about must not be tolerated. It must be fought tooth and nail. Censorship allowed this country to be taken into unjust wars of aggression and has allowed a host of other horrors to continue to worsen without the light of public scrutiny. Even ther most objectionable people must be allowed freedom of speech and of the press in order to prevent total tyranny. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupst absolutely. The extent to which censorship on the internet has been taken is unbelievable. One woman (Lauren Molina) got censored for using the word “fart”. I had a profile blocked for modeling Maidenform nylon full brief ladies panties (back view). The attempted enforced prudishness on our nation with respect to Janet Jackson’s breast using the word “decency” were outrageous. Perhaps those Congressmen thought breast feeding babies should be blindfolded. I’m glad there are organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (Reno v. ACLU, Case No. 96-511) free expression network (an alliance of organizations dedicated to defending the right to free expression at http://www.freeexpression.org/ to highlight cases like that one http://www.epic.org/free_speech/censorship/ including the National Coalition Against Censorship’s blogging Censorship articles like Nudity in Art is Not Indecent Exposure at https://ncacblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/nudity-in-art-is-not-indecent-exposure/ I sincerely thank you for your efforts and hope readers will use whatever platforms to assist in the fight for free expression and against censorship. Thanks again for freedom’s sake.

  6. J D G says:

    The truth is that a photo taken of this by a random gallery goer is better than the work of Mr. Hyman.

  7. Pingback: Blogging Censorship

  8. Pingback: (In)decent exposure? Nudes in art « Blogging Censorship

  9. nudity is… natural🙂

  10. Maestro Nick says:

    What’s interesting about this case is the lack of acknowledgement of “proper channel” navigation to stage such a photo shoot. Should our collective art panties be in a bunch if Mr. Hyman didn’t consult people to approve of his project? Was this a serious execution, or was it meant as stunt to prove his point? Would there be an edge if it took place on a chosen day with public warnings of the activity and approval by the MET? Would he garner a different type of attention? I think we can easily get carried away with our objections to censorship, but as we saw with the Marina Abramovic show this year at MOMA, nudity and nude performance was readily on display for young and old to view in an organized manner; for all to see and interpret in the context of an institution that typically only features objects and ephemera. It’s akin to property alteration in street art, flash mobs in a way, or impromptu slam poetry, but it gets old when artists object and rally around someone who could have taken a more legitimate approach. If breaking rules and expecting legal trouble was part of the work, then Hyman succeeded, but it seems more like a cheap stunt where he’s wishing for press and outrage. Either way it is a valid expression, challenging our beliefs, laws, and expectations, though it will be interesting to see if he can be more poetic in future works without challenging the system for the sake of it.

  11. themofman says:

    I agree with the Maestro; there is a time and a place, and a way of doing things. Everyone ought to know by now that the term “freedom of speech”; including artistic expression, is not meant to be taken literally. It is, so far, the most accepted term for the level of free-speaking that society and government have agreed to be the status quo for all to live under, until we can change it by proving the standard to be unconstitutional. If Hyman didn’t have permission to do this he should have gotten it. It’s the same argument that applies to street taggers who use the excuse of artistic expression to try and get away with spray-painting graffiti on someone’s property without permission. If Hyman’s artistic expression required doing this without gaining approval from the MET, then his art, even though it probably was real art, is in violation of the rights established by the majority.

    I’m not put off by nudity in art but I always question whether or not it is absolutely necessary. It’s certainly how it’s portrayed in imagery that may get me to like it, dislike it or be indifferent to it. This isn’t because I’m a visual artist either. There are many artists who flat out frown on any nudity, whatsoever, appearing in imagery. To understand my POV, see here:

    http://themofman.wordpress.com/mof-on-nudity-in-photography/

    I have come across many situations that in my judgement, nudity or even semi-nudity was absolutely uncalled for, and it makes me seriously question whether or not I need; just not want, to display it in my own illustrations, graphics and photography.

  12. phatfly says:

    Sorry, but yes it is indecent exposure. No matter what your intent you can not subject people to anything that could be considered indecent without letting them make that decision for themselves. It is wrong to impose your beliefs on others be it religion, politics or “art.” Yes, those are quotes. Let’s face it… the argument of what is art and isn’t … is just like arguing what religion is right and which are wrong. For those that can think for themselves, they will not just drink whatever crap is handed to us. I am not drinking the nudity is art glass. First of all it’s (nudity for arts sake) a no brainer in the art world and that denotes ignorance in my opinion and a lack of originality to boot. It’s not cutting edge, it’s not original, it’s generally the same voyeurism crap over and over. You can lick your art statement with all the words in the thesaurus for philosophical, but it doesn’t mean your work is. Sorry, I am not buying it.

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