Features Nov 14, 2012 at 4:00 am

A Controversy Over Censorship—or Harassment?—at Cornish

Mamelles by Ben Beres. Courtesy of the artist


There are two issues here: (1) the piece itself and its merits, and (2) it's place of display.

The first issue: as to the piece itself, it's the artist's right to make it as s/he sees fit. This piece says a lot about how Beres sees women, artists, and women who are artists. Our reaction to it says a lot about us. Sounds just about how it should be.

As to the second issue: Cornish, while being an art school full of ideas and learning, is also a workplace. Thinking that it's a neutral space is a mistake. The people who work there have actual real legal rights to a harassment-free workplace. The piece has every right to be displayed - just not at Cornish.
I’m relieved to see that most of the implications that this visual and it’s treatment brought to mind, were addressed intelligently in the article, thank-you Jen Graves. The annoying fact still lingers, that this artist may actually be an upstanding guy, who yet doesn’t truly appreciate his privileged ease in reducing the subject of female artists into a discussion of boob sizes while gaining notoriety for himself, or that he accomplished this by violating the privacy of the unconsented women named-- a privacy he continues to disrespect. It’s therefore difficult to believe he understands the topics he has presented. His art work (and highlighting it in an article, sorry) doesn't allow for women to express more than their petty enduring struggles against patriarchy. This may be part of the point being conveyed but continually reiterating that alone does not assist women to move past it. In fact, reiteration of the topic (especially done in a blasé manner from a male artist) contains the potential to reinforce it. Everyone is not given space in the art world and this button-pushing piece may likely sell for more money and get more attention than complex thoughtful works from other male or female artists of both shows. This is stupid. Also I'm tired of artists hiding behind the ambiguity of their pieces as though that constitutes expressing something significant-- sometimes it does-- sometimes it's just throwing out an easy insult and then getting the h*** out of Dodge.
@90 first of all, why should these women tolerate being singled out for sexual derision at their work place? Do you really think it's valid to reduce gender to the image of breasts? These women aren't singling themselves out based on their gender, they're just responding to a society full of male privilege by trying to make space for artistic expression. The art itself is vulgar, but that's not the issue. The issue is that it targets specific women for public ridicule. I could see an argument for this as libel, and the gallery is well within its rights to remove it.
The issue isn't the work of art. It is that it was hung in the place of employment of two of the subjects. I honestly don't see the piece being taken down as censorship at all. It's ethical workplace management. Hang it somewhere else, where members of the 108 don't work.

This would have been a lot more impressive to me as a piece of art if the artist and/or Cornish had anticipated that hanging the piece in the place of employment of two of the subjects was not beckoning censorship but rather the enforcement of basic workplace rights. Is the piece trying to make a statement about workplace rights? Not so much.
I think if he had asked permission from each of the artists "represented" it would be a different story.
It involves the issue of appropriation. If someone puts YOUR NAME into their art, do you personally have a say about that. Should the women named sue him? Class action?
I personally would be irritated to see my name attached to poorly drawn breasts hanging in my workplace. Save it for the bathroom walls, gents.

It is profoundly upsetting that this conversation has come down to such ridiculous questions as "is this art", "is this censorship" and "what is a feminist response to it". But the larger tragedy is the response to this whole ordeal has become a rehearsal of every sexist impulse that exists in our culture, including blaming the female victims for failing to see what a male artist intends them to see how he intends them to see it.
Gender be damned, I'm an equalist, not a feminist.
On a human interaction sociology scale, I'm immensely curious if the "2" tried approaching their co-worker, who for all I know is benjamina beres, about the piece before going to the employer/authoritarian about this? And I'm curious if any other of the "106" artists have also had interactions or requests for removal? We've got this immense impersonal 'personal space bubble' here in Seattle , and I've often found over the years that a ton of drama and offense and heartache could be avoided by old-fashioned Directness. Did he tell them to bugger off, and that's why they approached the admin, or did they go straight to the boss and/or lawyer up?
On an art scale, this is pretty mediocre art, with a rather ancient maplethorpian philosophy (also fairly juvenile) behind it at best, and I can't help but cynically assume beres did this mainly for self promotion, with a only a bonus side of possibly art commentary -made more possible by living in town where Ms Graves is known to call out gender issues loudly?
That said - on a female scale, no still means no and I'm half surprised the 'pussy' camp hasn't trotted out that old gem "she was asking for it" yet. I kinda hope the 2 DO lawyer up and press on slandered good name charges.
No, boobs and dicks aren't the same, but assholes pretty much are. I kinda want to put a sculpture of beres body in the cornish lobby with a big puckered anus for a head. He'd be cool with that, right? It's ART
Lets all get naked. I wish that all humans, men and women, would get over this fear and loathing of the human body!

