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Nude Sculptures Banned by Boca Prudes, and Other Stupid Art Controversies

South Florida may be the nation's capital for sex, sun, and artificial breasts, but apparently some people are still too prude to handle naked sculptures. Last week, city employees at Boca Raton's Patch Reef Park decided that two naked-lady torsos by local sculptor Mary Eiland were too provocative to be seen.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, they hid the sculptures until Eiland came by to pick them up. She also took back the rest of her work, and said anyone who had taken offense had "better not watch any television or go on the computer or go to a mall. Or, actually, they'd better just stay in their house." Eiland had displayed the same sculptures in the same place for the previous two years, without incident.

This is just the latest in a string of idiotic controversies over public art in South Florida.

Bureaucratic wranglings beset the Zimbabwean sculptures installed in May in Fort Lauderdale's Middle River Terrace. Sculptor Raymond Chirimbadare carved some impressionistic figures by hand out of a granite block in Zimbabwe; they were installed at NE 13th street by the railroad tracks. After years of legal deliberations and political disagreements about the sculptures, a last-minute order from city hall required them to be installed sideways on the roadway median, with their narrow sides facing traffic. All for the best, according to former city commissioner and Middle River resident Tim Smith: "We got the last word... we have the sculptures' rears facing city hall!" Despite the re-orienting of the sculptures, one of them was hit by a car a few months later.

UPDATE: Tim Smith provides another priceless tidbit: "There was a fourth sculpture that we didn't put up," he says. "Somebody at city hall said it depicted a black pregnant woman." This was deemed unacceptable for the poor, mostly black neighborhood, but when another statue was destroyed by a car, says Smith, "we ended up putting up the pregnant black woman."

An episode of prudery last year involved "Journey to the New," a sculpture outside the Addison Plaza mall in Delray Beach, by Jewish artist Itzik Asher. An homage to Jewish families fleeing Ethiopia in 1991, it includes elongated bronze nude figures of a man, woman and child. The man's bronze penis was at issue, especially with parent of kids at a nearby school. Asher lamented that "there are still narrow-minded people that behave like children."

Public art is not immune to public idiocy south of the Broward/Miami-Dade line, although the examples of the bright pink snails involves vandalism rather than censorship. The 45 snails, installed around Miami Beach last month for Art Basel, were designed to be slowly moved toward the ocean. They were summarily covered in graffiti, punched, and thrown into the bay. "Every morning I wake up with a disaster," said the gallery owner behind the snails' installation.

Finally, this one hasn't caused a controversy yet, but by the prudish standards shown here, it's only a matter of time: Fort Lauderdale's official centennial poster by Charles Fazzino, unveiled this month, shows Santa with -- gasp! -- a bikini-clad blonde. See, this rolls the War on Christmas and artistic depictions of naked ladies into one! If the Boca Raton sculptures were offensive, why not this? Get on it, prudes of the world! This shall not stand!

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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