Artist Contests WeHo Limits on Photos of Nude Women

A curator and contributor to art shows that are part of WeHo’s Women’s History Month celebration has complained that the city is banning photos of women it deems too sexual.

Brooke Mason, a professional and art photographer, said the city has removed two of her photographs from a display at Plummer Park and contested images she has proposed for an exhibit at City Hal that formally opened last night.

The Plummer Park works were chosen by Nancy Meyer, a curatorial assistant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for an exhibit titled “Exposed” at Fiesta Hall. Mason said “Voyeur,” one of her photographs, was removed from the Plummer Park exhibit last week because a park employee had complained that it was too explicit. Another of her works, “Glass Ceiling,” also was removed and then re-installed. But as of this weekend, Mason said, that work has disappeared.

Brooke Mason's "Glass Ceiling"
Brooke Mason’s “Glass Ceiling”

Mason, who is working with Womens Manifest, a local initiative co-sponsored by the city to celebrate the accomplishments of women in West Hollywood and Los Angeles, said she also has encountered difficulty curating the “Out and About” exhibit at City Hall.  Mason said that on the day before the scheduled Saturday installation, she was told by Andrew Campbell, the city’s arts administrator, that there were issues with works she had chosen. Campbell told her that photographs could only show women nude from the waist up. Mason said Campbell read her “the prerequisites for public art in West Hollywood … I said ‘Andrew, I don’t know where you are going with this. Are you trying to say it’s too sexual? He said ‘yes, it’s too sexual’.”

Mason said one of the photos at issue, “Soar,” portrays a young Asian ballet dancer jumping in the air wearing a ballet skirt and harness. She said Campbell questioned her on the dancer’s age, and Mason said that the dancer is nude only from the waist up, apparently meeting city standards. Mason said that photo also appeared on a flyer promoting the exhibit, so the city should not have been surprised by it. That flyer, however, was covered by type that obscured much of the image.

Mason said she talked with Mayor Lindsey Horvath, who suggested that her options would be to cover parts of the photos that city officials found offensive, remove those works or not participate in the exhibition. Horvath said she supported Mason. “I do not find her work offensive at all,” she said.  Mason said that the situation resembled one in which Horvath, while a student at the University of Notre Dame, led a movement to force that conservative Catholic institution to permit production of Eve Engler’s “The Vagina Monologues.”  Mason said she sent images of the work draped to cover parts the city found offensive with the intent to force the city to back down, but the result was that the installation was put on hold until yesterday afternoon. 

Maribel Louie, manager of the city’s Arts and Economic Development Division, said the city’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Commissions reviews art programs involviing installations in public places, including city buildings. “While  the Commission actively supports the presentation of provocative and challenging work, it also understands that these works must be presented with care and consideration,” Louie said.

“For example, the Tom of Finland Foundation presented an erotic art fair for several years in the West Hollywood Park Auditorium.  Marketing and promotional materials indicated adult content.  Organizers of the fair were careful not to place graphic photos in easy view of members of the public who were in the park for other activities.  Another example is the Art AIDS America exhibit at the West Hollywood Library last summer.  The content was subject to viewer discretion and certain images could be considered sexual in nature.  As a result, those works were installed at the nearby ONE Gallery, where people had to choose to enter the building as opposed to people who were visiting the Library and would encounter the images ‘accidentally.;  The accidental nature of encountering art is what makes public art particularly intriguing and often delightful.  It is also the challenge for a municipal art program to carefully assess the public nature of the exhibit to be respectful of the community it serves and the various values and beliefs that are found within a community.”

Mason said an exhibit at West Hollywood Library titled “At the Core,” which will open today at 5 p.m., had to comply with Los Angeles County standards. One issue there, she said, was a photograph of a man wearing a Speedo-like bathing suit. “I was told that as long as it (the photograph) was small we could finally use it,” Mason said.

There also will be an artists’ reception tonight for “At the Core” from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Robert Kuo Showroom, 8686 Melrose Ave., concurrent with a one-night fine-art exhibit, “Hear Me,” presented by Women Manifest from 6 to 8 p.m. Mason said she doesn’t expect any censorship issues.

Several of Mason’s photos that will, and will not, be available for viewing are on the following pages:

  1. N.A…Narcissism Anonymous time…as if only Photo shoots were going to save a life or make a difference on our planet then of course we would need city officials or the ACLU to only focus on it, but in reality there are much bigger issues that many of us face daily including the freedoms of humans, including children and adults and LGBT adults to be in their loving giving beautiful spiritual space without any others to damage or harm that space. I have been a professional photographer past and know that art is important in its individuality but it is not brain surgery so lets try to support what matters like supporting those young people or adults in need of equality – empowerment – and of course if we can save a child in danger…thats news. I rescued a woman and was strangled in the process by some home invaders in Weho donating to the City request for an intervention….but thats not news…lol, go figure.

  2. MD323 I never placed you in a box but it’s apparent your not in the same one as I am. I did indeed hit a nerve however since you have become so upset with my statements. Calm down, the issue is about the City’s attempts to decide what we should see and what we can’t. My question is why are you supporting their censorship?

  3. Really? You think you “hit a nerve”? That’s the message you got? What’s apparent to me is how accurate that last sentence of my last post is. Thanks for the further evidence.

  4. “The City” did it? Really? Careless, undefined word choice is a pretty shabby defense to hide behind. Kind of like jumping behind labels like “liberal” and “Conservative” as a thoughtless attack mechanism. Sit inside your own weird, meaningless definition box if you like, but don’t try stuffing me in one. That’s the lowest common denominator defense of a lazy thinker.

