Contemporary Art and Censorship: The Australian Museum Context

By Makiko Nakajima.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The aim of this research project is to explore contemporary art censorship in an Australian context through two widely publicised cases during the last two decades, namely the iconoclasm case of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1997 and the Bill Henson case that occurred at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney in 2008. While Federal Laws pertaining to the regulation of film and literature classification do not apply to the visual arts in Australia, there have been a number of art censorship cases. By examining both Serrano and Henson cases, this research project investigates the potential factors which cause the general public to be disturbed by exhibiting contemporary artworks. While the Serrano case takes into account the divergent perspectives of the various stakeholders in comparison to the US Culture Wars of the 1980s, the Henson case is investigated with reference to the interrelationship between the issues of sexuality in childhood and the representation of the nude tradition in art. Both case studies illuminate the complex relationship between contemporary art exhibitions and the community and also the role of public/private museums and galleries in Australia. It concludes that the current Australian Arts Law is not compatible with the confronting aspect of contemporary art practices, and the internalisation of social codes, which even in a democratic and pluralistic country like Australia remain problematic to navigate. While the arts community lawfully accomplished their duty to exhibit contemporary works of art of high quality in both cases, they generated confusion and disturbance in the general public, which were often triggered and fuelled by the mass-media, especially with the speed and power of the Internet.

Keywords: Museum-australia, Museum Management, Museum Administration, Censorship, Iconoclasm

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.129-146. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 651.050KB).

Makiko Nakajima

Master Student, Masters Program in Curatorial and Museum Studies, School of History and Politics, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

I am currently completing a Masters degree (Curatorial and Museum Studies) in the School of History & Politics at the University of Adelaide. My interests include Contemporary Japanese and Australian Visual Arts, Art Censorship in Australia and Japan, Perception of Japanese Art outside Japan. I hold a Diploma of Modern Art Studies (Christie’s Education, UK), Bachelor of Arts (Wako University, Japan), Graduate Diploma in Art History (University of Adelaide).

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