Alexandria Museum of Art's September Competition Exhibition

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Date: 1992

Region: North America

Subject: Sexual/Gender Orientation,Nudity

Medium: Mixed Media

Artist: Thomas C. Waters and Susanna Dent

Confronting Bodies: former State Rep. Dale Smith and Alexandria City Council

Dates of Action: September 1992

Location: Alexandria, Louisiana

Description of Artwork: Waters' artwork entitled Ron, 1992 shows the blurry image of a male nude cropped just below the pubic area and Dent's Fuck me, Fuck you, a 10 by 10 inch drawing of a skull, several blue circles and three postage stamp-size cut-outs, including one of a naked female's buttocks.

The Incident: A photograph by Thomas C. Waters became embroiled in a censorship battle when displayed at The Alexandria Museum of Art's annual September Competition. Entries were judged and selected by University of Arizona Art Museum Director Marilyn Zeitlin. The show ran from September 26 to November 28, 1992. Former state Rep. Dale Smith began the controversy by asking the museum to remove New York Artist Susanna Dent's "Fuck me, Fuck you." In a story about objections to the piece, Raymond L Daye, staff reporter for the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, reported that Smith's was the only complaint from the approximately 550 who had attended the show at that time. The reporter also noted that another piece by Water's, incorrectly described as "a full-length photograph of a nude male showing pubic hair and part of the penis," had attracted no complaints from anyone, including Smith. Daye's inaccurate description had the effect of focusing the controversy on Waters' work as well. After the publicity, the Alexandria City Council sent museum officials a letter expressing concern over the display of both pieces. Although city funding had not been used to fund this exhibit, the City Council stopped short of threatening to withdraw its annual $10,000 grant to the museum. Councilmen indicated that they might want to re-evaluate the city's contribution in light of the controversy.

Results of Incident: In a special session, the museum's Board of Trustees voted to keep the two works on display. They stated that their removal would constitute censorship of a professional art juror's choices, endanger the museum's accredited status, and expose the museum to litigation by the artist for violation of entrance representation. They promised to re-examine the museum's mission and guidelines for future competitions, and determine if it would continue to sponsor national competitions for contemporary art.

Source: Thomas C. Waters