Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Larry Rivers Tapes : Open Thread

Talk about a taboo topic and conundrum. Today's New York Times reports on the efforts by Larry River's daughter to get back tapes of her from the archive of her father's work. In the videos he reportedly photographed his two daughters over a number of years naked and talking about the development of their bodies. On the surface it would seem easy enough to say, Rivers' actions were debased and no one has any business insisting that the traumatizing videos aren't the rightful property of their subjects. But then there's the obligation of the foundation to protect the artist's work. Here's the Times account:
The archives of the proto-Pop artist Larry Rivers, who died in 2002, will arrive at New York University in a few weeks, filled with correspondence and other documents that depict his relationships with artists like Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol and writers like Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery.

But one part of the archive, which was purchased from the Larry Rivers Foundation for an undisclosed price, includes films and videos of his two adolescent daughters, naked or topless, being interviewed by their father about their developing breasts.

One daughter, who said she was pressured to participate, beginning when she was 11, is demanding that the material be removed from the archive and returned to her and her sister.

“I kind of think that a lot of people would be very uptight, or at least a little bit concerned, wondering whether they have in their archives child pornography,” said the daughter, Emma Tamburlini, now 43.

Ms. Tamburlini said the filming contributed to her becoming anorexic at 16. “It wrecked a lot of my life actually,” she said.

Her older sister, Gwynne Rivers, declined comment.

N.Y.U. has agreed to discuss the matter and has already, at the urging of the foundation, pledged to keep the material off limits during the daughters’ lifetimes. Two years ago Ms. Tamburlini asked the foundation to destroy the tapes, but it declined.

The Rivers Foundation’s director, David Joel, said that he sympathized with Ms. Tamburlini but that he could not agree to destroy the tapes.

“I can’t be the person who says this stays and this goes,” he said. “My job is to protect the material.”

The article goes into a lot more (disturbing) details about the videos and what might have prompted Rivers to shoot them. It also notes how the situation resembles the case of artist Jock Sturges whose photographs of adolescent and pre-adolescent girls in “naturist” communities (shot with their parents’ consent) led to an F.B.I. raid of his studio. (A grand jury declined to indict him.)

Reading how the videos made his one daughter in particular feel makes me want to side with them that they should receive them to dispose of as they see fit, but there's no doubt that Rivers saw the edited videos as a work of his art:
In 1981 Rivers edited the footage into a 45-minute film that he planned to show as part of an exhibition. The girls’ mother, Clarice Rivers, who also appears in parts of the film, intervened and stopped him.
The hardest part of reconciling my feelings about this is my hard-held opinion that no subject matter is, as a subject matter, immoral (see my post on the Art:21 Blog for more in-depth discussion of that position), even though actions taken to explore certain subjects might be. Does asking his daughters to do something that clearly made them uncomfortable qualify as an immoral action? I would say it does. Does that make the resulting video something immoral? I can't see how. It's a document, not the action. Would I sleep better if everyone agreed to give the daughters the tapes and they disappeared off the earth? Probably.

Consider this an open thread on whether the resulting art from immoral actions should be destroyed.

Labels: morality, open thread, video


Anonymous Anonymous said...

He took something from them. Giving them back the video doesn't give them back what they've lost but they deserve to have it to do with what they wish. Is it ok to destroy the video? I guess that somewhat depends on what one considers more valuable, being a good father or being a good artist.

7/08/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

NYU is going into the child pornography business? Will they have "private screenings"? Will they charge admission and be accused of pandering?

The curator should give them to the daughter to do with as she sees fit. Larry Rivers never seemed to get it right in his other art, obviously he's not so good with film either.

Trash them, no one will miss them.

7/08/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that this is not so much a morality issue as an ownership issue. Even the mother said he made the tapes for the daughters (if you really believe that...), but even beyond assuming that the tapes were supposed to belong to the daughters, can Larry Rivers lay an ownership claim to these tapes as 'his' art, or should his daughters be considered collaborators in the project? And if so, what rights should they have regarding the work?
It reminds me a lot of these stories I keep hearing about people whose DNA is being used for research without the doners being compensated, or sometimes, not even giving their consent...

Just give the tapes back, already!

