The Telephone Call
Region: North America
Subject: Explicit Sexuality
Medium: Public Art
Artist: Roberta Cohen
Confronting Bodies: Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission, a local community member.
Dates of Action: 1994
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Description of Artwork: The Telephone Call, depicts two birdlike figures, a male and female, lying in bed together while another male figure flies through the room.The piece was also exhibited with another piece called Confronting Your Fears. Both drawings were meant to protest family violence and investigate gender roles and social identities.
The Incident: The Baton Rouge Gallery is a cooperative gallery where local artists are allowed to become members of the gallery and exhibit their work. The gallery has had a contract with the Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission to use it's facilities for exhibits, for which the Commission has no curatorial control. A community member complained about Cohen's works, and after reviewing The Telephone Call and Confronting Your Fears, Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commissioner, Bill Elam, stated that the pieces were "not something that normal people should be viewing." The Gallery Director, Kathleen Sunderman, and other artists refused to remove their works. The gallery was closed and the artists dismantled the exhibit.
Results of Incident: The exhibit was closed entirely and the ACLU helped the artists file a lawsuit claiming the abridgement of First Amendment rights. Cohen v. Recreation and Park Commission.
Source: Artistic Expression Under Attack, 1995