How the 20th century New York pop art brigade and its middle class sexist followers are too hypocritical to stand up and identify child abuse when they see it

I guess one should never be surprised by the hypocrisy, sexism, and downright inhumanity of those who dwell in the higher echelons of the publishing, literary and art worlds. It's the same all over the world.

Edifying news this week of Emma Tamburlini's legal battle to destroy footage taken by her famous father, Larry Rivers, of herself and her sister, beginning when she was 11 years old and going through puberty. The girls, it is reported, were told to strip naked every six months so Daddy could film their growing breasts. For five years he continued, filming their genitalia and getting them to talk about their relationships with their boyfriends. All in the name of art, of course.

And how Emma suffered. At 16 she was anorexic, but her father dismissed this as "middle-class".

Ha! Nothing could be more bourgeois than using shock, surely, to thrill the dull matrons and their rich husbands into buying art? Oh yes, Rivers knew all about middle-class, he was dirty old man middle-class masquerading as high art, and getting away with it all the way to the bank.

As is the Rivers Foundation today. New York University, which has purchased all the Rivers archives from the Foundation, looked set to follow in the same footsteps, at first merely expressing "sympathy" for Emma, now 43, who is terrified the footage will be publicly displayed. But after the story came to light, NYU now says it doesn't want the series of films and videos titled Growing. The Rivers Foundation, however, is still unable to say what it will do with them.

Why? Because it's art, dahling, and the show must go on, and the film represents Rivers' commitment to shock and outrage.

There are many ways to shock and outrage, and breaching property rights is one of them. Just whose body is it in these films? And is an 11-year-old able to give consent?

Artists, writers and publishers are the first to cry foul when someone breaches copyright, and (correct me if I'm wrong Andrew Geddis) but I'm sure the "shock and outrage as art" defence wouldn't get the defendant very far in court.

And before anyone starts thinking about comparing this case with literature, such as Lolita - don't. First, Lolita is a novel so there is no real victim. And secondly, my take on Lolita (and I've read it several times, including one version with a foreword by Nabakov) is it's a cautionary tale, not a recommendation for underage sexual relationships. 

Emma Tamburlini is more than just a human being at the centre of this case. She's the daughter of a famous artist who abused her. Now she's abused again by the organisations who kid themselves that child porn is art. And if you agree with them, answer me this:

If George W. Bush had stripped his daughters naked and filmed their breasts, and their genitals every six months until they were 17 years old, then the movies had ended up in the national archives, do you really think the Manhattan art scene would have stood around in DKNY, sipping champers, air-kissing and saying, "Isn't it marvellous, dahling?"

 

Comments (28)

by Tess Rooney on July 21, 2010
Tess Rooney

Well said. These films should be given back to Emma Tamburlini for her to destroy if she wishes.

An article you may be interested in was published in Der Spiegel - The Sexual Revolution and Children, How the Left Took Things Too Far, by Jan Fleischhauer and Wiebke Hollersen. It makes for very interesting reading and shows the apologetics for sexual abuse.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,702679,00.html

 

by Anthony Behrens on July 21, 2010
Anthony Behrens

Dear Deborah

I guess artists are like writers...some create well thought out pieces...and some don't. Some create offensive drivel...others don't.

Your lack of understanding of modern art is understandable but your lack of logic is a bit baffling.

I would imagine the Rivers Foundation hasn't decided what its going to do with the work yet, not because it's art...but because they're freaking out about the sh!t storm.

Yes...the guy sounds like a complete nut-job...don't tar all art and arty fartys with the same brush just cos you need to come up with something to rave about.

You've read Lolita several times? Wow

 

by Deborah Coddington on July 21, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Tess: Thanks for that article - echoes of Bert Potter and the Centrepoint Community. Be interesting to know how the lives of the German children have been affected, in light of the recent research which came out of Massey University.

Anthony: You accuse me of not understanding "modern art" so are you endorsing this project of Rivers' as "modern art"? Why not counter my argument with one of your own, instead of reverting to personal insults. I have written a few books about contemporary art, too. Wow. 

by Andrew Geddis on July 21, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Deborah,

Artists, writers and publishers are the first to cry foul when someone breaches copyright, and (correct me if I'm wrong Andrew Geddis) but I'm sure the "shock and outrage as art" defence wouldn't get the defendant very far in court.

