Media Release

Panel discussion explores Kansas art controversies, Invites audience participation

Lawrence, KS, October 31, 2013 – Kansas has seen its fair share of widespread public controversy sparked by art. On Thursday, November 14, a panel discussion planned by KU’s Spencer Museum of Art, the KU School of Law, the Kress Foundation Department of Art History and the KU Department of Visual Art will invite legal and art historical experts to discuss memorable upheavals as well as the legal precedents they set. Each expert presenter will briefly map out a Kansas art controversy of note before the conversation opens up for lively audience participation.

Charles C. Eldredge of the Kress Foundation Department of Art History will discuss John Steuart Curry’s 1937 mural, still on view in the state’s Capitol Building, depicting notorious Kansas anti-slavery activist John Brown in a tornado-whipped fury, holding a bible in one hand and a gun in the other; since the mural’s inception, critics have questioned whether the law-eschewing Brown belongs in a mural of civic prominence.

David Cateforis, also from the art history department, will address a Kansas art controversy that remains unresolved. He will explore ongoing efforts to remove Chinese artist Yu Chang’s Accept or Reject from the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, where the bronze sculpture was installed in 2012. Critics have called the sculpture “obscene,” in part because the woman depicted is only partially clothed, in part because she is headless and somewhat disjointed, and in part because of the family park setting; the figure appears to be taking a photograph of herself, which some interpret as a reference to “sexting,” a prevalent youthful behavior that many parents, in particular, fear.

Spencer Museum of Art Director Saralyn Reece Hardy will discuss the ways in which museums and other presenting organizations work with artists who challenge societal conventions and, in some cases, end up navigating complex legal situations that arise from their work. Reece Hardy will share a few case studies from her own experience, both at the Spencer Museum of Art and in her previous role at the Salina Art Center, with controversies resulting from political, social, and sexual exhibition content.

Because art controversies so often lead to legal battles over freedom of expression, Mike Kautsch from the KU School of Law will offer context and clarity by explaining the nature and scope of artists’ First Amendment protection against censorship. He will focus on issues that arise when citizens denounce art displayed on public property as offensive; his talk will also explore how the First Amendment applies to officials responding to demands that controversial art be removed from view.

The Spencer Museum of Art looks forward to further collaborations with the KU School of Law, as well as the departments of art history and visual art. A mutual interest in issues of censorship, cultural property and patrimony, and crime and counterfeit, lays the groundwork for vibrant exploration and relevant debate.

Kansas Art Controversies, the first installment in an Art & Law event series, takes place on Thursday, November 14, from 5 to 6:30 PM at Green Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence.

Media Contacts

Elizabeth Kanost

Elizabeth Kanost
Communications Manager