Censored art from around the world finds a second chance at a Barcelona museum for banned works

These pieces and dozens more that were subject to a kind of censorship found a home in Spain at Barcelona’s Museum of Forbidden Art, or “Museu de l’Art Prohibit” in Catalan. The collection of over 200 works, including famous creators such as American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and Spain’s own Pablo Picasso, is intended to challenge visitors and question the limits imposed on artists in increasingly polarized world.

Director Rosa Rodrigo said that the museum is the only one in the world dedicated solely to art that has faced petitions – mostly successful – for their removal from the public view of moral, political, religious, sexual or commercial courtyard.

“The museum gives an opportunity to works of art that, for whatever reason, at some point were banned, attacked, censored, or canceled, because there are so many,” Rodrigo told The Associated Press.

The museum is the brainchild of Catalan art collector Tatxo Benet, who owns all but one of the 42 works currently on display – and the 200 more in storage. He was already collecting contemporary art when he started collecting “forbidden” works.

Five years later, Benet’s idea became the Museum of Forbidden Art, which opened its doors last October. Since then, more than 13,000 people have visited its galleries.

While many works have been attacked, people like art critic and curator Gabriel Luciani say the exhibition is important. “I think there should be a place like this in Europe and around the world. Especially in these moments of censorship that we see. Not only in the arts but in other political contexts,” he said.

In March, a department store in Hong Kong removed a digital artwork that contained hidden references to jailed opponents. That same month on the other side of the world, a Florida charter principal was forced to resign after a parent complained about a Renaissance art lesson that included Michelangelo’s sculpture of David.

A new museum in Barcelona displays famous works of contention, including Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” a photograph of a crucifix immersed in a tank of the artist’s urine; as well as Mapplethorpe’s “X Portfolio,” photographs of sadomasochism that were challenged in court for obscenity.

“I think the collection could be even more shocking,” Luciani said.

But the women’s works, which have drawn ire from conservative religious groups or been suppressed because of their feminist content, are among the strongest in the collection.

“Silence,” an installation by French Algerian artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah featuring 30 pairs of stiletto heels on the same number of Islamic prayer rugs, dominates the center of one room. Bouabdellah agreed to have his work removed from a museum in Clichy, France, following the 2015 attacks in Paris against staff at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, which published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The physical abuse of women is captured by Kazakh artist Zoya Falkova in Evermust, a leather sculpture of a woman’s body as a boxer’s punching bag. It was one of six works removed from a museum in Kyrgyzstan when an exhibition of feminist art was criticized by officials who said it was against traditional values.

While most of the works are from the 21st century, Goya, Picasso and Klimt all have their place in the halls of the elegant modernist mansion that houses the museum. Goya had to sell his late 1790s “Los Caprichos” prints to the Spanish crown when he feared they would be discovered by the Inquisition, while Picasso saw his “Suite 347” of erotic drawings displayed in a private room in 1960s Paris.

Although censorship takes many forms, the museum shows that the drive to silence artists who make challenging works is alive and kicking.

“Censorship in art has always existed because artists always come first and touch on different themes,” said Rodrigo. “(But) it’s true that most of the works shown are from the years 2010 to 2020. In those 10 years, in many different areas of the world, I think the societies themselves have undergone a change of values , because it has unnecessary governments that act (against works of art), but it is society itself.

In 2016, Australian artist Illma Gore posted her full-monty drawing of Trump on Facebook and had her account shut down for obscenity and nudity. Gore believes the piece led to an attack on him on a street in Los Angeles.

After a series of canceled shows after he was accused of making inappropriate sexual comments to potential models, the late American painter Chuck Close, a master of photorealism, had a self-portrait exhibited at the Museum of Forbidden Art.

Commercial interests also play a role in stifling free expression.

Yoshua Okón’s video of an obese woman lying naked on a McDonald’s table, called “Freedom Fries,” was removed from a London gallery after, according to the Barcelona museum,​​​​ member of the board of the gallery that damages the reputation of the fast-food chain. .

The museum also has several works that have been physically attacked, including “Piss Christ.”

Spanish artist Charo Corrales’ “With Flowers for Mary,” depicting a masturbating Virgin Mary, has been slashed while on display in southern Spain after Catholic legal groups filed a lawsuit against the work. for hurting religious feelings. It is currently shown in Barcelona with an open wound on the canvas.

Rodrigo said his museum hopes it won’t see any attacks because visitors should be prepared to be shocked. He also believes that by grouping these works together, they will create a more balanced effect. Furthermore, he believes that the viewer will show respect and restraint when given the freedom to interact with provocative works of art.

“We want our guests to feel comfortable, not that they’re in a fortress,” says Rodrigo, “because if we do that we might send the wrong message.”


Videojournalist Hernán Muñoz contributed to this report.

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