Depends what you are charged with! If it's section 124 of the Crimes Act ("Distribution or exhibition of indecent matter") then you might want to consider ss.2: "It is a defence to a charge under this section to prove that the public good was served by the acts alleged to have been done." I'll await Graeme Edgeler's refined take on the issue ...

As for the substance of this post ... I agree that this bloke Rivers (of whom I had never previously heard) sounds like a perverted nutjob as well as being an artist. But where's the line in the presentation of young bodies as "art"?  Is this how society should respond to public displays of nude teens? Or this? Even when this is the final conclusion? And what happens when a 13-year-old model turns 21 and regrets her/his previous posing? Does that turn the piece from "Art" to "Abuse"?

by Graeme Edgeler on July 21, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Andrew - and you might want to consider subsection (6). As these are photographs, section 124 of the Crimes Act can have no application to them.

Artistic merit is one factor taken into account by the classification office in assessing whether something is objectionable. Without having (or wanting to see) these photographs, as they are described, they could well be objectionable under New Zealand law. Nudity, even child nudity, isn't automatically banned, but with the way they're described, it may be the sort of sexualised nudity that can fall foul of that law. Certainly not a slam dunk, however. As to public dsiplay, you'll need to consider s 129 of the Film, Videos and Publications Classifications Act.

I had first thought that Deborah wasn't so much concerned with whether it might be indecent to create this film, but whether the act itself is criminal. Ignore the filming, and consider what the legal consequences of getting your kids to do this this should be. It's disappointingly difficult to work out an appropriate offence - it doesn't quite fit with the harm requirement of child cruelty (s 195), and doesn't seem to naturally fit within "doing an indecent act" within s 131(3) - but that's as close as I can get.

But to end on a lighter note - the story about G-rated "pornography" is hilarious.

by Deborah Coddington on July 22, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Andrew - I was referring to breaching copyright, not indecency. If I plagiarise, or pinch someone else's work, that is, in principle breach property rights, and get sued, then I doubt there is an artistic defence. I doubt I could excuse it in the name of art. To me, stealing someone else's creativity, whether that be painting, drawing, writing, poetry, etc, is breaching property rights, the same as stealing their right to privacy over their body.

Graeme: Isn't it enough that the daughters did not consent to this? They were below the age capable of giving consent, therefore it is illegal, and inexcusable, art or no art? If it wasn't an artist, he'd be prosecuted.

by william blake on July 22, 2010
william blake

Deborah you say you have written on art, I did not know this; what field?

Given your art historical knowledge could you fill us in on some of Larry Rivers background. Something about his other work, and what his contemporaries were up to at that time.

If Larry Rivers has crossed a line I would be very interested in the work that comes up to of sits on the point of transgression.

Is it useful to compare this body of work to Germain Greers book on the female gaze? where she was simplistically accused of paedophillia?

by Anthony Behrens on July 22, 2010
Anthony Behrens

Deborah,

In accusing you of not understanding modern art, I qualified it by saying it's understandable...why?...because I don't understand it either...and I guess that's the point. Modern art is about a conversation.

The guy you write about is a creep. But you use the opportunity to insult everyone else in modern art community. It's your job I guess...to get people annoyed enough to write in.

You can choose to misinterpret my comments if you like...but I think your argument is shallow.

Having said that, I'll be researching your books on modern art...they sound like they might be interesting.

by william blake on July 22, 2010
william blake

Andrew I still think the final interpretation of Bill Hensons nudes is a bit off the mark. The justification by context holds true when applied to a body of visual research in a galley, but when the images are put on the gallery flyer as advertising, it runs foul of peoples right not to look and becomes entangled in the murky world of commerce.

Mixing nude teenage girls and money is almost a definition of pornography.

by Andrew Geddis on July 22, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Deborah,

"If I plagiarise, or pinch someone else's work, that is, in principle breach property rights, and get sued, then I doubt there is an artistic defence. I doubt I could excuse it in the name of art."