7/08/2010 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Without seeing the film it's hard to draw too many conclusions. The topic itself, children at puberty, is interesting enough for an exploration. The difficulty created by Mr. Rivers is that he has defined a different situation by inserting himself into the equation.

No longer are we dealing with a young person contending with their budding sexuality, we now are dealing with their uncomfortableness in response to what are essentially, the incestuous advances of their father. This changes the focus from childhood innocence to one of predatory desires and makes the child a victim.

7/08/2010 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

even after the holocaust we grappled with the concept of scientific research and the 'morality' of utilizing their results. The concept of "informed consent", of voluntary participation became the desired norm ... (nazi medical research)
Recent murmurs of organ donation from prisoners out of the east raises similar debates of informed participation.

Even the recent experience of a webblog encouraging innuendo concerning gallery dealings and then justifying it all after wards by claiming it is only art, echos again this dilemma.

It is important to maintain a distinction between subject matter and the means of "gathering the data" if you will. If art turns its back on its humanity, it has nothing to offer humanity.

Not every memory is worth keeping.

Digital simulation will tear open this quandary even wider in our futures. What happens when you don't know if its Memorex or live or simulated.

7/08/2010 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I worked for Larry Rivers, restoring a piece, in the mid eighties, got to know him a bit and I can tell you he was a crazy, complex, funny guy. I last spoke with him a couple of years before his passing about his painting "Double Portrait of Berbie", which was part of the Whitney's "American Century" exhibition. (Berdie was his mother-in-law, and he'd stated that he'd like to have sex with her.)

After his death, I got together with a guy who had been his main assistant for years, and we talked about some of Larry's shenanigans. My friends brought up the subject of these videos, and all the aggravation they'd wrought on the family, his marriage, and his daughters, causing deep psychological scars that will effect them for life. My friend, having a young daughter himself, was especially sensitive to these issues. Despite our love and respect for Larry, we couldn't come to a satisfactory conclusion as to what to do in a case like this.

One of the issues this brings up is art's relationship to morality. Some influential local critics, for fear of being labeled as "moralizers", refuse to accept any notion of art having a moral responsibility. Other questions: should artists be granted some special status and allowed to "explore" any realm of interest without consideration of social norms? Who decides when, or if, art crosses the line? Has, as Dave Hickey postulates, the Feminist critique of the male gaze branded a whole spectrum of images as "toxic" succeeded? Would the sanctioning of these tapes encourage other artists to go even further?

None of these questions can be easily answered, and I wonder if Larry, despite the costs, isn't laughing about the little moralistic time bomb he set in motion thirty some odd years ago. Personally, I think the tapes should be preserved, though I'd wonder about anyone who wants to view them, myself included.

As time goes by there will be other befuddling events brought to light about Larry Rivers.

7/08/2010 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A middle aged man finds interest and pleasure in documenting the sexual development of young women. What a tired subject. I'm not sure exactly how it would have altered the morality of the project if they had been the underage daughters of someone else.

If Mr. Rivers had documented his naked feelings about his aging scrotum it would probably also embarrass the family but it would be a fresher subject.


7/08/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I don't agree in fine art being absolutely unbound with morality. Art functions only through human judgment, and therefore it is always subjugated to a moral flux depending on judgment (art without the viewer is simply non-art).

I think we can come all together in this situation, and judge that the aim to make a fine art piece has bypassed a basic humanist right, which is the right to not see yourself exhibited naked in all sorts of foreign places when you were photographed at an age where your consent was not yet reliable.

This is a case of "life's more important than art" and "art gots its limits (you can't do everything with art, it's bound to social context and acceptance)".
I've got a few arguments with artists in the past about this. Something about my opinions that humanity always (should) supersede on the arts. That you're always better if you directly go help victims of a war on field than making a majestic work of art about that same war (with the intention of bringing moral support or making a moral statement).

I know that I can probably find images of that Larry Rivers piece on the internet, where they will probably remain long after the original work is destroyed by the two women (if that indeed is what ends up happenning. If they don't mean to destroy it, than why bother?). But because of morality, I won't be attempting to look for them. It's a rare case where I won't do it (I don't take issues of art copyright seriously, but I take rights to body intimacy seriously).


