The nude human figure in fine art has been both celebrated and censored, with its creation and display being influenced by academia and religion and its virtue debated by everyone. This Friday night, as part of the 2011 Spirit & Place Festival – which carries the theme “The Body” – “Unclothed: Exposing the Art Nude” at StutzArtSpace will explore the question of the art nude’s place in public venues. The gallery exhibition includes 33 figurative pieces by 29 artists from Indianapolis and beyond. From 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., a panel will discuss the place of the fine art nude in public venues. The moderator is Travis DiNicola, educator and co-host of WFYI's “Art of the Matter” radio program.
Although First Amendment chat will undoubtedly draw much discussion, I can't imagine we'll make it far into Friday's panel without also discussing Indiana's obscenity laws. Therefore, I thought I'd provide the relevant law here so everybody can start with the same info.
Under Indiana law, “A matter or performance is obscene if: (1) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, finds that the dominant theme of the matter or performance, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; (2) the matter or performance depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct; and (3) the matter or performance, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Ind. Code § 35-49-2-1.
The Indianapolis-Marion County, Indiana Code of Ordinances contains even more restrictive language on exhibitions of the human form, stating “It shall be unlawful for any person to open, maintain or operate a museum or exhibition of human anatomy as a source of profit or business; it shall also be unlawful for any person to cause the display or exhibition of the human form, or parts thereof, as a business or as a source of private profit.” Indianapolis-Marion County, Ind., Code of Ordinances § 421-102.
With the above regulations in mind on Friday, consider not only the artwork itself (which is typically afforded broad First Amendment protection) but also the manner in which the artwork has been presented. Consider any acts of “self-censorship” that might occur as a curator of nude works attempts to comply with obscenity laws.
More food for thought from a 1991 Supreme Court case:
“Perhaps the dissenters believe that “offense to others” ought to be the only reason for restricting nudity in public places generally, but there is no basis for thinking that our society has ever shared that Thoreauvian “you-may-do-what-you-like-so-long-as-it-does-not-injure-someone-else” beau ideal — much less for thinking that it was written into the Constitution. The purpose of Indiana's nudity law would be violated, I think, if 60,000 fully consenting adults crowded into the Hoosier Dome to display their genitals to one another, even if there were not an offended innocent in the crowd. ” – United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
See you on Friday.
By the way, the Vonnegut mural I referenced last month is finished now and completely amazing. Stop by Mass Ave soon to check it out.
Kenan L. Farrell advises business owners, non-profits, entrepreneurs and artists on business and intellectual property (copyright, trademark, patent) issues. He is on the Board of Directors of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and is the current Vice-President of IDADA. In the fall of 2011, he is teaching a newly created course, Art & Museum Law, at his alma mater, Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis. Follow on Twitter @KLFLegal