Not precisely my area, but you'd need to look at the Copyright Act 1994, ss.67-78.

"To me, stealing someone else's creativity, whether that be painting, drawing, writing, poetry, etc, is breaching property rights, the same as stealing their right to privacy over their body."

I'm not sure it really helps to conflate copyright and privacy interests as species of property rights. For one thing, copyright can be sold. Privacy can't. For another, the two may come into direct conflict ... if I take a photo of a building and happen to capture the image of a topless woman in the act of pulling her curtains, whose "property right" takes precedence? Mine as "creator" of the image (copyright owner) or hers as "owner" of her body (privacy owner).

"Isn't it enough that the daughters did not consent to this? They were below the age capable of giving consent, therefore it is illegal, and inexcusable, art or no art?"

Evenif we agree that Rivers' actions lie beyond the pale, can this principle be generalised? According to it, Henson's work (which I refered to in my last comment) also is illegal and inexcusable as a form of "art". William seems happy with that conclusion. I wouldn't be - I think it pathologises the image of children's bodies and automatically assumes any representation of them in the nude has purient purposes. Where would you sit on this perhaps more representative case?

by Deborah Coddington on July 22, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Anthony: I didn't "choose" to misinterpret your comments, I accidentally misinterpreted them. Some contemporary art I do understand, if understanding can be defined as enjoying it, buying it, and hanging it on my walls to take pleasure from what it does to me each day. And if I can't afford to do that, then I can visit galleries or purchase books, etc. Other art leaves me cold, or is just silly. But it's all subjective. Or crap.

I don't insult everyone in the art community, that way I'd be insulting some of my own children (who don't share my surname). My article talks about those in the "higher echelons". I'm referring to art administrators. They are usually the culprits. The hangers-on. The would-be's-if-they-could-be's. The ones the creatives have to kiss arse because they have their favourites. They are the witches and warlocks. How many really good artists were overlooked because of Rivers' porn? We won't know.

My books? Probably no longer in print and I'm not an art historian nor an art academic. Funny how in NZ one does seem to be disqualified from the art debate if one is just an "ordinary commentator". When I lived with, and worked for, Alister Taylor, the main one I wrote was Robin White New Zealand Painter, and I edited numerous others including Robin Morrison From The Road, Marti Friedlander's Contemporary NZ Painters, and I had a large collection of contemporary NZ paintings and photographs - all sadly gone.

William: Yes, Rivers' behaviour is creepy, but he's not totally talentless which is why he didn't need to do this. You can do your own research on him. You surely have heard of the Chelsea Hotel brigade? I haven't read Greer's book you mention about paedophilia, only The Female Eunuch, and Daddy We Hardly Knew You.

by Deborah Coddington on July 22, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Andrew: Evenif we agree that Rivers' actions lie beyond the pale, can this principle be generalised? According to it, Henson's work (which I refered to in my last comment) also is illegal and inexcusable as a form of "art". William seems happy with that conclusion. I wouldn't be - I think it pathologises the image of children's bodies and automatically assumes any representation of them in the nude has purient purposes. Where would you sit on this perhaps more representative case?

No I'm not happy with that either, otherwise I'm clearly breaking the law too, with all those innocent pics of my kids happily splashing about in the paddling pool, starkers, which they didn't consent to being taken. And what if I now put them on Facebook? Same principle isn't it?

But digging into the Rivers case it's deeper. I don't think you can take it, then generalise all child nude photography as taken for sexual gratification. Rivers, according to his daughters, forced them to strip. He filmed their developing genitalia. He got them to talk about their sexual relationships with their boyfriends. They felt discomfort over this. Emma, at least, developed psychological problems which her father dismissed. She has fought a legal battle - all she wants is the films destroyed (though I bet someone's made copies by now) because she's terrified they'll be publicly shown in the name of art. Somehow I can't put this in the same basket as consenting to artistic naked - not lewd - photos being taken, then changing your mind when they're shown in a public gallery. These Rivers films have never been publicly displayed, but I would definitely argue that any attempt to screen them would be solely for prurient purposes (and of course it would be extremely lucrative). Anyone who tried to pass it off as high art, or film festival stuff, would be a charlatan.

by Anthony Behrens on July 22, 2010
Anthony Behrens

Deborah,

I probably agree with everything you said...I took offence at the way you said it though...possibly because the media seems to delight in the "shock-jock" type casual abuse of groups who are easy targets...and yes galleries full of liberals quaffing gallons of cheap wine, poured into expensive looking bottles while they inspect the latest offering of some emperor-with-no-clothes intellectual wannabe is easy. It's just that easy is annoying.