Cedric C

7/08/2010 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Heart As Arena said...

"Does that make the resulting video something immoral? I can't see how. It's a document, not the action."

Actually, in this case the documenting is PART of the act of sexual abuse. There's nothing to argue about here.

7/08/2010 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Actually, in this case the documenting is PART of the act of sexual abuse.

Yes, but the documenting is the action...the document is not.

The video today is an inanimate object, no more moral or immoral (terms not applicable to non-humans) than any other object the artist created. As noted in the article, there has been discussion about not letting the video be viewed until after the deaths of the daughters. I know this is emotionally charged, but in an intellectual space, that is a consideration for those charged with preserving Rivers' art, IMO.

None of which is to say I want to see the videos (I'd be just as happy to know they had been destroyed), but I disagree with your conclusion, HeartAsArena. I believe there is an intellectual position to be discussed here.

7/08/2010 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Ed, if the documenting is immoral but the document is not, the same thing could be said of porn, including kiddie porn, snuff films, everything. The action has already been done, but it's still porn.

7/08/2010 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...


An abuse is an abuse is an abuse...
no matter how long it happens

how about the work of Morton Bartlett?
very kinky for some
totally naive and lovely for others


7/08/2010 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Document can serve as Evidence in this case. If the document is used for sexual arousal, or has a high potential of being used in that direction, it is also part of the action. That's why we condemn child pornography. We don't say "oh but those are just films, they are not the pornography".

Before claiming an opinion, I'd verify what the court law has to say about this. When is a visual object considered too "immoral" (or too much "a product of immoral act") to exist? Is child pornography destroyed or conserved as evidence by the police? (once a case is solved)

Cedric C

7/08/2010 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well, now you've done it Oriane. Required that we enter definitions and intentions into the discussion.

Legally, porn is the depiction of sexual behavior that is intended to arouse sexual excitement in its audience.

From the descriptions of Rivers' videos, I'm not sure they meet that requirement.

7/08/2010 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

for the record, I deleted a few overlapping redundant comments of mine.

7/08/2010 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Alright, but maybe the question is beside perversion. It's about someone claiming they are part of a media work for which they didn't give full consent. Something we will probably see a lot more happening in an era of Youtube and Facebook.

Cedric C

7/08/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Oh right, hence the term "art film".

I'm pretty laissez-faire about stuff like this - nudity, sexuality - except when it involves children. I don't think the supposed intent of the author is so important when there are traumatized people saying that they were coerced and that they don't want this stuff out there.

And having grown up in No Boundaries Land, I know about this stuff first hand. There are nude pictures of me as a child floating around somewhere and I would be mightily upset to come across them in some library or exhibition. But if they didn't have my name on them (or my parent's name, as in the Larry Rivers case) and they weren't discussed in the NY Times, it wouldn't be quite as bad. I really feel for these women to be again raked through this betrayal by their own father.

7/08/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

Abuse of trust, in case of being in front of the lents without have no idea about the consequences of, some decades after.
Porn is another chapter...

Regular folks think titties are porn.

7/08/2010 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

Wow, wild stuff, James Kalm.

Let's forget art for a moment, and its 'privileges'. When we document something awful, an atrocity, say, is the document or record equivalent to the atrocity? Do we thus justify their removal, expunging such documents from our cultural archives? Or do we instead regulate access to them?

Consider for a moment a rather different atrocity - one that became public, and hence politicized: the images from Abu Ghraib. Also consider the great trouble ICP went to later on, in the exhibition they mounted about these instances of torture. They took great pains to contextualize those photographs, most of which were classifiable as actual evidence, drawing attention to the actual problem of displaying documents when the act of display itself is very much part of the process of humiliation and victimization. (Obviously, they were not shown as art but as 'records' of a series of offenses... and for contrast, they were not framed, but positioned on the walls near 'art' - that is, photojournalistic images from the war...).

Do such materials that document or testify to immoral and repugnant acts have a meaning, a use essential to maintaining an open society? Is their preservation important?

Otoh, what about privacy in an open society? Without privacy, we have no dignity, no humanity, no civilization. And these videos were an invasion of more than just privacy, it seems. They reduced or negated the victims' sense of their own dignity and humanity (etc).

