Censored art from around the world finds a second chance at Barcelona’s Museum of Banned Works

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A drawing of Donald Trump naked. A punching bag statue in the shape of a woman’s torso. A display of women’s party shoes standing proudly on prayer mats. They are all pieces of contemporary art that have sparked controversy and sometimes violent reactions.

These and dozens of other pieces that have been subject to some sort of censorship have found a home in Spain at the Museum of Forbidden Art in Barcelona, ​​or “Museum of Forbidden Art” in Catalan. The collection of more than 200 works, including works by famous creators such as the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and the Spanish photographer Pablo Picasso, aims to challenge visitors and question the limits imposed on artists in the world. An increasingly polarized world.

Museum director Rosa Rodrigo said the museum is the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to art that has faced petitions – often successful – to remove it from public display for moral, political, religious, sexual or commercial reasons.

“The museum gives an opportunity to works of art that, for whatever reason, have been banned, attacked, censored or canceled, because there are so many of them,” Rodrigo told the Associated Press.

The museum is the creation of Catalan art collector Tatxo Benet, who owns all but one of the 42 works currently on display – plus another 200 works in storage. He was already collecting contemporary art when he began collecting “banned” works.

Five years later, Binet’s idea became the Museum of Forbidden Art, which opened its doors in October. Since then, more than 13,000 people have visited its exhibitions.

As more works come under attack, people like art critic and curator Gabriele Luciani say the exhibition is necessary. “I think it is necessary to have a place like this in Europe and around the world. Especially in these moments of censorship that we are experiencing. Not only in the arts but also in other political contexts.”

In March, a department store in Hong Kong Download a digital artwork Which contains hidden references to imprisoned dissidents. That same month, on the other side of the world, he was the principal of a Florida charter school He was forced to resign After a parent complained about a Renaissance art lesson that included Michelangelo’s statue of David.

Barcelona’s new museum houses famous and controversial works, including Andrés Serrano’s “Pissing Christ,” an image of a crucifix submerged in a vat of the artist’s urine; As well as Mapplethorpe’s “X Portfolio”, images of sadomasochism that were challenged in court on charges of obscenity.

“I think the collection could be more shocking,” Luciani said.

But works by women, which have drawn energy from conservative religious groups or been suppressed for their feminist content, are among the strongest in the collection.

“Silence,” an installation by French-Algerian artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah that displays 30 pairs of high-heeled shoes on the same number of Islamic prayer rugs, dominates the center of the room. Bouabdellah agreed to remove his works from a museum in Clichy, France, after 2015 Paris attacks against Charlie Hebdo staff A satirical newspaper published cartoons insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

The physical assault of women is depicted by Kazakh artist Zoya Valkova in Evermust, a leather sculpture of a woman’s torso as a punching bag. It was one of six works removed from a museum in Kyrgyzstan when an exhibition of women’s art came under fire from officials who said it went against traditional values.

While most of the works are from the 21st century, Goya, Picasso and Klimt all have their place in the halls of the elegant modernist palace that houses the museum. Goya had to sell his “Los Caprichos” prints made in the late 1790s to the Spanish Crown when he feared they would come under the scrutiny of the Inquisition, while Picasso saw his “Suite 347” of erotic drawings on display in a private room in Paris in the 1960s.

Although censorship has taken many forms, the museum makes clear that the drive to silence artists who submit difficult work is still alive and kicking.

“Censorship of art has always existed because artists are always pioneers and touch on different topics,” Rodrigo said. “(But) it is true that most of the works on display date back to the years 2010 to 2020. In those 10 years, in many different regions of the world, I think societies themselves saw a decline in values, because it was not necessarily the governments that acted (against works of art) Rather, it was society itself.

In 2016, Australian artist Elma Gore posted her full drawing of Trump on Facebook, and her account was closed due to obscenity and nudity. Gore believes the piece led to her being assaulted on a Los Angeles street.

After a series of canceled shows after he was accused of making inappropriate sexual comments to potential models, the late American painter Chuck Closea professor of photorealism, has a self-portrait on display at the Museum of Forbidden Art.

Commercial interests also played a role in stifling freedom of expression.

A video posted by Joshua Okon of an obese woman lying naked on a table at a McDonald’s restaurant, called “Freedom Fries,” has been removed from an exhibition in London, after members of the gallery’s board of directors, according to the Barcelona Museum, became concerned about damaging the fast food chain. Reputation.

The museum also includes several works that have been subjected to physical assault, including “Piss Christ.”

Spanish artist Charo Corrales’s painting “With Flowers for Mary,” which depicts the Virgin Mary masturbating, was cut down while on display in southern Spain after Catholic legal groups sued the work for offending religious sensibilities. It is now on display in Barcelona with an open wound in the fabric.

Rodrigo said his museum hoped it would not witness any attacks because visitors should prepare for shock. She also believes that by grouping these works, they produce a more balanced effect. In addition, she believes that the viewer will show respect and restraint when given the freedom to engage with provocative artworks.

“We want our visitors to feel comfortable, not like they are in a castle, because if we do that we will send the wrong message,” Rodrigo said.


Video journalist Hernan Muñoz contributed to this report.

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