German museum cancels Balthus show after critics cry paedophilia
Exhibition planned for April at the Museum Folkwang in Essen would have included 2,000 Polaroids taken by the artist when he was in his 80s
By Julia Michalska. Web only
Published online: 06 February 2014
The Museum Folkwang in Essen has cancelled a planned exhibition of Polaroids by the French-Polish artist Balthus featuring a model called Anna who posed for him from the age of eight to 16. The museum announced yesterday, 5 February, that it decided not to stage the show because it “could lead to unwanted legal consequences and the closure of the exhibition”.
“Balthus: the Last Pictures” was due to open in April and include 2,000 Polaroids taken by the artist when he was more than 80 years old. He used some of them as preparatory works for his paintings.
In December, the German newspaper Die Zeit criticised the planned exhibition at the Essen museum, calling the images “documents of paedophile greed”.
Following “preliminary discussions initiated by the museum’s management with various interested parties”, the museum said in a statement, it decided that staging the exhibition in Essen “could lead to unwanted legal consequences”. The statement adds: “Such a development based on the existing legal situation would not be in the artistic interest of the project, and would contradict the mandate and the responsibility of the Museum Folkwang. Therefore, the museum’s management has decided not to proceed with the exhibition.”
Gagosian Gallery, New York, which represents Balthus’s estate, showed 155 of the Polaroids (they were priced at $20,000 each, according to Die Zeit) in the exhibition “Balthus: the Last Studies” (26 September 2013-18 January). In Vanity Fair’s preview of the Gagosian show, Ingrid Sischy wrote: “These images are raw, and true, and risk being fodder for the censors who seem to rear their heads whenever children appear nude in art photographs, even when there is absolutely nothing dodgy going on.” The show coincided with a major Balthus survey at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, “Balthus: Cats and Girls: Paintings and Provocations”, which closed on 12 January.
The images had not been seen before the Gagosian exhibition. It was the first time Balthus’s widow, his daughter and Anna had given their permission.
Steidl is due to publish a limited edition two-volume book of the entire body of Balthus’s Polaroids.
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