Artist says censorship of public exhibit shows "lack of understanding"
Carolina Loyola-Garcia took some friends to 2 PPG Place on June 3, to show them a video she made to display as part of the Three River Arts Festival.
She was proud that the piece was being shown in the windows of the building that faces Fourth Avenue. Instead of seeing her video, however, she found a black strip of cardboard completely blocking the view of the 8-inch monitor inside.
Loyola-Garcia wasn't told that her art had been censored. So she gained access to the showcase by obtaining a key from the security desk, removed the cardboard rectangle covering the screen and went home.
She returned on Monday to find the same thing she saw on Sunday -- her video, which contains scenes of a nude woman, was censored, cut off from public viewing.
"It's annoying that someone can decide for others what is proper and moral," she says. "There is a long tradition of nudity in art, but there is a fear of sexuality in society today. It is a huge lack of understanding."
She may be right. Loyola-Garcia showed her video to City Paper at PPG Place. After activating the video, it remained on for about a minute before it was shut off by someone inside the building. She went in to the building and returned wearing a frustrated expression, at which time the video was shown in full.
The five-minute video depicts a nude woman walking through a park in the early morning. She proceeds to wash herself with milk and honey in a "ritualistic performance of spirituality," according to Loyola-Garcia, in which honey represents health and milk is life. It is an "act of healing and self-validation," she says.
Loyola-Garcia originally cut six small holes in a piece of paper covering the monitor, so that the video wasn't visible to passersby. An observer had to bend over and peep through these small holes to view it. However, the holes were later covered by the cardboard rectangle, completely blocking any view of the monitor.
Real-estate firm Grubb & Ellis manages the building and deemed the video inappropriate because it faced the sidewalk and was viewable by the public, says TRAF spokesperson Lindsay Clark. The firm had the material covered shortly after the exhibit opened on June 1. Company officials did not return calls seeking comment.
"The piece showed nudity to people on the sidewalk, which is pushing the corporate community's limitations," says Clark. "Displaying nudity in a setting where the general public is passing by is not what we intended."
Katherine Talcott, curator of the exhibit that included Loyola-Garcia's work, praised her as a nationally and internationally respected artist, and said she didn't feel that the video was "inappropriate for the location" at PPG Place. However, Talcott says that a representative from Grubb & Ellis told her that the video did not represent the company well and that it was "inappropriate for their audience."
Loyola-Garcia, an assistant professor of media arts at Robert Morris University, can't understand why someone would be offended by a naked body in an artistic context, considering the fact that nudity has been a subject of art for centuries.
"Is someone going to censor and cover up portraits at the Carnegie Museum of Art?" she says. "Are you going to go to Florence and cover up the statue of Michelangelo's 'David'? I don't think so."
Loyola-Garcia has filmed nudity on the streets of San Francisco in broad daylight without controversy, she says, so she didn't expect this kind of outcry.
TRAF's Clark explained that the video would not be an issue if it were in an art gallery. She also says the video is being moved to "a more appropriate location" on the third floor of the TRAF gallery, at 937 Liberty Ave. "That decision should have been made from the start," adds Clark.
Loyola-Garcia says there is a "tremendous lack of respect" for modern art. At press time, she was planning to travel to Mexico to showcase her work. She won't find controversy there, she says, and maintains that the problem doesn't lie in her art but in contemporary society.
"The fact that people are offended by the human body in its natural state shows how disconnected we are from who we are and where we came from," she says.