Wednesday 26 September 2018

Painting of naked nymphs removed from gallery following #MeToo

John William Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs
John William Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs

Christopher Hooton

Is a pre-Raphaelite painting of nude nymphs in a pond tempting a man to his doom fit for display in the #MeToo/Time's Up era? This is the question being posed by Manchester Art Gallery, which has courted controversy by removing John William Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs from its walls.

The removal is only temporary, however, and appears to be more an act of trolling on the part of curators, the empty space where the painting hung being designed "to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection," with visitors sticking Post-it notes around the void offering their reaction.

Refuting accusations of censorship, gallery curator Clare Gannaway said "it wasn’t about denying the existence of particular artworks."

Instead, the hand-wringing seems to surround the room the painting normally hangs in, titled 'In Pursuit of Beauty'.

Gannaway said the name was a bad one, and confirmed to the Guardian that the #MeToo and Time's Up movement were in mind when the decision to take the Waterhouse out of it was made.

"For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner," she said of the room. "Our attention has been elsewhere ... we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long.”

It is not clear when the Waterhouse stunt will end.

“We think it probably will return, yes, but hopefully contextualised quite differently. It is not just about that one painting, it is the whole context of the gallery," Gannaway added.

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