By Valerie Jinii Thatcher
An art exhibit at the University of Utah is drawing large crowds but the exhibit is bringing back bad memories for BYU.
The Museum of Fine Art on the University of Utah campus is housing an exhibit of 66 bronzes by the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
In 1997 BYU Museum of Art held a similar Rodin exhibit in which the administration opted not to display four sculptures. This decision led to national and local media attention.
With the recent opening of the Rodin exhibit at the University of Utah the media spotlight is again turned to BYU.
“The media is making a big deal of it and making fun of us and the church again as a consequence of the show being at the University of Utah. I”m really happy that it”s at the University of Utah and I think the community needs to see it; I think it is a great show. But it”s not the same as the show we had here,” said Campbell Gray, Museum director of the BYU Museum of Fine Art.
According to Gray the administrations decision in 1997 for leaving out the four works, which included one of Rodin”s most famous works “The Kiss”, was in part a desire to uphold community standards.
“People expect something different at BYU … you could see a film or you could see an artwork … somewhere else and then see it at BYU and have an entirely different attitude about it … because artwork receive their meanings from the context in which they are placed,” Gray said. “They are not self-contained little objects that are packages that don”t alter in their meanings regardless of where they are. Art works receive their meaning from the places in which they are placed. And BYU is a particularly powerful place to show works of art.”
Some students were offended by the museums refusal to display the sculptures of the Rodin exhibit in 1997. They felt that the educational value of the exhibit out weighed the moral questions surrounding it.
“People who love art are not going to be offended by those sculptures and serious students who are supposed to be adults should not of either,” BYU graduate Charles Sones said.
The administration concern extended beyond BYU students.
“The issues that are upper most in our minds in terms of this exhibition is that the Museum of Art is not only for the University it is for the community; it is broadly based and the symbolism to the broader community of having works that provoke discussions of and thoughts about sexuality and those kinds of aspects are sort of incongruous with the church and its position on morality,” Gray said.
Many students saw the removal of the statues from the exhibit as an act of hypocrisy by BYU because the works are taught in art classes on campus. But BYU administration argues that the art may not be appropriate for all patrons of the museum.
“Nude sculptures and paintings are appropriately available and used at BYU in class materials, textbooks … and in art history classes … However, not all of the art that might be appropriately be displayed in university classes is appropriate for an open-to-all-the-public exhibition in a museum with a very active outreach program,” said BYU law professor Lynne D. Wardle in a letter to the Editor published in the Daily Universe on November 4, 1997.
Students argue that their education has suffered because the University denied them the opportunity to see these famous artworks.
“I understand that there is a really fine line when it comes to art and what is acceptable and what is considered nude and what is considered indecent as far as BYU is concerned. And I understand that we have to think about the community and things like that, but I think sometimes we”re sacrificing cultural education for the Honor Code,” said former BYU student Danica Duran in an October 27, 1997 edition of the Daily Universe.
But the University does not believe that the education of students has been damaged.
“The University is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder-Day Saints and as such provides for students a context in which they can have the most rigorous education in an environment where all the issues and morals and attitudes of the church can be promoted at the same time,” Gray said.
The MOA says that any decisions made about exhibits displayed in the museum are done with the audience interest in mind.
“What we are doing is ensuring that our audiences have the greatest opportunity to be educated in the most powerful possible ways and if there are things that hijack that process of education and cause audiences to be shifted in their understanding and there education process in ways that are not true to the work … then we will make decisions as does every other museum. Some museums make decisions so that they can be provocative because that”s the audience that they have,” Gray said.
Both Gray and Utah Museum of Fine Art curator David Dee hope that the public can look past any controversy and focus on the talent contained in the Rodin exhibition.