Brooke Shields nude photograph causes controversy at Tate exhibition
Published 30/09/2009 | 09:01
A provocative nude photograph of a 10-year-old Brooke Shields is to go on display at the Tate Modern, to the fury of children's campaigners who branded it a "magnet" for paedophiles.
The child actress is shown standing naked in a bathtub, staring directly at the viewer, with a heavily-made up face and an oiled torso.
The image is by Richard Prince, a New York artist, and is the centrepiece of the Pop Life: Art In A Material World exhibition at the Tate. So controversial is the photograph that it has been separated from the other exhibits and hangs in its own room behind a closed door. A notice on the door warns visitors that they may find the work "challenging".
It is the first time that the piece, entitled Spiritual America, has been displayed in a British gallery, although it has been shown in the US. The Tate consulted lawyers before including it in the exhibition, which opens on October 1.
A Tate spokesman said: "As with any artwork that contains challenging imagery, Tate has sought legal advice and evaluated the situation. Tate has taken measures to inform visitors of the nature of the work, providing information outlining the intentions of the artist."
Prince's work is actually a photograph of a photograph. The original was taken by Garry Gross, a US photographer, in 1975. It was commissioned by Shields' mother, who was intent on turning her little girl into a child star. Shields' first starring role, aged 12, saw her play a child prostitute in Louise Malle's Pretty Baby.
In 1981, Shields made an unsuccessful attempt to buy back the negatives. A judge ruled that she was a "hapless victim of a contract... to which two grasping adults bound her". The legal battle caught the eye of Prince, and he describes Spiritual America as a commentary on Shields as an "abstract entity".
Prince described Shields' appearance in the photograph as "a body with two different sexes, maybe more, and a head that looks like it's got a different birthday".
Children's campaigners reacted with dismay to the exhibition. Michele Elliott, founder of Kidscape, said: "Brooke Shields was 10 years old when this picture was taken. She could not have given informed consent to it being used. It must be bordering on child pornography. It is certainly not art.
"If you are using a picture of a naked child to bring people to your exhibition, then you are exploiting that child. It's as if they are using a 10-year-old girl for bait. I find it disturbing and they should be ashamed of themselves. And putting the picture in a room with a warning outside really is a magnet for paedophiles."
The Metropolitan Police is aware of the exhibition's content and said that "any complaint by a member of the public would be considered".
In September 2007, Northumbria Police seized a photograph of two naked girls from Gateshead's Baltic gallery. The picture, shot by Nan Goldin and owned by Sir Elton John, was later returned after the Crown Prosecution Service deemed it was not an indecent image.