Sweet Sugar (painting)
Region: North America
Subject: Explicit Sexuality
Artist: August Spivey
Confronting Bodies: Curator at Riverside Art Museum
Dates of Action: 1991
Location: Orange County, California
Description of Artwork: Sweet Sugar addresses the impact of AIDS, depicts surreal genitalia on three connected faces. The painting was exhibited with Jesus Christ (painting). Both paintings address the artist's personal fears and interpretations of AIDS and sexuality.
The Incident: Riverside Art Museum Curator Jim Reed removed both paintings on the grounds that the works were "sexually explicit." Spivey had submitted the two works after the curator, according to Spivey, requested his participation and specifically noted that he wanted the exhibit to be confrontational. After the museum requested Spivey's participation in the exhibit, the artist entered into a contract with the museum, specifying the paintings to be shown and the dates of the exhibition. The museum began to promote the exhibit and Spivey's participation in it. But about a week before the show, a reporter at the Riverside Press asked Spivey for his reaction to his exclusion from the exhibit, the first the artist had heard of any problem. Fulfilling his contract, Spivey nevertheless brought his artwork to the museum on the designated day. Curator Red refused to accept the two paintings, but indicated he world accept alternatives. Spivey refused, telling the curator he considered this action censorship. The confrontation was witnessed by reporters, although Spivey denies alerting the press. Reed later told the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Pilot that he chose to exclude Spivey from the exhibit because he felt the artist was using the show to gain publicity for his own work by calling television stations and reporters. The larger theme of the show was in danger of being lost, he contended. Reed also denied that sexual content was a consideration in the decision. Museum Director Mary Alice Cline supported Reed's decision, saying that publicity of "obscenity" in the show would draw attention away from the subject of AIDS. Spivey denies rallying publicity or calling broadcasters.
Results of Incident: Spivey reports that Reed left an apologetic note on Spivey's doorstep after the cancellation, explaining he could not show anything "sexually explicit or suggestive," although his work is moving and powerful. The work was not shown.
Source: People for the American Way