There is a difference - there *must* be a difference - between public events or atrocities, and private ones. My gut tells me that the wishes of the victim should be honored here; but my head tells me that destroying such records for all time is somehow, in some deep way, also immoral.

And what would the victims of Abu Ghraib feel about the fact that documents that embodied their victimization were being exhibited - context or no context - in an art museum - in America?! What about the public and the private in that case?


7/08/2010 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

How far we gonna get from drawing naked neonderthal women tits on caves to sexting with the whole Larry Rivers pre-pubercent, in between?

I don't know, but I imagine a machine that will read dirty people mind ( made in China ) pretty soon in the side walks of Canal Street

The curiosity will be always there.
Is mind boggling to me the desperation for dessicate every single act a provocateur artist does.

He she taking those tapes back to make a profit in the future?

Just asking


7/08/2010 07:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Marina said...

I was also reading the NY Times article about Larry Rivers archive and thought you might be interested in seeing my film, which is a documentary I made out of my own father's voyeurism. Although my father was not a famous artist, he documented himself watching me in inappropriate ways, just like Larry did to his daughters, even going so far as to say on tape "This is not for us now, but for you to look at 10 or 20 years from now." Chilling.

Emma Tamburlini said, “It wrecked a lot of my life actually." My father's archival process ruined mine as well, but by exhuming and exposing my father's documentation I discovered that parental voyeurism is widespread and remains a very taboo topic and that my film has opened up a conversation about it on the world stage.

I understand why Emma would say “I don’t want it out there in the world. It just makes it worse.” Every time I revisit my father's archive the pain is excruciating. I have been in therapy for 39 years, but nothing can compare to the healing I have achieved since I literally released the archive.

You can watch my 18 minutes of trauma cinema at

7/08/2010 10:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

stop child abuse now!

7/09/2010 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Yes, please do stop it now...but I still insist that's not the only issue worthy of discussion here. Even if it is the most obvious position to take. Joy did a great job of highlighting why I think this issue is complex.

7/09/2010 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't we go through this very topic already with Sally Mann in the 1980s? As I remember, not all of her children were happy to be photographed. Is it different because Larry Rivers is a man photographing his daughters and Sally Mann is a mother photographing her family? I made the distinction intentionally. We seem to see Larry Rivers as a man with something immoral on his mind and not as a loving father taking pictures of his daughters. I don't pretend to know what was on Larry Rivers mind at the time of the filming, but perhaps we should not be jumping to conclusions.

I know a father who got in all sorts of legal trouble because he gave his pre-school daughter a bath. Even though it was a necessity (the mother was absent) and he was cleared of any wrongdoing; because the law became involved, he is still suspect.
There is an old saying, "Heap see, few know."

Remember, we still lament the destruction of Sylvia Plath's final journal, even though Ted Hughes said he did it to protect their children. It is amazing how quickly information can disappear and leave a hole in our understanding of history.

7/09/2010 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

Does it all boil down to choosing between "History" and the "Individual"? We sort of need to honor both.

7/09/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Victoria Webb said...

Tough decision. When we cross the line of art requiring a standard of moral responsibility, we traverse state sanctioned art. There are scads of artists (mostly men) who have tiptoed not so quietly towards what some might call child abuse. Balthus - would anyone equate his work with Rivers' tapes? Maybe not, but it's just shy of what's being discussed.

Am I comfortable with Rivers' parenting skills? Nope. But Picasso wasn't so hot either. Do we judge artists on how well they live and parent?
Maybe this is like someone else said, an ownership issue.

7/09/2010 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Martha said...

Sounds like kiddie porn posing as art.

7/09/2010 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger isabelle said...

How about this for consideration: making art is a little bit like camping in the wild.... you have a moral obligation to leave the campsite in a slightly better condition than the way you found it.

Similarly, to me anyway, art needs to improve the world ever so slightly, or at the very least, not make it any worse. And I don't mean, showing beauty, blah, blah, blah, but in a way, make the community you live in, better. May be, it's more aware, or more open, etc.

So in this case, my question is: has the world in any way, shape or form improved by having this video exist?

