Art Installation Tests The Limits Of New York's Tolerance


Is public nudity acceptable so long as it’s art? Legally, yes. Or no, depending on which lawyer you talk to.

The debate was prompted by a piece on display in a gallery window in Greenwhich Village. The gallery, Char and the Maiden, had installed a work by artist Brian Reed in the storefront. Megan Hanford was part of the piece, which is selling for $30,000 (Hanford not included). Her role was to stand nude below a suspended web made out of shark teeth and clay pipes. Reed is adamant that this isn’t just a ploy for publicity; he says Hanford’s nudity was essential, “so she can be fully at the center of that connectivity” of energy.

Naturally, some people are not happy with the presence of a naked lady in the middle of New York. Police “took down” the piece on Sunday by either asking Hanford to remove herself from the window, or forcing her out of the gallery, depending on who is telling the story. Curator David Zelikovsky falls into the same camp as photographer Spencer Tunick, who argues that artistic nudity is covered under a state statute that provides an exception for “the breast-feeding of infants or to any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment.” Daniel Connolly, who has previously represented the city of New York in cases of public lewdness, disagrees:

“If you’re walking down a street in New York City and someone is naked in the window – and so children and whoever can see it – you’re depriving people of their choice… The gallery owner and everyone would like to tell you this is a battle of government against the little guy and freedom of speech versus censorship,” Mr. Connolly said, referring to the Chair and the Maiden exhibit. “I don’t think so. This is a guy who owns a gallery who wants to get some attention.”

The law currently assumes that it is our right not to look at naked people. This may be an example of American prudery, but according to Connolly, Reed’s piece bumps up against the rights of the passerby, which makes it unacceptable. Several bystanders also brought up the think of the children! argument. Because if parents want to shield their children from the sight of the human body, that’s their right, right?

Fortunately for Reed, it seems that the city cops don’t really care enough to do anything about his piece. Hanford was able to make it through her next four-hour shift uninterrupted and the department chief’s spokesman said that they will not take action because there was no lewd act committed.

Hey, Look! She’s Naked! But It’s Art, So It’s Alright.
[New York Times]
Village Art Installation A Real Head-Turner [NY1]
NYPD Cracks Down On Nude Lady In Village Art Gallery [Gothamist]

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