GREETINGS FROM COWFORD, YOU GUYS!
So yesterday morning Clay Yarborough, our Bible-thumping City Council president, wandered into the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (we’re guessing he was lost?), and came across MOCA’s new Project Atrium exhibit, which we so happened to write about just this week. And lo and behold, in the midst of all the pretty pictures, he saw something disturbing: a picture of a woman, eight months pregnant, lying on a couch, her breasts exposed.
HER BARE. FUCKING. BREASTS. To the fainting couch!
Yarboroug fired off an email to Chris Hand, the mayor’s chief of staff, demanding that … well, why don’t you just read the whole thing for yourself?
From: Yarborough, Clay
Sent: Tuesday, November 25, 2014 3:41 PM
To: Hand, Chris
Subject: Pornographic display at MOCA
Upon entering the Laura Street doors today at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), I saw a large picture on display straight ahead hanging on the lower right corner of the gallery wall of a woman with bare breasts exposed and laying in a questionable position. Given that any member of the public, including children of all ages can enter, and are in fact encouraged to do so, as City Council President I take great offense on behalf of the people of Jacksonville that the City would accept this. The City of Jacksonville is currently budgeted to give MOCA $233,029 in taxpayer funds for the current fiscal year. Unless Mayor Brown supports this inappropriate, pornographic display, and accepts that anyone, including children can enter and see it, I insist that you immediately cause to be pulled all funding designated for MOCA for the current fiscal year or otherwise explain how this will be addressed within 24 hours.
I look forward to your response.
So, to recap: Clay Yarborough considers any artistic display of a woman’s breasts porn, and is so worried about said porn corrupting the innocent minds of Jacksonville children that he would just gut the museum’s funding unless it abides by his moral dictates, because Clay Yarborough has appointed himself our Great Moral Compass and has taken it upon himself to decide when we all should be offended.
Hand, who is nicer than we are and still needs Yarborough to pass that pension deal, did not call him an ignorant hayseed, though 20 bucks says that thought crossed his mind. Instead, he politely pointed out that MOCA’s funding is funneled through the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville — which, really, is the kind of thing a City Council president should know, but whatever — and hinted that, you know, there may be First Amendment issues with this sort of overt censorship.
Hand followed up a bit later:
I walked over to MOCA this morning so that I could see for myself the display you referenced below. Attached is the brochure of the exhibit, which explains that “Photographer Angela Strassheim illustrates transitional points in our lives – particularly the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence – in this Project Atrium exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida. Many photographs feature her nieces and nephews at several phases of their lives, and half have never been exhibited before.”
The photograph you cited appears to be a woman who is seven or eight months pregnant reclining on a couch. I did not see any other photographs with nudity, so I assume that is the one you meant.
To which Yarborough responded: “Is the building in which MOCA operates owned by the City?”
Well, yes, it is, and that’s where the email chain ends, at least as of end of business today. TV news crews have already caught wind, so expect Yarborough to be properly humiliated into backing down here soon enough.
In the meantime, I caught up with MOCA Director Marcelle Polednik, and asked her what she thought when things like this happened — things that, quite frankly, don’t happen in more sophisticated cities.
“Philosophically,” she replied, “it's an interesting moment. It tells me several things. As a contemporary art museum we’re doing our job well — provoking dialogue — and to grow and engage in dialogue that may not have previously been engaged in.”
As she points out, nudes are firmly rooted in the firmament of the artistic realm — they have artistic merit. They aren’t obscene. They aren’t pornographic.
And Clay Yarborough is most certainly not the City’s Official Arbiter of what’s decent, no matter how much he thinks he is.
UPDATE: Folio Weekly writer-at-large Susan Cooper Eastman secured a statement from Yarborough via text message. It went like this:
“It stunned me to walk into a City-owned building and be greeted by a large picture of a naked woman, particularly because the tenant is receiving over $230,000 in General Fund taxpayer dollars through the Cultural Council this fiscal year. The picture is in plain view of anyone entering, including school children. I notified the Mayor’s Office yesterday after seeing it and attempted to reach the Mayor today to find out whether he supports or opposes the pornography remaining in place, but I have not received a response. This issue works against our efforts to promote a family-friendly Jacksonville and downtown. I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it ‘art,’ we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.”
Yarborough did not answer our question about whether he considers all art that features breasts porn, or if there is a level of boob exposure that he considers acceptable.
UPDATE 2: As former Folio Weekly editor Anne Schindler and managing editor John E. Citrone have informed me on Facebook, this is the same Clay Yarborough who once tried to get all Folio Weekly distribution boxes removed from city property because he took offense to a cover story John wrote on BDSM, which had entirely too much sexytime for Clay’s taste.
UPDATE 3 (last one, as I’d really like to get this long weekend started): And here is the official statement from the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville:
The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.
Council President Yarborough's objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the "transitional points" in life - "the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence" - opened to rave reviews last week. We're proud to have an organization of MOCA's caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it's executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.
UPDATE 4 (because who needs vacay anyway?): The headline and URL have been altered to remove the word “boobs,” because apparently Facebook’s algorithm, like Clay Yarborough, does not like them, and all posts that linked to this story up and vanished overnight.