My answer is a resounding no.

7/09/2010 02:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Marco said...

I do not consider the videos art; they are just documentation of a creepy piece of family history. Quietly returning them to the daughters, for me, would have been a no-brainer. I'm sorry, but nothing in Larry River's ouvre is more important than the health and privacy of these two daughters. Just how much documentation is needed to understand Larry River's (or any one elses for the sake of disscussion) work?

7/09/2010 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Marco said...

I do not consider the videos art; they are just documentation of a creepy piece of family history. Quietly returning them to the daughters, for me, would have been a no-brainer. I'm sorry, but nothing in Larry River's ouvre is more important than the health and privacy of these two daughters. Just how much documentation is needed to understand Larry River's (or any one elses for the sake of disscussion) work?

7/09/2010 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

It is amazing that everyone here has posted their opinions regarding these "artifacts" relaying on innuendo and Larry Rivers "odd" reputation despite what should be the ultimate test, having actually viewed them.

And to Anonymous Cathy who posited:" If Mr. Rivers had documented his naked feelings about his aging scrotum it would probably also embarrass the family but it would be a fresher subject." I applaud your interest in aging scrotums, but think you should find a more apt adjective than "fresher" to describe the old sack.

7/09/2010 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Cole said...

So in James Kalm's opinion, no one should comment on this until we all see it. Maybe he can organize a public viewing on The Great Lawn at Central Park. And when the daughter commits suicide . . . ?

Give me a break. We all know exactly what this is. And we all know exactly what Larry Rivers was up to. The daughter should sue his estate and NYU for damages and, what's more, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should step in and bring child pornography charges against anyone in possession of the film.

Minors, in the eyes of the law, can not consent. Her parent, who normally would be her legal representative, was in fact the perpetrator and acting on behalf of himself and against the interest of the child.

All of us have experienced abuse of one stripe or another, many at the hands of parents or within the familial realm. We get to deal with it privately, by ourselves or within therapy. In the case of Marina Hyman, she has chosen to make her own statement in her own way (and powerful it is).

This whole thing, for me, is reminiscent of the rampant pederasty within the Catholic Church. Today, while there has been some degree of justice, mostly remunerative, in many cases former priests have been publicly shamed, defrocked, or condemned to prison. But the damage is done. I know of at least five cases from my own past, where boys raped by priests resulted in horribly broken lives, leading to everything from drug and alcohol addiction to suicide.

For me, this begs the question, what will this do to the value of Larry Rivers's work and, if this issue had arisen while he was still alive (still within the statute of limitations) would he have been prosecuted?

What he did was selfish in the extreme and an extraordinary breach of trust. The fact that its affects are felt decades after the fact and long after his death aptly showcases the long shelf-life of these kinds of injuries.

7/09/2010 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

oh my...



no naked feelings about

stop old sack abuse too



7/09/2010 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

Oye vey!

there's no sigh of incest in the old testament?


Catholic Church

Are we going in muddy waters here?

We should create a facebook page to bring this movies back to River's daughters.

7/09/2010 09:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, you may be right about the word choice. Thanks for expressing your feelings about the subject. There is so much to know.

But even if papa Rivers had the very best intentions, why should they matter? What does calling his product 'art' or having the tapes qualify as art matter? Does the fact that he will be remembered by someone, somewhere, 20 years from now mean that his daughters are entitled to fewer rights and less human decency than the progeny of anyone else? His daughters don't owe their continued suffering to anyone or to history and shouldn't be forced to carry the burden.

7/10/2010 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Judith said...

As in that question, Do you save the art or the living animal from a burning house?, one should respect life. The daughter's life is more important and her wishes should be respected.

7/10/2010 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger Heart As Arena said...

1. Ed. You're right about the discussion. My exclamation really should have just been an exclamation point.

2. I'm down w/ Anon 9:23am. Pretty comfortable with burning history here in service to the victims' rights overtaking those of the academy. I don't see the academic payoff here any different than the fiscal profits a criminal might make from writing a book about his or her crime.

7/11/2010 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger Big No said...

Yes, but the documenting is the action...the document is not.

