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Portugal: Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition plagued by censorship dispute

3 October 2018
Since its opening, censorship controversy has surrounded a new Robert Mapplethorpe photography exhibition at the Serralves Museum in Portugal.
Photo: Serralves Park / Wikimedia Commons

 

Censorship controversy continues to surround a new Robert Mapplethorpe photography exhibition at the Serralves Museum in Portugal. Since its opening on 20 September, the artistic director has resigned, the board of directors has denied interfering with the exhibition, and now a collector has withdrawn 700 works on loan to the museum.

It’s still unclear why the show opened with 20 photos less than the 179 photos initially announced, according to Publico. João Ribas, the museum’s artistic director and curator of the exhibition, had also announced there wouldn’t be a separate room for Mapplethorpe’s sexually explicit photos, but the exhibition includes an area off-limits to children, which warns of “the provocative and possibly shocking nature of the sexual imagery in some of the works”.

Without explanation, Ribas handed in his resignation one day after the show’s opening.

The artistic community rallied behind Ribas, staging a protest and penning an open letter condemning the Serralves Foundation’s alleged decision to remove the 20 works from the exhibition and restrict access to over-18s “against the will of” Ribas.

Mapplethorpe’s work has “notoriously been at the centre of the so-called ‘Culture Wars’ in the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s, being used by conservative politicians… to call for the end of public funding of the arts on the grounds of their perceived threat to ‘morality’ and ‘decency’,” the letter says.

“It is with sadness that we continue to see his work being apparently censored by institutions such as Serralves on—we suspect—a purely moral basis.”

The Serralves Foundation denied the accusations, with president Ana Pinho telling reporters on 26 September that it was Ribas who exclusively chose the artworks and proposed the reserved area, according to Publico. She said there has never been any censorship at Serralves.

Hours later, Ribas broke his silence. He said there were “restrictions and interventions” imposed on his “technical and artistic autonomy”.

On 29 September, Portugese art collector Luiz Teixeira de Freitas announced he will withdraw 700 drawings he has on a 10-year loan to the Serralves Foundation. “This is all in solidarity with João Ribas and in disagreement with the position taken by the administration regarding the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition,” his daughter Luiza Teixeira de Freitas told Publico.

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