Artist Contests WeHo Limits on Photos of Nude Women

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A curator and contributor to art shows that are part of WeHo’s Women’s History Month celebration has complained that the city is banning photos of women it deems too sexual.

Brooke Mason, a professional and art photographer, said the city has removed two of her photographs from a display at Plummer Park and contested images she has proposed for an exhibit at City Hal that formally opened last night.

The Plummer Park works were chosen by Nancy Meyer, a curatorial assistant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for an exhibit titled “Exposed” at Fiesta Hall. Mason said “Voyeur,” one of her photographs, was removed from the Plummer Park exhibit last week because a park employee had complained that it was too explicit. Another of her works, “Glass Ceiling,” also was removed and then re-installed. But as of this weekend, Mason said, that work has disappeared.

Brooke Mason's "Glass Ceiling"
Brooke Mason’s “Glass Ceiling”

Mason, who is working with Womens Manifest, a local initiative co-sponsored by the city to celebrate the accomplishments of women in West Hollywood and Los Angeles, said she also has encountered difficulty curating the “Out and About” exhibit at City Hall.  Mason said that on the day before the scheduled Saturday installation, she was told by Andrew Campbell, the city’s arts administrator, that there were issues with works she had chosen. Campbell told her that photographs could only show women nude from the waist up. Mason said Campbell read her “the prerequisites for public art in West Hollywood … I said ‘Andrew, I don’t know where you are going with this. Are you trying to say it’s too sexual? He said ‘yes, it’s too sexual’.”

Mason said one of the photos at issue, “Soar,” portrays a young Asian ballet dancer jumping in the air wearing a ballet skirt and harness. She said Campbell questioned her on the dancer’s age, and Mason said that the dancer is nude only from the waist up, apparently meeting city standards. Mason said that photo also appeared on a flyer promoting the exhibit, so the city should not have been surprised by it. That flyer, however, was covered by type that obscured much of the image.

Mason said she talked with Mayor Lindsey Horvath, who suggested that her options would be to cover parts of the photos that city officials found offensive, remove those works or not participate in the exhibition. Horvath said she supported Mason. “I do not find her work offensive at all,” she said.  Mason said that the situation resembled one in which Horvath, while a student at the University of Notre Dame, led a movement to force that conservative Catholic institution to permit production of Eve Engler’s “The Vagina Monologues.”  Mason said she sent images of the work draped to cover parts the city found offensive with the intent to force the city to back down, but the result was that the installation was put on hold until yesterday afternoon. 

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Maribel Louie, manager of the city’s Arts and Economic Development Division, said the city’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Commissions reviews art programs involviing installations in public places, including city buildings. “While  the Commission actively supports the presentation of provocative and challenging work, it also understands that these works must be presented with care and consideration,” Louie said.

“For example, the Tom of Finland Foundation presented an erotic art fair for several years in the West Hollywood Park Auditorium.  Marketing and promotional materials indicated adult content.  Organizers of the fair were careful not to place graphic photos in easy view of members of the public who were in the park for other activities.  Another example is the Art AIDS America exhibit at the West Hollywood Library last summer.  The content was subject to viewer discretion and certain images could be considered sexual in nature.  As a result, those works were installed at the nearby ONE Gallery, where people had to choose to enter the building as opposed to people who were visiting the Library and would encounter the images ‘accidentally.;  The accidental nature of encountering art is what makes public art particularly intriguing and often delightful.  It is also the challenge for a municipal art program to carefully assess the public nature of the exhibit to be respectful of the community it serves and the various values and beliefs that are found within a community.”

Mason said an exhibit at West Hollywood Library titled “At the Core,” which will open today at 5 p.m., had to comply with Los Angeles County standards. One issue there, she said, was a photograph of a man wearing a Speedo-like bathing suit. “I was told that as long as it (the photograph) was small we could finally use it,” Mason said.

There also will be an artists’ reception tonight for “At the Core” from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Robert Kuo Showroom, 8686 Melrose Ave., concurrent with a one-night fine-art exhibit, “Hear Me,” presented by Women Manifest from 6 to 8 p.m. Mason said she doesn’t expect any censorship issues.

Several of Mason’s photos that will, and will not, be available for viewing are on the following pages:

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