The Guardian reports that the Manchester City Art Gallery has removed a Pre-Raphaelite painting not as censorship, you understand, but rather “to prompt conversations.”
It is a painting that shows pubescent, naked nymphs tempting a handsome young man to his doom, but is it an erotic Victorian fantasy too far, and one which, in the current climate, is unsuitable and offensive to modern audiences?
Manchester Art Gallery has asked the question after removing John William Waterhouseâ€™s Hylas and the Nymphs, one of the most recognisable of the pre-Raphaelite paintings, from its walls. Postcards of the painting will be removed from sale in the shop.
The painting was taken down on Friday and replaced with a notice explaining that a temporary space had been left â€œto prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchesterâ€™s public collectionâ€. Members of the public have stuck Post-it notes around the notice giving their reaction.
Clare Gannaway, the galleryâ€™s curator of contemporary art, said the aim of the removal was to provoke debate, not to censor. â€œIt wasnâ€™t about denying the existence of particular artworks.â€
The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.
Gannaway said the title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing womenâ€™s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.
â€œFor me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we havenâ€™t dealt with it sooner. Our attention has been elsewhere … weâ€™ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long.â€
Gannaway said the debates around Timeâ€™s Up and #MeToo had fed into the decision.
The removal itself is an artistic act and will feature in a solo show by the artist Sonia Boyce which opens in March. People can tweet their opinion using #MAGSoniaBoyce. …
Gannaway said the removal was not about censorship.
â€œWe think it probably will return, yes, but hopefully contextualised quite differently. It is not just about that one painting, it is the whole context of the gallery.â€
Look at you, oogling those nymphs! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, you nasty cis-gendered masculine perpetuator of the patriarchy?