  5. MD323, the story clearly stated the piece was removed by the City after a city worker complained. I’m so sorry if my statement offended your liberal beliefs but so be it. The City removed it to protect yourself and all others because they know whats best, a typical liberal answer to todays problems. Yes, I’m a Conservative who believes I know whats best for me, I don’t need the government dictating it.

  6. I’m really confused by the nature of most of these comments. You all seem to attribute this action to “the city” — especially you reactionary fearmongers (looking at you Mike Dunn). The story clearly states that the complaint was lodged by “a park employee.” I doubt that park employee spoke or acted on behalf of the city.

    All this energy spent bitching about “the city” might be better spent asking who precisely made and executed this decision, and was that person acting within his or her authority or overstepping?

    So tired of people with no basic understanding of how good government and management function bitching about how its being done all wrong. Grow the F*ck up and THEN think about posting.

  7. This exhibit claims to be in honor of women’s history month, yet it finds the female figure “too sexual” and unsuitable for viewing? Don’t call it an art exhibit if the nude body is censored as described. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s no longer art with. Perhaps the whole “art” show should be called off until those who were offended grow up and have the maturity to view art showing the human body with the respect and appreciation it deserves. Shame on our city for taking such a narrow, unsophisticated and prudish view against women, artists and art.

  8. Thank you very much to CM John Duran for offering his apologies to the artist who was censored by the City. I’m surprised they all didn’t do well. This was a major blunder that should be an embarrassment to every adult citizen of the city. And thanks to CM Lindsey Horvath for addressing the subject. I’m sure many people were expecting this to be resolved with some restoration of dignity to everyone concerned.

  9. why not make a law to cover every statue of David since he is fully nude? Weho leaders do not have the right to argue about art nor do they have the right to censor it. just another slip down that slippery slope of weho “as we knew it” to “weho as we leave it” The human body is a work of art and it should not be shamed by people who cant appreciate that.

  10. West Hollywood is starting to remind me of the apocryphal story of the citizens of medieval Gubbio in Umbria, petitioning the pope for funds to build an insane asylum. The pope’s answer: You are all already secure among yourselves, behind your walls.

  11. Very shameful for the City to be censoring such benign imagery for the sake of “moral pureness”. This is the real threat the City will soon pose to boystown and those “naked” dancers etc etc….

  12. I think the people who rejected the work! Really need some serious Therapy and I mean serious!!!
    Nude painting and Art date back beyond the 14 century!!!
    Have they been to Pompeii Italy and seen the preserved entrance Foyers to people homes?
    Now that might rise eyebrows? Men’s penises being weighted on scales painted on walls for all to see, women, children and men.
    This Art might be everyone’s cup of tea, be don’t don’t make out its some terrible shameful thing!
    Art is Art in all forms.

  13. The true ideals of the liberal community have become apparent. “We know what is best for you to view, we are the government.” Much like many of our current presidents agenda, we know whats best!

  14. Naked Women in West Hollywood! Yikes, times are a changing.
    Nude, non-sexually explicit photos of women, created by a female artist and selected by a female curator; what is the problem here? Nude bodies of any gender can, (and have) been used to make powerful statements. I don’t get the kerfuffle but it encourages more of us to see the exhibit then maybe there is a golden lining. Kudos to the artist.

  15. Horvath: “The options are to cover parts of the photos, remove the work completely or not participate at all” In other words, be censored or be gone. Why does the Progressive City have an arts administrator who behaves like a petty puritanical prude & declares that a picture of a man in a Speed-o is acceptable only because it is “small & not large?” (At least I presume by “small, not large”, he was referring to the size of the picture.) This would be amusing if not so patently absurd. The whole idea that a park employee can walk into a city sponsored art exhibit & have a piece of photographic art removed on a personal whim is mind boggling. Would not that imply that I too could CHOOSE to attend the exhibit & have any work of art depicting the natural human form removed because I found it offensive & therefore unacceptable for everyone? And why couldn’t everyone else who CHOSE to attend the exhibit do the same thing? Maybe it would be easier for West Hollywood & their arts administrator to ban any & all art that depicts the human body in it’s natural birth form to avoid offending those whose minds view the human body only as sexual. There should be public outrage over this insanity. I don’t think this is what living in West Hollywood means to most people who do live here.

  16. Woody…you missed the part where it said Horvath said she supported Mason. “I do not find her work offensive at all,” she said. I suggest you read the article again. It was others – Nancy Meyer and Andrew Campbell.

  17. I recall The Tom of Finland display/event having to be behind closed doors with warnings. The fact that this artist isn’t being forced to do that brings to question that if men must be hidden, why is it different for women? Seems like there are plenty of artists who would be grateful to have an installation in the city of WEHO. Oh and free condoms? YES…They are a public health benefit, or don’t you remember HIV/AIDS?

  18. west hollywood is lost. someday young people will ask what it was like to be living in a special enclave that treasured openness and free expression, without shame.
    so with regret, welcome to ‘jerry falwell park’ photography exhibition.

  19. “…cover parts of the photos with draping..?” That’s scary, sounds even a bit chilling to me, like southern Republican fundamentalist extremist hypocrites. What does Horvath find objectionable or offensive about a woman’s body & how deep is her denial about the beauty of the natural human body, both male & female, that she would promote censorship based on her personal sense of shame? Does she think she has the right or the ability to make choices about what is acceptable art appreciation for everyone according to her judgement of what parts of the body should be hidden & deemed obscene? It seems she perceives the natural human body as only sexual. A work of art was removed because a “park employee” complained that it was too suggestive? It just gets worse. People have a right to look at art or not & appreciate it or not but they do not have the right to decide how everyone else should feel about it or interfere in their ability to decide for themselves. For a city that claims to be creative & progressive, this is just another way that mediocre people are trying to reduce West Hollywood to a generically ordinary place.

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