Breasts are just a part of the body. We all have them. Bodies I mean.

You see, I don't think this is about "What is Art?" at all. I don't think this is about feminist art or the male artists response to it. I think this is about how screwed up we all are all over the world regarding our bodies.
Except the regard of the body as an object of sexuality or of vision IS an issue of feminist concern.
Sexual harassment in the work place needs to be Sharon Arnold's next show, or perhaps "women and rape," or perhaps just "women's rights" if she can't handle too much direct content ( except in a mediocre print)
This is a pathetic art work, and should never have been shown at all.
@112: "or perhaps just "women's rights" if she can't handle too much direct content"

Because clearly Sharon seems to have an aversion to confrontation and controversy in art, as opposed to the shows you've curated, which tackle the controversial theme of "war and suffering is bad".

Don't get me wrong; from your website it looks like they were interesting shows, but I don't think you're in a position to criticize another curator for playing it safe.
@106, I agree, regarding appropriation.

This afternoon I spent some time googling for privacy violations and the law surrounding appropriation and found this:

"Invasion of privacy is the intrusion upon, or revelation of, something private[i]. One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his/her private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of privacy[ii].
The law of privacy consists of four distinct kinds of invasion. The right of privacy is invaded when there is[iii]:
unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another,
appropriation of the other’s name or likeness,
unreasonable publicity given to the other’s private life, and
publicity which unreasonably places the other in a false light before the public."

taken from; http://privacy.uslegal.com/what-constitu…

I am not a lawyer and so am not sure how it would apply in this particular case...but again, for me the large issue is the lack of permission from each person to use their name.

If nothing else, IMO it shows a lack of courtesy and sensitivity.

It would be great if Artist Trust did a workshop on such legalities.
I think the fact that this so-so doodle was censored has unfortunately elevated its importance. Yes, it's offensive because he didn't ask the artists' permission, but mostly (to me) because the only uniqueness in each pair of breasts is due to being drawn by hand, not machine...it's a portrait of breasts he's never seen but had the audacity to sketch anyway. But if this piece were hanging on the wall, it would irritate, titillate (forgive me) or offend for about a minute, then you'd move on to the next piece. I think the two women who complained should have done so to the artist...they should have sucked it up instead of trying to censor. Maybe place a post it note over their name. The effect is now that they've rewarded the guy who pissed them off.
This artist and the curator bring me back to Mitt Romney's comment about asking to be provided "a binder full of women." Beres' reductive print and the curator's comment about only being able to get 40 (women), in comparison to the number of women that Beres "got"...kind of creeps me out. Someone made a comment about being offended if she hadn't been on the list. So now one guy puts himself in the position of deciding who the legit local female artists are. Sort of puppetmasterlike, no? Creepy AND grandiose.
I don't usually read the arts section in the Stranger because I feel like the art scene here (and possibly in general) has become an insular, self-referential cool-kids club that has nothing to offer anyone outside the artists and critics. (A feeling that this piece certainly does nothing to counter.)

