The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has decided to remove a controversial painting depicting a young girl in a sexually suggestive pose after thousands of people signed a petition calling for its removal.
The painting by Polish-French artist Balthus is of a prepubescent girl with her hands on top of her head, leaning back with her underwear visible. Balthus is known for his erotically charged paintings of young girls. And quite frankly, if we don’t tolerate such conduct from filmmakers, why should a painter be exempt?
“Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses, The Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children.”
An online petition by Mia Merrill suggested to The Met that the museum replace the painting by Balthus with one by a female artist from the same period.
In general, the argument against censorship is that putting limits on which ways artists can create is dangerous and that the work does not represent the artist. How many times do we have to deconstruct that argument? Art is always a reflection of the artist’s world in one way, shape, or form. Think Woody Allen. Think Kevin Spacey in House of Cards. Think Lars Von Trier.
When is it enough? What does it take to decide, as a society, that we do not tolerate the sexualization of young girls? Or, that we do not normalize sexual assault and harassment in general?
Our current moment of national reckoning seems to be finally getting through to the gatekeepers. Public pressure has its merits.
“Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression.”
Well, sure. Perhaps if The Met were to be blunt about the fact that the content is highly alarming, the painting’s presence would be ok. Instead, Balthus’ work was on as if his subject matter commands respect.