Having said that, would you like to come to the next show I'm in...it's called Calendar Girls and is at the Rayner Brothers Gallery in Whanganui. My painting is of a young naked woman, slaughtering a whale with a knife, while the whale eats a squid. You'll be pleased to know the woman in question is smoking a pipe and wearing a fig leaf.

There is sure to be lots to offend on show. The room is likely to be full of wannabes, hangers on, the occasional administrator, arse kissers,witches and warlocks. It opens 6th August 2010.

Don't stop writing about art just because I've been a little bit annoyed...most art writing is pompous drivel. At least your conversation is intelligible...shallow yes, but readable.

As for Rivers...you're right, they should give the films to the daughter so she can destroy them.

by Andrew Geddis on July 22, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Deborah,

There's a famous quote by a UK Judge (Lord Steyn): "In law context is everything." I suspect the same is true for Art ... and by everything you've told us about Rivers, the context here makes me think the film in question falls on the "not-art" side of the line. That seems to be the conclusion of everyone else who has commented, also.

That said, it doesn't overly surprise me that the Manhattan Art World thinks different ... I've seen enough Woody Allan movies to suspect that the moral compass of many in that part of the world is completely screwed up!

by Graeme Edgeler on July 22, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

They were below the age capable of giving consent, therefore it is illegal, and inexcusable, art or no art? If it wasn't an artist, he'd be prosecuted.

My question is basically "prosecuted for what?".

The age of consent is relevant to sexual offending (and irrelevant anyway to intra-family offending). Isn't it enough that they didn't consent? Well no. You still have to find a crime before consent or the lack thereof will be relevant.

He took some photos without consent. It's generally not a crime to take photos without consent, and it's generally not a crime to display photos taken absent consent as art (there might be some breach of privacy, but not a crime): but what extent does the nature of those photos impact on this in a legal sense? I see two immediate options:

1. the photos may be objectionable (i.e. child pornography). However this isn't clear. If they're objectionable they're illegal, and it's illegal to make them. If they aren't objectionable, then they're not illegal.

2. the taking of the photos may involve doing an indecent act on a dependent family member. It doesn't seem to fit the natural words of the offence, but its the closest I can get.

If you're trying to consider consent, you need to consider "consent to what", and "is that 'what' a crime?"

by Deborah Coddington on July 22, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Anthony, your art could not shock me more than my daughter's art shocks me (and I am not a prude!). I sit in her studio and don't know where to look. At least she paints works for me which I can hang on my wall, but when I take photos at her exhibition openings, I have to crop them to show her grandma. But (and this is relevant to this debate) when she graduated from Elam, they made her censor her final display as R18 - Auckland University, our last bastion of freedom! They were going to make her curtain off the paintings from sensitive folk. These were paintings, not photographs.

So pax, and thank you for making me chuckle. I accept I was overly defensive. I would love to come to your exhibition and I am but a car drive away, but I will be overseas for the opening - back on 18th August - how long is it on for? I do like the metaphor of the painting you describe - very clever.

By definition (I am a journalist - a journeyman, not a writer) my writing is provocative and shallow. I would hate to write into a vacuum. It only lasts a few days.

Graeme, I fear I am out of my depth trying to battle this any further with you so may leave it to Andrew, or cheat and wait until he with the legal brain comes home.

by Anthony Behrens on July 22, 2010
Anthony Behrens

Nice reply Deborah.

There is nothing wrong with shallow...nothing wrong with journalism either.

And if I'm not wrong, you've succeeded in generating some heat on this website which is why you're here is I spose...

