An Investigation of a Frankfurt Museum

March 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Early in 2011, police probed The Lucid Evidence, a photography exhibition being held at the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art (Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, or MMK for short) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany from September 25, 2010 until April 25, 2011. They were seeking to determine whether the exhibition violated Germany’s laws against child pornography (for subjects under 14) and youth pornography (14-17). It was brought to their attention by a concerned visitor who was offended by what was on display.

Photographs by Larry Clark, Jock Sturges, and Nobuyoshi Araki are among those being shown. All three photographers have worked with subjects under the age of 18 who are frequently nude. I have previously blogged about both Clark and Sturges. An example of a photo by Araki that I’ve seen is an image in his book Chrysalis showing a flat-chested preteen girl sitting full-frontally nude on a bathtub. I don’t know if that photo is on display or not.

A spokesman for the police, Alexander Kiessling, explained that the museum has been cleared of criminal misconduct, claiming, “Wir konnten klären, dass es sich bei monierten Fotos, auf denen junge Leute Geschlechtsverkehr haben, um junge Erwachsene handelt. Der Kunstbegriff wird hier an den Rand der Legalität geführt. Kunst ist ja weit gefasst.” [note 1] (“We were able to clarify that the young people having sex in the photos that were reported are actually young adults. The concept of art is being brought to the edge of legality. Art is so broad.”)

However, according to the MMK, “Larry Clark’s complete early works are part of the MMK Collection, which includes the series Tulsa and Teenage Lust.” [note 2]

I’ve already demonstrated that Teenage Lust does include underage people in erotic and occasionally hardcore pornographic photos. Examples are a 16-year-old boy receiving oral sex from a woman and a spread-legged early teen girl holding a boy’s penis.

I found that a visitor photographed a wall from the MMK exhibition that contains many (but not all) of Clark’s black-and-white images. Some of the subjects appear to be adolescent boys. Some are fully dressed, but one row has three photos of what appears to be an adolescent boy standing stark naked. Two shots are from the front and one is from the rear. While this photo doesn’t violate German law, some of the photos in Teenage Lust do. The museum claims to own every photo from that series, so I wouldn’t be so sure that Kiessling is correct that the displayed photos of young people having sex are all actually 18 and older.

In a “Dialog” held on March 2, 2011 at the MMK for members of the museum, Susanne Gaensheimer and Adrian Koerfer gave a guided tour of the exhibition. According to the MMK, “The talk will be specifically focussed on the works of Jock Sturges and Larry Clark. Because of their portrayal of naked children and teenagers the photos of both are controversially discussed issues ever since. Susanne Gaensheimer and Adrian Koerfer will direct their discussion towards that topic.” [note 3] That right there is an admission that both Sturges and Clark have underage photos on display.

During the investigation, Peter Gorschlüter, Deputy Director of the MMK, talked with police detectives about the disputed photos. He justified the photos by their artistic and historical/documentary contexts and by the fact that they’ve been frequently exhibited around the world [note 1]. A pleading for this kind of justification is common in art museums, as if widespread dissemination of images and their special context would make otherwise illegal photos acceptable.

As for Sturges’s photos in the exhibition, it would appear they’re solidly legal according to German law. A visitor wrote that many of Sturges’s photos at the MMK are “nude portraits of pubescent girls that were taken at nude beaches in the US and France” [note 4] and I read similar descriptions elsewhere.

Notes
1. “Polizei prüft Foto-Ausstellung im MMK Frankfurt” by DPA in Monopol – Magazin für Kunst und Leben, February 23, 2011, http://www.monopol-magazin.de/artikel/20102483/Polizei-prueft-Foto-Ausstellung-im-MMK-Frankfurt.html
2. Official exhibition page for “The Lucid Evidence”, Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art, http://www.mmk-frankfurt.de/en/ausstellung/current-exhibitions/exhibition-details/exhibition_uid/2423/
3. http://www.mmk-frankfurt.de/en/freunde/friends-offers/
4. “Photography Exhibits at Frankfurt’s MMK” by Bloggerboy, December 2, 2010, http://velcomefisitor.blogspot.com/2010/12/photography-exhibits-in-frankfurt.html

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