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The censored artist speaks out

Tom Jackson • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:27 PM

James Parlin, the Pennsylvania artist whose sculpture was removed from the Little Gallery at BGSU Firelands, has issued a statement giving his take on the whole affair. I’ve quoted Parlin in two of my newspaper stories, but his thoughtful and interesting comments deserve reproduction in full:

“I recently showed a group of 13 pieces of sculpture at Firelands College in Huron, Ohio. After the exhibition had been opened to the public for several weeks, the interim dean at Firelands College removed one piece from the exhibition. The director of the gallery then closed the exhibition in protest. I have since retrieved all my pieces from the gallery.

“Some of the work in the exhibition was thematically challenging. Three of the pieces were portraits of friends who had committed suicide. Two of the pieces depicted people with severe eating disorders.

“The piece of sculpture that was removed from the exhibition is based on the story of a man who today is in prison for the things he did. It shows a crime being committed. It is not a graphic piece, and it condemns the crime. It shows a man who, in the very act of committing the crime, is staring ahead at a future of disgrace and ruin.

“Crime should be punished. Artwork about crime and its consequences, however, is entirely suitable for adults to look at and consider. Art helps us to think about right and wrong, compulsion and restraint, and actions and consequences.

“Most galleries show artwork with a broad range of themes, and have protocols for exhibiting work with adult content. They may restrict viewing by children, and they make sure adult viewers have the option not to view work they would rather not encounter. This allows viewers who are interested in engaging with that broad range of themes the chance to do so, while at the same time protecting the interests of those who would, or should, not. Had such protocols been observed, this situation would never have arisen. The same pieces have been exhibited in other venues without problem.

“The gallery at Firelands College had put out a call for exhibition proposals. My proposal included images of all the pieces in the group I hoped to show. The proposal was screened and accepted. When I delivered the work, I made it clear that I was comfortable with appropriate exhibition protocols. I left my work there with the impression that it would be shown without incident.”

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