Art that exists to shock is so 1916...journalism/commentary that exists to shock is getting to the same point. (I'm not trying to be clever and digging at you...its aimed at all commentators who choose heat over light - and there's about a billion of them)

http://www.raynerbrothers.com/

pax...until next time

 

 

by Anthony Behrens on July 22, 2010
Anthony Behrens

"I do like the metaphor of the painting you describe - very clever."

Sorry...one more thing...Metaphor?...I'd love to know what that would be, cos I don't know what it means...

Modern art eh...?

by william blake on July 22, 2010
william blake

Deborah, an unsatiafactory response, if you are going to chuck out a piece on censorship because that is what this is all about isn't it? You have to know the context of the art surrounding the ones you have vaguely described. (I notice that you say that the films have never been shown; was this the artists intention perhaps?

Germaine Greers book on the female gaze had HER labeled as a paedophile by people like you not reading things properly.

Andrew unsatisfactory response, I posited that the commercialisation outside of the controlled environment of the gallery equated to the change in the status of the works from art to just another form of commercial exploitation. I love the human form and im not impressed when it is used as a lure.

There are several noted photographers who have exhibited images of their growing naked children, I find these images hard to look at, especially at a certain point around puberty, however the artists are seemingly, along with you Andrew merely stating that the human body is natural and any fear or shame is invested in the viewer.

With few exceptions the children portrayed in these images have grown up and  wanted the photographs censored. Very few have suceeded.

 

by Andrew Geddis on July 23, 2010
Andrew Geddis

"I posited that the commercialisation outside of the controlled environment of the gallery equated to the change in the status of the works from art to just another form of commercial exploitation."

I don't understand this comment. Are you saying that "Art" can only happen in particular locations (in which case a Banksy piece goes from being not-Art when on a street to becoming Art when hung in a gallery)? Or are you saying that trying to sell "Art" automatically makes it "not Art" (in which case, has Van Gogh gone from being Art when he was alive and no-one would buy his stuff to not Art now that it changes hands for millions of dollars)? After all, what reason is there for the "controlled environment of gallery" except to lure the viewer into splurging a large wad of cash on buying the work in question?

As for photographers using their own kids in their work, I suspect anyone who thinks this is a good idea has parenting issues that run deeper than questionable views on the nature of Art.

by Deborah Coddington on July 23, 2010
Deborah Coddington

Graeme you are right (and given we're talking NZ law here, setting aside these films were made in New York, so I'm not sure whether they fall under Federal or State law but let's ignore that at the moment) - taking photos without consent is not illegal. And that doesn't make them objectionable, and they'd have to go before our Chief Censor to be classifed as objectionable and for that to happen, there would have to be the intent for them to be displayed at some point. Then if they were displayed, then that would be illegal.

So, perhaps the crime, under NZ law at least, would fall under our privacy legislation?

At any rate, isn't this the stage when all the opposing counsel present their arguments before judge and jury and slug it out?

by Deborah Coddington on July 23, 2010
Deborah Coddington

William (eight, nine, ten) I didn't originally write a piece on censorship. Also, I have a strict word limit because of my contract with APN Media who kindly allow me to write for Pundit. Larry Rivers has done some good art, he influenced Warhol, among others. One of his most well-known pop-art pieces is four Camel packets. He was also a renowned jazz musician, had several wives/partners, lived in Europe for some time, and hung out at the infamous Chelsea Hotel. Rivers' modus operandi is to shock, but actually I find some of his works, his colours and styles, quite lovely. So there you go.

by Andrew Geddis on July 23, 2010
Andrew Geddis

"So, perhaps the crime, under NZ law at least, would fall under our privacy legislation?"

Except that the Privacy Act doesn't create any offences - the most you could do is complain that the work breached a privacy principle, and ask the Privacy Commissioner to take your side. But there's no direct way to enforce those principles through punishment/court action ... they hold moral suasion only.

However, possibly the actions might fall foul of the Crimes Act ss.216G-216N (prohibition on making intimate visual recordings). These provisions were intended to target creeps who secretly film/record people doing things like going to the toilet/getting changed in clothes stored, but they do prohibit making a "visual recording (for example, a photograph, videotape, or digital image) that is made in any medium using any device without the knowledge or consent of the person who is the subject of the recording ... ." Given the age of Emma and her sister, could it be argued she couldn't consent to her Father's recording of her changing body?

