Curator resigns in protest as Portuguese museum protects kids from homoerotic 'art'

Around the year 2000, I remember Dr. Laura Schlessinger on her then-popular radio show discussing dances held at elementary schools and asking: "Why are we sexualizing our children?"  About the same time, I heard her fellow radio host, Dr. James Dobson, while still hosting "Focus on the Family," issue a more ominous warning: "There are influential people who want access to children."

I'd add "if only they knew," but I am guessing they were expecting much worse.

Fast-forward to October 2017, when I wrote here about the "pornographic war on Brazil's kids," which mainly involved art shows at renowned galleries there inviting entire middle schools to view paintings, photos, and videos that would have been deemed obscene not many years before.  One such "show" involved a 40-year-old nude male artist who would step out onstage with fully clothed elementary school-aged girls or would lie on a floor while his fingers and feet were touched by a four-year-old girl whose mother was in attendance.

Now this same type of event has made headlines in Brazil's sister lusophone country, Portugal.  In this case, however, the enabler resigned because he (allegedly) couldn't show children the so-called art he felt they had a right to see.

João Ribas had emigrated from that nation to America with stops, among other places, as a teacher at the Yale University School of Art, as well as curator at MIT's List Visual Arts Center.  Flush with bona fides from "across the pond," he returned to Portugal to become an administrator within the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum in Porto, a relatively young institution that has become the most visited Portuguese museum and one of the continent's leading displayers of modern art.  In January of this year, he was named the museum's director.  It seemed that he had reached a career pinnacle in his homeland.

However, his fate, or rather, his decision to seal it, was made when a previous director agreed to bring the photo collection of the late Robert Mapplethorpe to Serralves.

I won't go beneath the dignity of this website to put a link to any of Mr. Mapplethorpe's work.  Suffice it to say that he fought a running battle a few decades ago to have it on display, including nude and semi-nude photos of himself and his male lovers alongside assorted sadomasochistic images.  He also died 42 years young of AIDS-related complications.

Decades later, his patron, João Ribas, chose to fall on his own sword in honor of the American counter-culture warrior, whose photographs made their way to his nation's answer to the Louvre.  Artforum picks up the story (emphases added):

João Ribas has resigned from his position as artistic director of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal, a post he held for just eight months.  His Friday announcement to the Portuguese newspaper Público follows the museum's removal of twenty works from its recent "Robert Mapplethorpe: Pictures" exhibition, which Ribas commissioned and curated; an open letter condemning the museum's decision is now circulating online, addressing Serralves Foundation chair Ana Pinho.  The museum also restricted select rooms of the exhibition to those aged eighteen and older against the wishes of its curator, who told Público he "was no longer able to continue to lead the institution."

The exhibition opened with twenty less [sic] photographs than the original 179 planned by Ribas on September 20.  Mapplethorpe's documentation of the 1970s S&M scene in New York embroiled him in debates of censorship and expressive freedom during and after his lifetime, and though Ribas had agreed to place an advisory at the exhibition's entrance notifying visitors on the sexual nature of the photographs, he also argued that "a museum cannot condition, separate, or delimit access to works, to say what people can see or not."

Great.  File another one under "modern situational ethics."  Please forgive me for asking this, but what business does a child, regardless of how many adults he is accompanied by, have seeing a bullwhip protruding from one of the late Mr. Mapplethorpe's bodily orifices?  (I'm not sure if this was one of the photos that made its way to Porto, but given that some of the images were said to be quite controversial, it wouldn't be a surprise.)

Fellow curators at the museum have since cast doubt as to what Mr. Ribas had or had not agreed to and were still awaiting word from him.  Nonetheless, he had already become a bit of a hero, as a letter in his support (and ostensibly against the censorship of the exhibit in favor of children) garnered over 400 signatures from the Portuguese and European art community.  (NOTE: Multiple famed Brazilian artists did the very same thing (link in Portuguese) in support of last year's controversial art programs.)

Drs. Schlessinger and Dobson were right: there really are many influential people who want to see children sexualized and have "access" to them.  In varying degrees, Brazil and Portugal have recently seen this on full display.

We've got to pray for those who would want "access" to children for any type of sexual exploitation, even if they touch "only" their eyes and minds, as in the case of these exhibits.  Unrepentant, they're headed to the worst of all possible places.  Simultaneously, we must also give relentless fight to protect our children from those who would sexualize them in the first place.

Kurt Wayne is founder of A-B-P Ministries and Pornografia Destrói, online ministries fighting pornography, prostitution, trafficking, sexual abuse, and the hyper-sexualized culture in the nations of Angola, Brazil, and Portugal.

Image: Tom Hilton via Flickr.

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