Madonna (painting)

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Date: 1991

Region: North America

Subject: Nudity

Medium: Painting


Artist: Dayton Claudio

Confronting Bodies: Employees at the General Services Administration Federal Building

Dates of Action: 1991

Location: Sacramento, California

Description of Artwork: A 9' by 5' acrylic painting of a female nude entitled Madonna.

The Incident: In response to complaints by several employees, a General Services Administration (GSA) field officer ordered the painting to be draped in black plastic. The painting, challenged for including nudity, was on display at a GSA building, the Sacramento, California Federal Building. Ironically, it was placed next to a case displaying a copy of the Bill of Rights. Claudio's painting appeared at the Federal Building as part of the GSA's "Living Buildings" program. The program provides a space in public buildings for artists to show their work. No federal grants are involved. The employees submitted a complaint stating that nudity was not appropriate for the workplace. One woman commented that to display the painting immediately following the Clarance Thomas/Anita Hill hearings was "pretty tacky." John Habein, GSA field office manager, honored the employee's request and ordered the painting to be covered or removed.

Results of Incident: Dayton Claudio refused to remove the painting, saying, "It celebrates the beauty of the human form. It is not political, sexist or erotic." By the end of the week, GSA official Mary Filippini reversed Habein, instructing that the painting remain on display. Filippini said that there had been "some complaints by some of the tenants of the building, but you're going to find complaints on virtually any artwork you put up."

Source: People for the American Way