01 October 2009

Spiritual America

A photograph of Brooke Shields has been removed from Tate Modern's exhibition Pop Life: Art In A Material World. The image, titled Spiritual America, shows Shields, aged ten, wearing make-up and standing nude in a bathtub.

The exhibition opened today in London, and will close on 17th January 2010, though the Spiritual America photograph was removed yesterday following a visit from the Metropolitan Police. The exhibition catalogue has also been withdrawn from sale.

The photo was taken in 1975 by Gary Gross, as part of his series The Woman In The Child and Little Women; it was exhibited in New York, and published in Sugar & Spice (1976), Photo magazine (1978), Index On Censorship magazine (May-June 1996), and American Photo magazine (September-October 2009). It was also part of the Controverses exhibition, which has been shown at the Musee de l'Elysee (Lausanne, 2008), the Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris, 2009), and the Botanique (Brussels, 2009).

In 1983, Richard Prince rephotographed the 1975 image, retitled it Spiritual America, and exhibited it again in New York. Spiritual America has been published in Item-4 magazine (Brazil, 1996) and in the book Stripped Bare: The Body Revealed In Contemporary Art (2004). It was included in the New Museum exhibition East Village USA (New York, 2004), and was the centrepiece of a major Prince retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum (New York, 2007-2008).

Two years ago, another UK gallery (Baltic) also removed a photograph of a naked child (Nan Goldin's Klara & Edda Belly-Dancing) following police advice, though it was later cleared of obscenity. Photographs of children by Robert Mapplethorpe, Graham Ovenden, Ron Oliver, Will McBride, David Hamilton, Tierney Gearon, and Annelies Strba have previously been investigated by UK police as potentially obscene. In America, the FBI investigated photographers Jacqueline Livingston and Jock Sturges on similar charges, though they were later acquitted.