Nevada County, CA Show Cancelled Because of Nudes

October 1, 2003

The work of 65 artists is to be taken down from Annual Open Studios Art show in California’s Nevada County Rood Administrative Center. The reason: the work of five of the artists contains partial nudity.

Two of the paintings contain nudes viewed from the rear, the three other paintings are of the waist up. None of them is meant to be sexually provocative. Irene Nicolas’s acrylic, “Hathor,” for instance, is an image of an ancient Egyptian goddess, bare breasted and pouring milk into the foot of the Nile River. Nevertheless Nevada County administrators – Tom Coburn, general services analyst and Rich Reader, director of general services – decided to remove the works. There is no written policy setting restrictions on the content of art that could be displayed in the government building.

Nicolas and some of the other artists rehung their paintings after they were initially singled out and removed from the show. They made two changes – the paintings were covered up with cloth and the word “CENSORED” was tacked onto the cloth.

The “censored” labels upset Nevada County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sue Horne. Nevada County’s The Union quotes her as saying: “It’s very unfortunate it had to escalate to something that should have had adult dialogue. To me, it’s being disrespectful to the county’s position. That’s like a slap in the face. Where’s the cooperation, the ability to talk about it in an adult manner? We’re not going to let them hang up there with the drape and word ‘censored’ when we should be able to have communication and discuss it without this being a big argument.”

A strange interpretation of “adult dialogue,” indeed, when the message is: we are taking your work down and you have to follow our decision. One-sided decisions to suppress artists’ expression do not constitute dialogue.

Apparently aware that singling out several paintings and removing them because of disagreement with their content violated the artists’ First Amendment rights, the County decided to cancel the whole exhibition. Rather then violating the rights of five artists, they are now violating the rights of 65 artists.

The Nevada County Open Studios Tour’s art exhibit was scheduled to be up until Oct. 30., 2003. You can call the Nevada County Board of Supervisors at 530-265-1480 or toll-free 1-888-785-1480 (within Nevada County only) to protest their decision and express your support of artists’ right to free expression.

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