Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Official Vandalism

A judge sitting in Hammersmith has ordered the destruction of art works belonging to the artist Graham Ovenden- who has been convicted of paedophile offences. The works fingered for destruction include 19th century photographs by (or once belonging to) Pierre Louys and Wilhelm von Pluschow.

Louys is an important cultural figure, von Pluschow rather less so. Louys was a poet and novelist who received the legion d'Honneur and whose work has been set to music by Debussy and filmed by Bunuel. Von Pluschow photographed young people- mostly boys- in states of undress. Googling either of them produces a cascade of images of the kind the judge would like to see destroyed.

Stable door, horse, bolted.

So the judge's action is futile. This stuff is already in the public domain. But that's not really the point I want to make- which is this- that destroying works of art is a crappy thing to do- and even crappier when it's done by functionaries of the state. Can you think of a single act of official iconclasm- and history teems with them- which we do not now regret? Even rubbishy works of art can have a documentary value and be of use to future historians. And who's to say what is rubbishy anyway? The Nazis thought anything modernist was rubbish, ISIL thinks anything non-Islamic is rubbish.

There's a way round the problem. If you think a piece of work so obscene it should be removed from public gaze you can always lock it away. That's what the Tate has done with much of its collection of work by Ovenden (who until recently was considered respectable if a little risque)- and you can only view it if you can produce a certificate saying you're not a greasy little perve.  Again, until quite recently, the Italian state locked away some of the spicier items from its collection of antiquities from Pompeii and Herculaneum- and you could only view them if you could prove you weren't a woman. I'm not exactly recommending this option- because I deplore all kinds of censorship- but it's the lesser of two evils. At least the work you've taken out of circulation still exists- and you've allowed for the possibility that later generations may view it differently.

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