When is nude too rude? When it's Picasso's Nude Woman in a Red Armchair at Edinburgh Airport apparently
HERE's my column from this week's Liverpool Post - wanted to repeat it here so I can include links to some of the art works mentioned and some images from our archive. At the end of this blog post, I've added are also some other links on the same subject and reveal how Yoko Ono's breasts got me into trouble...
WHEN is a nude too rude? If recent events at Edinburgh Airport are anything to go by, a nude is too rude when it greets you in international arrivals.
That's at least according to a number of shocked passengers, who complained about a poster of Picasso's Nude Woman in a Red Armchair that advertised an exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
One of a sequence of portraits that Picasso made of his model Marie-Thérèse Walter, it's a sensuous image made up of a series of voluptuous curves - the arms of the chair echo the shape of her body - and a lover is placing a kiss on her left cheek.
The knee-jerk reaction from airport officials was to cover it up - provoking bemusement from National Galleries of Scotland's director-general John Leighton, who pointed out that the advertising industry is free to use "all kinds of images of women in various states of dress and undress". It's very likely in fact that, not long before, those who made the complaints had been reading an in-flight magazine containing some of these very adverts.
Leighton expressed surprise that "a painted nude by one of the world's most famous artists is found to be disturbing", describing the work as "a joyous and affectionate portrait of one of Picasso's favourite models".
Edinburgh Airport has since backed down and has apologised to the organisators of the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition. Last week, a spokesman revealed the original decision had been reviewed and the cover removed.
Leighton makes a good point - we think nothing of semi-naked women being used, very often in an objectifying manner, to sell perfume or shampoo, yet nudity in certain art works can scandalise.
In 2004, Yoko Ono's work My Mummy Was Beautiful - banners featuring photographs of a woman's breast and pubic hair displayed throughout the city centre as part of the Liverpool Biennial - drew complaints from an enraged public who dammed it as "gratuitous female nudity" and "unnecessary sensationalism".
Customers marched into stores along Church Street, where the banners were hung, to air their disapproval and Liverpool City Council received angry letters about Ono's large image of a breast being hung on the side of St Luke's "bombed out" Church.
Admittedly, one of the two images did show a little more than would be permitted on post-watershed TV, but not as much as classical sculptures which often, to put it bluntly, show full frontal male nudity.
As anyone who works for a newspaper can tell you, it's the disgruntled who shout the loudest. Sadly, pleasure seems to be a less compelling force than unhappiness when it comes to letter writing.
And even if you take the attitude of public opinion be damned, you can't always get it right.
In 2002, when the BBC screened its version of Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet, a novel about lesbian women in the Victorian era, it braced itself for a flood of complaints about the graphic sex scenes.
Complaints came but not the ones they were expecting. Instead of being appalled by the eroticism, viewers were disappointed the first episode was not raunchy enough.
MY OWN prudish side came out when I was heading back to the office after the press view of the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. I was just crossing Exchange Flags when the bottom of the paper bag that contained the press pack burst and all the contents spilled out.
This would have been inconvenient at worst except that the bag was a My Mummy Was Beautiful bag - with an image of a breast on one side and pubic hair on the other.
A gust of wind whipped up everything that had fallen out of the bag - postcards, flyers and button badges also decorated with Yoko Ono's art work. At that very moment, the doors of the surrounding office buildings burst open and attractive men in pin-striped suits seemed to fill the square - my memory is that they were like a choreographed troupe swooping down to help me, a damsel in distress.
They scurried across the cobbles, rescuing the papers and looking surprised when they saw what was on them, while I stood by helplessly, one shoe covering the giant nipple on the bag ,which a little old lady was trying to pick up in an effort to be helpful.
Still, I'm glad they did help as I still have all the paraphernalia somewhere, in amongst my giant stack of theatre programmes and other things I can't bring myself to offload. And, incidentally, I have never again seen a large group of attractive men in pinstripe suits in Exchange Flags.