That said, I thought this was a very thoughtful article that examined both sides of a very tricky issue. However I was shocked to see Ms. Graves so blithely use the word "alpha" to describe Charles Saatchi. The use of "alpha" and "beta" to describe men is profoundly hurtful to men who are introverted and sensitive. The implication is that if you are not a Gordon Gekko/John Galt kind of guy who is constantly bedding women like James Bond, then you belong to an inferior class of human. These are words that, like "retarded", need to be excised from common use, and to see Ms. Graves use them in the context of an otherwise thoughtful article saddens me. These words are doubly hurtful, because not only do they impact the self-esteem of young men, they also encourage aggressively misogynistic behavior. Misapplied from biology (think "Social Darwinism") by the Pick Up Artist scene, the notion is that the superior "alphas" break through women's defenses to "score" while the inferior "betas" are stuck in the "friend zone." Go to the comments section in any website whose audience is mostly teenage and early-twenties males, and you will see these words in abundance, with the context being that if you treat a woman like a human being your are weak and inferior. Indeed, when I see street art and stickers in my neighborhood with slogans like "teach men not to rape" and "stop rape culture" one of the first things I think of is the trope of the "alpha" male that is being pressed on our young men coming int their sexuality. Even though Ms. Graves did not necessarily use the word in a positive context, the implication is obvious: A > B.
Jesus. A bunch of pretentious bullshit. Thicken the skin a little. Big argument over nothing.
8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D 8=D
Bob Keith Mark Rick ect, ect, ect,
I'm making $86 an hour working from home. I was shocked when my neighbour told me she was averaging $95 but I see how it works now. I feel so much freedom now that I'm my own boss. This is what I do,cloud68.com
"#109 - Lizajane,"


Sorry, but I still have questions. would it be different if this were drawn on the wall in a bathroom stall?
Jen Graves, girl reporter, once again shows herself to be a ditzy broad as she sells out her sisters to hype the pseudo-controversy of a sophomoric publicity stunt that has her falling over herself to disregard the feelings of very real people who have a right to feel violated in deference to some phony high-falutin' talk of censorship. Chalk up one point for Ben Beres, zero for decency and common sense. Jen, you should be ashamed of yourself. You delude yourself into thinking you're on some moral high ground when really you are wallowing in the mud of your own self-regard.
Sorry, but I think it's BS for artists to whine about "censorship" as if it were a cardinal sin especially after they deliberately try to push the envelope and offend people. If people don't like your artwork, if they find it offensive, it will be removed. It would be one thing if it were destroyed and sent down the memory hole, but it's not. In fact this piece will get a lot more exposure now.

I can see how this artwork could be interpreted either way; either as a sexist testament to how women are perpetually reduced to sex objects no matter what their accomplishments, or a critique of that very practice.

But, he didn't ask any of the 108 to use their names for this project. He didn't seem to care about how actual women would feel about being portrayed as a pair of breasts. Given that he didn't show these concerns, the piece feels presumptuous and creepy -- as the article points out, an act of male privilege.
Also, let's be fair, it's a shit drawing, the artist even misspelled names and wrote things backward! What, is paper so expensive you can't even redo poor quality work? Even from a purely visual standpoint, this piece deserves to be trashed.
Shurenka--I understand that it is an etching, done on copper. Text must be written backwards to come out correctly. Look into things before you flippantly spout off on the internet you ignorant blowhard.
@128 -- still who gives a fuck about the medium, as an artist why wouldn't you redo work that was poorly done? I guess I like my art technically competent, is all. If it's more about the message than the medium -- just become an internet troll as others have suggested! (I see you're already there, amirite!)

Especially ironic that he misspelled their names; only furthers my theory that this piece had nothing to do with fighting sexism or advocating for teh wiminz. It was just a self-aggrandizing attempt to spark controversy.
It was great to see this piece in person thanks to Sierra Stinson and Vignettes. After having a look at the actual piece and speaking with many people including the artist, I arranged to purchase a print for myself.
I truly believe that Ben has made a strong work of art here. Whether you have an opinion on it's technical merits, agenda, or even the larger social context in which it speaks to, I hope you realize that it is above all a work of art and a successful one at that.
It is successful in one sense, it is what the artist intended to create, and it has something to say. Ben made many choices when creating Mamelles. He made a choice to include 108 artists, he made the choice to use their full names, and he made the choice to draw the print entirely by hand. He even made a series of choices on the way in which the print was produced. In some aspects there are things that were an outcome of other choices made by Beres, but what is on the paper is entirely intentional. What you choose to see in it is up to you. I can certainly say that this is an important piece of work. Too bad the edition is limited to 20 as any collector of relevant art in Seattle should have one in their collection.
On a side note, SAM could use a print as a guide to the next 108 works that they should acquire for their permanent collection.
touché #130

Yes, this will sell out every one of those prints, and the curator will have a shitload of people at the opening of her new space this month.

At least someone will make some money in this tiny art colony, but none of this changes the fact that it is a stupid piece by a foolish artist.

