BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A drawing of a naked Donald Trump. A punching bag sculpture shaped like a female torso. A display of women’s party shoes standing proudly on prayer rugs. All of them are works of contemporary art that have provoked debate and sometimes violent reactions.
These works and dozens of others that were subject to some kind of censorship have found a home in Spain at the Museum of Prohibited Art in Barcelona, or “Museu de l’Art Prohibit” in Catalan. The collection of over 200 works, including those by renowned artists such as American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and Spain’s Pablo Picasso, aims to challenge visitors and question the limitations placed on artists in an increasingly polarized world.
Director Rosa Rodrigo said the museum is the only one in the world devoted exclusively to art that has faced petitions – often successful – to remove them from the public domain for moral, political, religious, sexual or commercial reasons.
“The museum gives an opportunity to works of art that for whatever reason at one point in time have been 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 another 200 in storage. He was already collecting contemporary art when he started collecting “forbidden” works.
Five years later, Bennett’s idea became the Museum of Forbidden Art, which opened in October. Since then, over 13,000 people have visited his galleries.
As more works come under attack, people like art critic and curator Gabriel Luciani say the exhibition is essential. “I think it’s imperative to have a place like this in Europe and around the world.” Especially in these moments of censorship that we see. Not only in art, but also in other political contexts,” he said.
In March, a department store in Hong Kong took down digital artwork that contained hidden references to detained dissidents. That same month, on the other side of the world, the principal of a Florida charter school was forced to resign after a parent complained about a Renaissance art lesson featuring Michelangelo’s David sculpture.
Barcelona’s new museum features well-known controversial works, including “Piss Christ” by Andrés Serrano, a photograph of a crucifix immersed in a container of the artist’s urine; as well as Mapplethorpe’s “X Portfolio,” pictures of sadomasochism that were challenged in the courts for obscenity.
“I think the collection could be even more shocking,” Luciani said.
But works by women who have drawn the ire of conservative religious groups or been repressed for their feminist content are among the most powerful in the collection.
“Silence,” an installation by French Algerian artist Zuliha Bouabdela that shows 30 pairs of high heels on the same number of Islamic prayer rugs, dominates the center of the room. Bouabdella agreed to have her work removed from a museum in Clichy, France, following the 2015 attacks in Paris on staff at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Physical violence against women is captured by Kazakh artist Zoya Falkova in Evermust, a leather sculpture of a female torso like a boxer’s punching bag. It was one of six works removed from a museum in Kyrgyzstan when an exhibition of feminist art came under fire from officials who said it ran counter to traditional values.
While most of the works are from the 21st century, Goya, Picasso and Klimt have their place in the halls of the elegant modernist mansion that houses the museum. Goya had to sell his ‘Los Caprichos’ prints from the late 1790s to the Spanish crown when he feared they might come under the scrutiny of the Inquisition, while Picasso saw his ‘Suite 347’ of erotic drawings displayed in a private room in the 1960s in Paris.
Although censorship has taken many forms, the museum shows that the drive to silence artists who create challenging work is alive and well.
“Censorship in art has always existed because artists are always precursors and touch on different subjects,” said Rodrigo. “(But) it’s true that most of the works on display are from the years 2010 to 2020. In those 10 years, in many different parts of the world, I think societies themselves have undergone a regression of values, because it’s not necessarily that governments are acted (against works of art), but rather society itself.”
In 2016, Australian artist Ilma Gore posted her full-length drawing of Trump on Facebook and had her account shut down for obscenity and nudity. Gore believes the piece led to her being assaulted on a Los Angeles street.
After a series of canceled exhibitions after being accused of making inappropriate sexual comments to potential models, the late American artist Chuck Close, a master of photorealism, has a self-portrait on display at the Museum of Forbidden Art.
Commercial interests also played a role in limiting free expression.
Joshua Okon’s video of an obese woman lying naked on a McDonald’s table called “Freedom Fries” has been removed from a London gallery after the gallery’s board members were worried about damaging the fast-food chain’s reputation, according to the Barcelona museum. feeding.
The museum also houses several works that have been the subject of physical attack, including the Piss Christ.
“With Flowers for Mary” by Spanish artist Charo Corrales, which depicts a masturbating Virgin Mary, was cut down while on display in southern Spain after Catholic legal groups sued the work for offending religious sentiments. It is now on display in Barcelona with an open wound on the canvas.
Rodrigo said her museum hopes it will not witness any attacks because visitors should come prepared to be shocked. She also believes that by grouping these works together, they produce a more balanced impact. She also believes that the viewer will show respect and restraint when given the freedom to come into contact with a provocative work of art.
“We want our visitors to feel comfortable, not in a fortress,” said Rodrigo, “because if we did, we would be sending the wrong message.”
Video journalist Hernán Muñoz contributed to this report.