The document is not the action. But the action extends beyond the initial documenting. It is part of an extended activity that includes not just the creation of the work, but also its viewing and valuing. The work was created with an expectation that it would eventually be viewed. So by viewing the work, the viewer is fulfilling that expectation, participating in the action (playing his or her role), and inheriting some of the moral responsibility. Certainly some of Larry's motivation was knowing that the work would eventually be viewed and valued as part of his oeuvre. And those people who actively contribute to the work's value by participating in its commerce (or even just arguing for its preservation) bear even more responsibility than mere viewers. NYU and the Rivers Foundation should let the work be destroyed. In simple practical terms: by valuing documents created in an immoral way, we encourage future acts of immorality.

7/12/2010 02:00:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Big No, there's a short leap from saying the viewer inherits moral responsibility for viewing a work to concluding "I must not think bad thoughts." That's too anti-intellectual for me, I'm afraid. A bit too Big Brother as well.

Moreover, just because I view something doesn't mean I can't then condemn its author's actions. What I personally cannot do is condemn the author of a work I haven't viewed. I'll own any encouraging of future actions to comply with that standard.

7/12/2010 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

has it occurred to anyone that by destroying the tapes it isn't artwork that's being destroyed, but *evidence*?

I'm less invested in the fate of the individuals in this story than by the precedent that will be set by its outcome.

7/12/2010 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

A little from me before this topic scrolls off into eternity.

Not about the Larry Rivers, about which others have pretty much covered the bases, but about the more general question, what to do when bad people create good art. I actually struggle with this a lot. Here’s my list of hard cases.

Caravaggio – a murderer? I tell myself it’s just a rumor, nobody will ever know for sure, plus it was a long time ago. I don’t have a problem.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline – rabid antisemite. One of the greatest French writers of the 20th century, his 1932 novel Journey to the End of the Night has been for many a life changer. Were his dark excesses the result of paranoid schizophrenia or was he just bad? It’s an academic question for me since I haven’t read his work and probably won’t.

Martin Heidegger – Nazi collaborator who betrayed his Jewish mentor and champion Edmund Husserl. This one is a no-brainer for me. How could anyone expect as big a shit as he was to have any deep insights into Being or anything else?

Ezra Pound – Antisemite and Nazi sympathizer. Never cared about him much, but if I did I would be troubled.

Georges Dumézil – Nazi sympathizer. Kinda disappointed.

Roman Polanski – screwer of underaged girls. It was all a misunderstanding plus he was only one of many who did the same thing. Yeah right. I’m inclined to cut him slack, but why?

Woody Allen – screwed his own adopted daughter. My wife is implacable on this one. As a result we haven’t seen a Woody Allen film in 20 years. To be honest, I already sensed Allen was a sexual predator in the 70’s, but I did like his films. At some point I made the choice to remember him only through Zellig.

O. J. Simpson – murdered his wife. I’m resigned to not watching is old movies any more, much as I liked them before.

David Letterman – sexual exploiter of female subordinates. Never cared about him so no big loss.

Sally Mann – narcissistic relation to children (and husband?). Crossed her off my list after seeing how off she was in her art:21 spot.

Mel Gibson – alcohol-driven domestic abuser. Resigned to not watching any of his stuff ever again, even Mad Max.

Some nanny fucker/marrier who I’m blanking on at the moment. (Or are their ten of them?)

A slippery slope opening out into 20% of everybody. Where do you draw the line? Which art to you keep and which do you flush down the toilet?

7/12/2010 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger Big No said...

there's a short leap from saying the viewer inherits moral responsibility for viewing a work to concluding "I must not think bad thoughts."

Ed, I think we actually agree on a lot, but are coming at this from slightly different angles. Viewing an object can be unethical -- but only under certain conditions. I never suggested that thoughts (or objects) could be bad. And there is no slippery slope here. It's a pretty simple equation: if you take actions which promote and increase the likelihood of unethical actions by others, you bear non-zero responsibility. That's why it would be unethical for me to purchase child pornography, even though the worst action has already occurred, and I played no part in it. Its not because there is anything unethical about the pornographic tape as a physical object -- its because I would be providing incentive for future unethical acts. I would be participating in a larger system.