Commentary? This is a like a pig falling into a pile of manure and claiming it was his expertise that got him there. So republican to believe that good fortune and membership in the ruling class have nothing to do with it.

If this curator is so damn edgy, then why are the same handful of drinking buddies featured in everything she is involved with or everything that is written about her?

As amusing at this thread is, it isomewhat wasted because the curator is so dead set on not seeing the obvious and sidesteps every sensible thing that is posted. It takes alot of denial to insist that creating a forum for a member of the ruling class to render the "other" in such undignified terms despite so much evidence to the contrary and try to posit that as some kind of intellectual sophistication.

Bill Clinton said it best when he declared, "...I DID NOT...HAVE SEX...with that girl."
Background on where I come from before starting, and I do believe in full disclosure so, Straight, Painfully white, grew up on capitol hill, currently go to Notre Dame (no I am not catholic or republican, but, GO IRISH)
first, I am not a feminist and I am offended by the assumption that all modern people should be feminists. I am an equalist. Feminism has become largely man hating, it is unfortunate that what was once a great idea got twisted and sidetracked but there it is. The failure of feminism is that it has failed to achieve things like equal treatment in the workplace, which is ridiculous, that should never have been a problem in the first place. But where it has succeeded for women is in places like universities, where women have a much larger presence than they did decades ago, that is great! what is not great is that this has gone too far, there are tons of empowerment and other types of services offered to women at most universities, while I can say as a current college student (at a very misogynistic school even) the only gender specific things targeted at men are attacking and tell us that we are all horrible. This has resulted in exponentially higher dropout rates for men. Any type of favoritism is wrong, towards men or women, and BOTH exist. Pay people equally, help them equally, admit them equally. any tye of discrimination or favoritism is just another obstacle between today and a world where success is based on merit. you cannot overcompensate for past transgressions in a "sins of the father" type mentality. There is one more thing I want to address, that being the over-reaching sensitivity to hate speech. I would like to say that calling someone a dick or a cock is not a compliment, its calling them an asshole (asshole is gender neutral right?). Hate speech exists, it is wrong, and we ALL know what those terms and phrases are, words that start with N or F that I will refuse to even type here. words that have a history of extreme degradation, of violence, of HATE (hence "hate speech"). And know the stereotype of white men is to hiss and recoil at discussions of feminism and privilege, and that is a really convenient way of dismissing all counter arguments. I hope y'all actually take the time to think about my points, that is if you have even bothered to read this. I have listened to many people's arguments, I read a lot of comments, I have been told I don't deserve anything I have in my life because I am white and male (I know that is an extreme example but still, it is unfortunately becoming a common view) and took the time to formulate my own opinions on a very important issue. And with regard to the art piece, ultimately it was unsensitive for that artist to tie other people's names to a statement they did not agree with, but that is common in all art. (see Raphael painting Michelangelo into one of his fresco's as a sulking loner, see Lynyrd Skynyrd calling out Neil Young in Sweet Home Alabama) It isn't "nice" but shit happens, and I do not care about the statement but censorship is wrong. That being said Cornell is a private institution and has every right to restrict whatever they want in their own space.
@131: That may be one of the most incoherent Slog replies I've seen that wasn't hidden behind the words "Unregistered Comment". In fact, it's so rambling and scatter shot that it almost seems like a deliberate work of art.

hitchcock, do you sell prints of your Slog posts? I'd be interested in buying a copy of @131 as an example of "Dissolution of Coherence in 21st Century Internet Communications".
What if a lesbian had made it?
As a dude, I wouldn't want even my name to be in some random dude's dumb painting, let alone whatever the perv imagines my dick to look like. I have no idea how that is ok. Fuck that guy.
@116 "Someone made a comment about being offended if she hadn't been on the list. So now one guy puts himself in the position of deciding who the legit local female artists are."

Yeah that was exactly my issue, combined with the fact that this kind of legitimizing happens often in this art community on a peer-to-peer level. Of course it practically makes the artworld-at-large go round, but when you're talking alternative or DIY practices, it feels at worst really false, at best incredibly paradoxical. It's really interesting how gender plays a role in the ways we legitimize ourselves or wait for others to legitimize us.
@110: Good point.

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