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.”
I wanted to separate the post about the story itself from my opinion of the works and the situation because I don’t want the two getting clouded. plus it was already a very long post.
I think that to appreciate the Prince artwork it helps to know the story of the Gross artwork. My first reaction upon seeing the Prince artwork was sadness and creepiness. Then I saw the original. I am not publishing the original on this page in it’s entirety. I believe that this work is very sexualized and very inappropriate. as I dug further into the history of the piece I was further horrified by Shields’ mother selling her daughter and the rights to the works like that. the implication is that Brooke Shields had no say in the creation of the works- something that is backed up by the law suit a few years later. It is worse that the photographer and the magazines were affiliated with playboy.
Learning all this, I then took another look at the Prince re-interpretation. I was struck again by the sadness. this time, the work appeared to be a truthful look at a horrible reality. it seemed to condemn the original and emphasize the seedy setting. while the Gross photograph seemed to celebrate the sexualization of minors and child pornography this piece now seemed to condemn it.
do I find it uncomfortable? yes. it’s a difficult piece. it’s made more difficult by a further moral qualm I have – something that has little to do with the subject matter.
Prince made his career doing just what he did here, purchasing the rights to a work, photographing it and re-interpreting it somehow. the original photoshopping. I understand that legally everything Prince has done is correct. but the concept, to me, seems wrong. especially in the light of the legal battles which denied Brooke Shields the rights to the pieces. this artist was able to buy the works and bring them back out for the world to see.
So, the question on everyone’s lips is ‘is it art?’ the answer is a definite I don’t know. I have problems with the original, with the way the original was obtained and the way the re-interpretation was created. I have moral objections to the content matter and to the method of production. This piece however does create an emotional response. that is one of my criteria for art. It took the original and raised it to another level, but to be honest, the only direction the origional could go was up. the Gross photograph is definitely not art – I believe it was created with titillation and arousal as it’s objective and that makes it pornography in my books. the Prince version… I don’t know. what do you think? is it art?
(for the original story about this piece, the exhibition and to see the artworks in question please see my previous post – nude brooke shields at the tate causing furor)