In some cases, merely viewing an object is an action which increases its value (if only a tiny bit). For example, when other people can find out that it has been viewed -- doubly so in a hyper-reputation-conscious culture like the art world.

NYU and the Rivers Foundation are doing something more than merely viewing. They are taking direct actions which increase the value of the tapes. Perhaps you think that the verbal description of the tape's content isn't awful enough to merit their destruction. But certainly you can imagine more gruesome scenarios in which you would be comfortable calling for the tapes' destruction and condemning NYU and the Rivers Foundation without personally seeing the tapes. Or are you arguing that the risk of censorship is always the greatest evil no matter how extreme the situation?

7/16/2010 12:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I agree with Big No:

When I refuse to look at a work of art because a woman tells me she's embarassed because it documents her naked breasts growing since she was a child, that's ETHIC. If I say "hey, let me look at it to see if it's THAT bad." That's UNETHIC. In this case, I'm not required to watch it, because justice should take care of it. I would watch it if my judgment was important to the issue.

What serves my sense of ethic? I know that if my father had filmed
the growth of my penis since a child, I'd feel embarassed about it. But self-image and sexuality is a complex issue. Some men would not feel embarassed by that at all. Some people are comfortable with their nakedness and sexuality for various reasons (they were used since young to see naked people walking around the house, etc..). Some people work in porn, others are very shy when they simply piss in a public bathroom. In sexuality, it's important to adress discomfort, and that not everybody sees sexuality the same way. What is nothing to you can be very embarassing to others.

So I refuse to watch the art more in respect to the "potential victim" than because of a belief in actual nasty intentions from the artist. This is not about the artist, his evilness or his innocence. Forget about Rivers' intentions. This is about how the portrayed person feels about her physical image.

Cedric C

7/16/2010 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


by that logic anyone who reads Nolita could be indicted...for how could you possibly know it's worthy literature and not just a conspiracy of perverts until you picked it up?

7/16/2010 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Lolita (I'm assuming that's what you meant) is a novel. Fiction. It doesn't portray any actual individual, so Cedric's point, which I agree with, doesn't apply to fiction. There are books, such as American Psycho by BE Ellis, which I refuse to read, because the subject, and the way violence against women is depicted (from what I hear - I haven't read it, but you make judgments based on reviews, word of mouth, etc.) offends me, but I don't advocate that it should be burned or not carried in libraries.

Also, why would a novel written by one person be considered a conspiracy of perverts? One pervert's nasty thoughts maybe.

7/16/2010 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"Nolita." Hah!!!!

Been spending too much time looking at real estate in New York obviously.

My point is that Cedric prejudged not only the content of the video but the motivations of any- and everyone who might want to take Rivers at his word and consider the video as "art."

There are options other than "to see if it's THAT bad" that might lead someone to view that piece should it be presented one day.

My parallel with Lolita (with an L) is drawn from how I first learned of it (and assume many others have), as that "naughty book"). The implication being clear in that description that only a pervert would want to read that sort of thing. (Mind you, this was in the mid-West, but....)

My further point is that until you read Lolita yourself, how could you possibly be sure that it's not just a perverted text. Some folks still decide, after reading it, that it is.

All of which is an argument for not ascribing "unethical" motivations to people who might feel River's declared artwork should be judged after viewing it, should they decide to do so, rather than before.

Not viewing it needn't be classified as a judgment, I would like to emphasize. As you point out, what you've heard about it might convince you it's not something you personally want to watch.

All of this is another matter after whether the daughter should have the right to destroy the video. I wouldn't lose any sleep if she did, but I won't just let charges of unethical behavior be lobbed about so irrationally.

7/16/2010 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

I liked Nolita. It made me think of Noli me tangere.

Lolita is a challenge.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

I think this might be the best opening of any novel written in English.

7/16/2010 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

The rest of the novel aint bad either.

7/16/2010 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger Big No said...

The controversy over Lolita was about obscenity not ethics. It's completely unrelated to the Rivers tapes.

Arguing that "you must see it to make a judgment" makes perfect sense for potentially obscene works. But its nonsense for unethically produced ones, where the central issue concerns actions which might not be fully discernible from the content of the work.

7/17/2010 03:43:00 AM  

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