"At any rate, isn't this the stage when all the opposing counsel present their arguments before judge and jury and slug it out?"

Well ... only if there is something to slug out! If a Rivers-type situation arose in NZ, there are two (non-exclusive) options. One is that he might be charged with some offence (but as Graeme and I have indicated, it's difficult to know what offence that would be). The second is that Emma would either have to get from the Court an injunction prohibiting public display or a declaration that the work is her property. To get this, she'd have to show some basis in law for the order - that there's a legal foundation for her asserted claim. (For good reason, we don't just say to judges "please just Do The Right Thing in each case, as you see that Right Thing to be.") And the other side may claim there is not any basis in law for her claim (i.e. they may try to "strike out" her case, on the ground that it cannot possibly succeed). In which case, the substantive merits of her claim would never be tested. And finally, even if such a case did get a full trial, it would be before a judge alone - we don't use juries in NZ for civil matters (except defamation).

by william blake on July 23, 2010
william blake

Andrew all I am saying that when a flyer drops into your letterbox with a picture of a naked pubescent teenager on it there has been a serious lapse of judgement on behalf of that business.

 

Deborah. This is just tabloid, you do not engage with the issues while somehow reflecting in it. What will your next post be 'Hitler was bad' ?

by Andrew Geddis on July 23, 2010
Andrew Geddis

William,

Oh - I see ... your concern is about a failure of marketing strategy. And there I was, thinking you had something more to say ...

by Graeme Edgeler on July 23, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

we don't use juries in NZ for civil matters (except defamation).

They're rare, certainly, but not unknown for non-defamations: malicious falsehood would probably be tried by a jury, and you'll pretty much get them if you ask for a malicious prosecution or a false imprisonment civil trial as well.

Justice Hammond once presided over in a claim for malicious continuation of a civil proceeding, resulting in one of my favourite judgments (Rawlinson v Purnell Jenkison & Roscoe [1999] 1 NZLR 479 (HC)). And the same Mr Rawlinson also had a claim of misfeasance in a public office in respect of a judge heard by a jury, although the matter was ultimately withdrawn from them.

by Deborah Coddington on July 23, 2010
Deborah Coddington

The second is that Emma would either have to get from the Court an injunction prohibiting public display or a declaration that the work is her property. To get this, she'd have to show some basis in law for the order - that there's a legal foundation for her asserted claim. (For good reason, we don't just say to judges "please just Do The Right Thing in each case, as you see that Right Thing to be.") And the other side may claim there is not any basis in law for her claim (i.e. they may try to "strike out" her case, on the ground that it cannot possibly succeed). In which case, the substantive merits of her claim would never be tested.

Slightly different medium, but I do know, because I've had the experience, that you can get a barrister to write to someone you know is threatening to publish, or give to a newspaper to publish, personal letters and papers, telling them that if they proceed with that action you will immediately proceed with applying for an injunction (or whatever the legal terminology is). If you take pre-emptive action, you have greater chance of getting an ex parte injunction (I think). Is that correct Graeme. In this Rivers case, Emma is taking legal action to get the films/photos destroyed, or prevent publication. So it is similar. I suppose with letters, the writer owns the copyright, but the receiver owns the letters.

William, you've lost me. Wouldn't I be stating the obvious if I said Hitler was bad? I thought tabloid refers to the format. 

by Graeme Edgeler on July 24, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Having tried to obtain informal settlement would definitely be a factor in your favour seeking to get a without notice inunction [injunction is the legal terminology, but please don't try to backform it into a verb :-) ]. Not being 100% sure of what you're saying, you are also more likely to get an injunction before publication - if it's out there already, you're more likely to have to seek monetary damages.

I'm not sure your analogy with letters is an apt one. The person who created the work is Rivers, not Emma. His copyright and his ownership. There might be some use of likeness-type argument in the US, but she might also have some success under something like proceeds of crime legislation. Find a crime that was committed (child endangerment springs to mind from my following of US cop shows) and have the state seize and destroy it as criminal property... But I'm really just speculating now.

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