CATSKILL — Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, according to Greene County Council on the Arts Executive Director Kay Stamer.
An exhibit titled “Centennial: She,” which ran from Oct. 8 to Nov. 11, raised eyebrows among some Greene County legislators when photos of exhibits were posted on the council’s Instagram page, exhibits some considered obscene.
Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, saw the photos, which contain nude figures, and said they were inappropriate and bordered on pornography, according to minutes from a Nov. 6 County Resources Committee meeting.
“I responded to them, just as a citizen, and I said that, I asked if this art work was located at their studio in Catskill,” Luvera said. “I said I hope that our children are not being exposed to this if it’s there, because I know our kids in school submit artwork down there all the time.”
“Centennial: She” celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York state. Stamer, invited to appear before the committee, described the exhibit as powerful.
“It was to show how far women have come in 100 years,” Stamer said.
Luvera spoke to Stamer about his concerns and when she saw the photos that were shared on Instagram, used to advertise the exhibit’s closing event. Stamer asked arts council Visual Arts Director Niva Dorell to swap them with other photos and the original post was taken down.
“He was upset as a teacher and a devout Catholic,” Stamer said of Luvera. “Niva had posted some pictures that I said would be controversial.”
In instances where art may be considered what Stamer called “in your face,” it can be displayed on the council office’s second floor. Stamer said obscene materials are not included in any of the council’s exhibits.
“We do have a second floor and you can put a disclaimer on the door that there’s mature material, that way people have a choice,” Stamer said. “They do it in museums all the time.”
Concerns have arisen about certain exhibitions over the years and Stamer said art is always a matter of interpretation and opinion. What is obscene to some may not be to others.
“We still defend the right to free expression,” Stamer said. “The main thing is to really respect other people’s feelings — we are always considerate and concerned.”
Lawmakers said Stamer has been invited to attend the next County Resources meeting Dec. 6 to discuss the matter further. Stamer said she has not been officially informed of the meeting, but said she is always grateful for the county’s funding and support.
“It’s been a wonderful partnership and we’ve worked together in so many ways,” Stamer said.
Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, chairman of the County Resources Committee, was informed of the matter by Luvera. Bulich said he considered the photos to be profane. Bulich said it is inappropriate for tax dollars to be spent on exhibits that contain profane and vulgar art.
“I’m not here to preach that I’m a holy roller,” Bulich said Thursday. “We do have to have a sense of decency.”
Bulich said the arts council had approved new guidelines to assure art displays carry a proper warning if they contain material that might be considered mature. Bulich said what one considers art needs to be questioned.
“Where do we stop in what we call art?” Bulich said. “We can’t keep saying everything goes.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM