Is nudity obscene?

Artist Patrick Scully has lost his most recent battle for the right to swim naked in a public area.

The founder of Patrick’s Cabaret, Scully’s own performances have often involved nudity. Last July he was ticketed for swimming at Twin Lakes in Golden Valley (it’s a misdemeanor offense to not wear proper attire in a public park, with the exception of theatrical, musical and other artistic performances).

Scully had intended to battle the ticket in court on the premise that he is an artist and was performing in the park that day.

PatrickScully.jpg

Patrick Scully

Photo courtesy of the artist

But the afternoon before the trial two additional charges were added, including indecent exposure. That meant if Scully lost the case, he would potentially be placed on the Minnesota Sex Crimes Registry. Scully posted on his Facebook page that “I did not feel that what I could gain in this struggle by trying to fight the new charge was worth what I might lose, if I lost fighting that charge.”

I will find other ways to work for my goals (resisting encroachment on artistic freedom and obtaining our collective right to be naked in the sun and water). The good news is that I am headed to Berlin in a few weeks where I can enjoy a month of being naked in various lakes without having to worry about such idiotic laws.

Scully pleaded guilty Wednesday, and was fined $378. If he’s charged with a similar crime in the next year, he will have to serve 60 days in the Hennepin County workhouse.

Ganymede.jpg

Ganymede and the Eagle, by Bertel Thorvaldsen is on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which is visited by 500,000 people each year, including tens of thousands of school children.

Image courtesy of the MIA

All this begs the question, is nudity obscene? Why is it we can stare at sculptures and paintings of naked men, women and children in a museum, but to see the real thing is considered by many to be vulgar?

In San Francisco, nudists recently protested to protect their rite to sit in a restaurant in the buff. While in Barcelona it only recently became illegal to walk the city streets naked.

Each society has its own standards in regard to what’s appropriate dress… but why the disconnect between what we are willing to look at in a gallery or a museum, and what we are willing to see “in the flesh?”

  • Deb Wallwork

    DuChamp hanging a urinal and signing it R. Mutt, was, arguably, the first performance, asking what exactly is art?

    A urinal hung on a gallery wall is no longer just a urinal. A nude, translated visually in paint, that urinal showed us, is similar, a complex of subjective ideas.

    Some art is vulgar, some art is obscene. Yet, there is a difference between a nude in a museum, and a nudist on a beach. A performance that is intended to call attention to a question or societal norm, like the placement of that urinal, represents. It actualizes, makes visual, invisible boundaries.

    That the Golden Valley police issues a ticket to Patrick Skully, one might say, makes them part of his performance, even integral to it.