Controversy continues over nude photo at MOCA

Defenders plan rally to show support; City Council divided on subject

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A nude photograph on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville drew more attention Friday and has some defenders planning a rally next week to support the museum and the exhibit.

Earlier this week, City Council President Clay Yarborough said the photograph of a naked pregnant woman lying on a couch (edited in photo above) is pornography and wants the mayor to defund a $230,000 grant to the museum.

City leaders and museum patrons had plenty to say about the flack on Friday.

Museum officials said it's going to stay on display in the atrium. They have no plans to remove it.

One museum patron Friday called Yarborough's assertion that the image is pornographic "ridiculous and sad."

"I think it's beautiful. I think all of them are beautiful," Jenna Neal said of artist Angela Strassheim's photographs. "I think it's pretty sad that people are causing a dispute over one photo when it is such a gorgeous exhibit."

Yarborough does not see it that way and believes the city should take back the $230,000 grant the Cultural Council gives to the museum.

He issued this statement Friday:

"In order to get to Café Nola, one is required to enter the doors of MOCA because there is no other way through which the public can access the restaurant. Upon entering the doors of MOCA on Tuesday for a lunch meeting at Café Nola, I observed the picture hanging on the gallery wall in plain view of anyone entering, including children. Unlike other venues that may contain such pictures, no admission fee is required to enter the lobby and view the picture. While we may all differ on the definition of art, the real question is should an adult and/or children who wish to eat at Café Nola be forcibly exposed to the picture upon entering the public, taxpayer-owned building if they do not wish to see it? As a parent of young children, I support parental choice and believe no parent should be put in the position of having to answer awkward questions that could arise from their child seeing a picture like that. The Mayor's position is still unknown and the Cultural Council's response suggests an unwillingness to compromise, which is unfortunate in this situation. Since this issue surfaced, it is also interesting that all public-facing media outlets, including Facebook, have either blurred or removed the image due to content."

MOCA Jacksonville Director Marcelle Polednik said everyone is entitled to their opinions, but people should be aware of this one.

"It certainly is a concern for every citizen of Jacksonville and every citizen of this country," Polednik said. "When we start limiting the First Amendment, we all suffer as a society."

Other City Council members agreed with that and said Yarborough's position is wrong.

"I don't think we would ever support that," Councilman Richard Clark said. "I think we need to support the arts more, not less."

But Councilman Don Redman said Yarborough is right and the funding should be cut.

"I think that a nude body to a young child is pornography, yes," Redman said.

There were children at the Museum Friday and parents told News4Jax they didn't mind the artwork.

Museum supporters said they plan to rally Wednesday evening during Artwalk.

"Mr. Yarborough has every right to say what he would like to say and consider things pornography that others don't," community activist Keri Kidder said. "But I think it's important that people come out and defiantly rally around MOCA and make sure that our side is also heard."

Museum officials said they have been in contact with the artist, who is aware of the controversy.

The Mayor's Office said it plans to have city lawyers get involved, because retracting the funding, as Yarborough requested, would be a First Amendment issue. 

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Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.