The Metropolitan Museum of Art just announced that it will not remove a controversial painting by French painter Balthus from public display. The painting, entitled “Thérèse Dreaming” (1938), depicts a young girl kicked back in a chair with her underwear visible beneath her skirt.
An online petition signed by over 8,000 easily offended humans urged the museum to rethink its decision to include the painting, claiming it is “disturbing” that an institution as renowned as the Met would encourage work which “sexualizes” the image of a prepubescent girl.
Given the “current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses, the Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children,” wrote Mia Merrill on the petition website. She cites the artist’s “noted infatuation with prepubescent girls” as contextual proof of the painting’s inappropriateness.
I put together a petition asking the Met to take down a piece of art that is undeniably romanticizing the sexualization of a child. If you are a part of the #metoo movement or ever think about the implications of art on life, please support this effort. https://t.co/gcCAFDe749
— Mia Merrill (@miazmerrill) November 30, 2017
Museum spokesman Kenneth Weine told the New York Post that the Met would not be removing the work, saying “moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation” and that the mission of the institution is to “collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge and ideas.”
Artists and connoisseurs alike came out in droves on Twitter to support Weine’s statement, asserting the petition did nothing but enforce art censorship.
This is honestly the worst kind of censorship I have seen and so disrespectful to art and artists. Trying to censor a long dead artist because of current PC standards is disgusting. Keep your hands off our art.
— The Knows (@The_Knows_) December 4, 2017
By “simply asking” The Met to remove a painting that makes you feel “shocked” and uncomfortable, you are simply attempting to engage in censorship. Welcome to the art world. Art is not always meant to make people feel comfortable.
— Dave Miranda (@dave__miranda) December 4, 2017
Seriously?! Is it the most adept way to critically question the history of art and its darkest aspects? You should also censure the Greek and Italian sculptures and paintings where you can you see young boys penis and girls breast. Are you bringing us back into the middle age?
— Eimear O'Shea (@TodayZen) December 5, 2017
Over 7500 New Yorkers have petitioned the #Met to remove this painting. The reason given was the “current climate around sexual assault.”
— Anne-Marie (@AnneSwisss) December 4, 2017
The National Coalition Against Censorship also came out to support the Met’s decision, offering the following statement:
“Recent cases of censorship, including the threats of violence that forced the Guggenheim Museum in New York to remove several exhibits, reveal a disturbing trend of attempts to stifle art that engages difficult subjects. Art can often offer insights into difficult realities and, as such, merits vigorous defense.”
A sign at the Met warned visitors “some of the paintings in this exhibition may be disturbing to some visitors” but Merrill updated her petition to say she’d consider it a success if the museum also included a message explicitly noting Balthus’ penchant for pedophilia “as brief as: “Some viewers find this piece offensive or disturbing, given Balthus’ artistic infatuation with young girls.”
Everybody’s favorite art critic really said it best:
“Um if you take this out, you pretty much have to remove ALL art from wings of India, Africa, Asia, Oceania, Greece, Rome, Renaissance, Rococo, and Impressionism, German Expressionism, Klimnt, Munch, and all Picasso & Matisse. #ArtWorldTaliban Maybe concentrate instead on calling out sexual predators and harassers. @metmuseum.”
A person has demanded that a Balthus painting be removed from the Met because of its subject-matter. ▫️▫️▫️ Um if you take this out, you pretty much have to remove ALL art from wings of India, Africa, Asia, Oceania, Greece, Rome, Renaissance, Rococo, and Impressionism, German Expressionism, Klimnt, Munch, and all Picasso & Matisse. #ArtWorldTaliban Maybe concentrate instead on calling out sexual predators and harassers. @metmuseum