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February 05, 2018

‘Pre-Rapaelite Soft Porn’ Back in Gallery After Removal Stunt

MANCHESTER, U.K.—A classic 19th-century painting depicting naked “nymphs” in a scene from Greek mythology, a work described by one critic as “pre-Raphaelite soft porn,” was placed back on the walls of a Manchester, England, art gallery after its removal set off an angry outcry among visitors to the gallery as well as art critics in the United Kingdom. But that reaction appears to be exactly what the gallery had in mind. The removal of Hylas and the Nymphs by British artist John William Waterhouse was itself a work of art, of sorts. The Manchester Art Gallery took the painting down as part of a project in collaboration with artist Sonia Boyce in order to deliberately provoke a “conversation” about “gender representation” in art. Because the “Nymphs” painting had frequently been the subject of “inappropriate comments” by gallery visitors regarding the female nudity in the piece, “Having heard the effects that it’s having on the people who have to work with it all the time, I think we need to have a conversation about it,” Boyce told The New York Times. The Waterhouse painting is one of the Manchester gallery’s best-known works. It depicts Hylas, a character in the Greek “Jason and the Argonauts” myth. Hylas is one of the Argonauts, but he meets an untimely end when he is kidnapped by nymphs, who in Greek mythology are divine spirits usually depicted as beautiful women. Artists of the 19th century generally depicted them not only as beautiful but also nude. The gallery invited visitors to wrote comments on Post-It notes, sticking them on the wall in the space where the painting previously hung. The visitors eagerly and angrily complied.  “Dear Mr/Mrs Curator, where did you put my sexy booby woman painting?” read one note. “Feminism gone mad! I’m ashamed to be a feminist!” another said. Another note blasted the gallery not for removing the painting, but for requiring comments only on Post-It notes, slamming the “restrictive, arbitrary, patronizing format.” “Who the hell do you think you are?” the note continued. Even professional art critics, however, took to their own more expansive formats to criticize the gallery. Writing on the art site Scroll.in, Matthew Potter called the removal “a heavy handed way of making a valid point.”  A Guardian newspaper scribe ripped the gallery’s move as “not an interesting critique but a crass gesture that will end up on the wrong side of history.” As for the gallery itself, after all of the intense criticism, Interim Director Amanda Wallace called the response “amazing.”

 
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