Artist: Jef Bourgeau
Confronting Bodies: The Detroit Institute of Arts and specifically director Graham Beal
Date of Action: November 1999
Specific Location: Detroit Institute of Arts
Description of Artwork: The exhibit was the first in a series of 12 one-week shows that intended to commemorate the end of the twentieth century by exploring current issues in art. The exhibit, Van Gogh's Ear, contained references to some of the art-world controversies of the 1990s, including Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a video of British artist Tracey Emin in a menstruation ritual, and some of the young British artists who were included in the controversial Sensation exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.
Description of Incident: On the morning of the show's opening, director Graham Beal decided to postpone the show in order to discuss editing out some of the works with Bourgeau. The artist would not adhere to the museum's request that he make changes in his art; the show was terminated.
Results of Incident: Director Beal stands by his decision to close the show. Officials said they had a responsibility to the public and claimed that the artist was uncooperative. The artist believes he was the victim of censorship and was disappointed that the museum decided to effectively censor itself-something he would otherwise expect from conservative politicians and the religious right. Bourgeau did not seek any legal recourse. In March 2000, a condensed version of Art Until Now exhibited in the Oakland Arts Center in Pontiac, MI. The show coincided with a public forum on art and censorship, Fear No Art: the Politics of Correctness. The media frenzy resulted from the complaint of a maintenance worker in the building. The police came to take Polaroids of the most "obscene" art and subsequently charged and cite Bourgeau with presenting "obscene materials." The penalty for such a crime is three months in jail or a $500 fine. At the pretrial hearing on June 28, 2000 in the 50th District Court in Pontiac, Michigan, officials dropped the misdemeanor charge against Bourgeau for displaying "obscene materials."
Source: The Detroit News, 11.20.99
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