Larry Clark: It’s Art, not Pornography

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Reviewed on 10/11/2010 | No Reviews

My Concierge Told Me

A Worthwhile Controversy

They make love, they drink alcohol, they take drugs and they explore their bodies. That’s what they do, the adolescents on the photos of American photographer Larry Clark.

Photo: Larry Clark
Untiteld, 1968. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and Simon Lee Gallery, London.

Nothing very shocking, just very realistic. But since the mayor of Paris banned under 18s from Clark’s exhibition Kiss the Past Hello that opened last Friday at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, there is a huge controversy in Paris.

French left-wing newspaper Liberation published a huge photo of naked teenager making love on his front page and titled: “Larry Clark censored”. The French human rights league condemned the decision as “backward and reactionary”. It’s the Mairie de Paris, which is under fire as critics accused it of self-censorship. And you can say that the outcry is pretty general.

As the museum is run by the city of Paris and it was socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë who took the decision, the situation looks indeed quite weird. Delanoë argues that he wants to avoid attacks against the exhibition. But no objection had yet been made. He actually prefers to act in anticipatory obedience and to censor the exhibition. But he’s banning the public that is concerned. And this because he might have broken a law against pornographic photographs being shown to minors that he himself had brought in.

This exhibition isn’t meant for little children. But it would have been enough to point this out to the visitors and not to ban those who are concerned: the teenagers.

Clark himself called it “an attack on youth”. In an interview in Libération he said: “These photos are for them…. Forbidding people of 16 or 17 years old to come here and to see themselves is ridiculous. What are we suggesting they do instead of going to see themselves in a museum? Staying at home where, on the Internet, they will see pornography, things from the gutter?”

Clark is right and he ends up suggesting the exhibition should be forbidden for adults. Strangely, the question is not if his photos are art or pornography. The answer is perfectly obvious. It’s art, because it makes us think, talk, discuss and react. And whereas everybody is discussing the weird decision of the mayor of Paris, the controversy appears to be worthwhile: The Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris is delighted by the unusual number of visitors. Around 2000 visitors daily during the first days after opening, that isn’t bad at all. That’s even very good for this kind of museum. Christophe Girard, cultural assistant of Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, claimed on his blog: “I’m very happy about the fact that so many people come to see the exhibition.”

He even admits that this is “a good thing” for the MAM, the museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, and that “the revenue of the museum will climb up which is necessary in times of economic crises which touches also the arts”.

Is it hypocrisy or marketing? Probably it’s both of it. The marketing of hypocrisy and the proof that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

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