By now you’ve probably heard about the gallery in Manchester, England, that made headlines recently for taking down a painting showing naked women. Hylas and the Nymphs, one of pre-Raphaelite master John William Waterhouse’s most recognizable paintings, was removed from public view for one week in order to prompt conversations about “how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection.” In other words, there are naked teenage girls in it, #TimesUp.
The painting, which has now been returned to its rightful place, is in a room called “In Pursuit of Beauty,” which Clare Gannaway, the gallery’s curator of contemporary art, says gives her “a sense of embarrassment” because, being the curator of contemporary art, she’s never actually seen anything beautiful. (Okay, she didn’t really say that. Her problem was actually about men putting women’s bodies on display, or something.)
All this, of course, smacks of censorship, but it’s far from surprising in our current culture of policing people’s thoughts and ideas. My question is, why stop at Waterhouse? Surely there are hundreds (if not millions) of paintings that enrage modern feminists (there isn’t much that doesn’t). Maybe they should take them all down. In fact, may I suggest three masterworks to remove? I think you’ll see, after reading my explanations, why we can’t possibly let them remain on public display for actual people to make up their own minds about.
1. The Birth of Venus by Botticelli
Why is Venus covering her private parts? Is she ashamed to be a woman? Doesn’t she know that vaginas are beautiful? She should be displaying herself proudly, wearing a hat that vulgarly makes reference to her genitalia, and uncovering her breasts. Free the nipple! I mean, look at that lady rushing in there with that blanket to cover her up. That’s not how we do things now, so no one should see it. People might think we shouldn’t love our bodies. She should also probably cut her hair. It’s way too long. How does she expect anyone to take her seriously with hair like that? Also, her legs are too skinny and her tummy’s too tight. It’s unrealistic and promotes poor body image. No fat shaming! This one’s definitely got to go. Along with that other one where the women are totally naked. I mean, put on some clothes, that’s indecent!
2. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer
What is she wearing on her head? Is that a towel? Whatever it is, it’s not feminist-approved headgear. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t have pink hats that made reference to vaginas back then (whenever back then was, I have no idea who Vermeer even is), we have them now so no one should see this woman not wearing them. Not to mention the fact that calling her “girl” is so cisnormative. We don’t know what gender she identifies as. Did Vermeer ask for her preferred pronouns before painting her? Probably not.
3. Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (Whistler’s Mother) by Whistler
So, she doesn’t even get a name? She’s got to go by her relationship to a man? Whistler’s mother, not… whatever her name actually is. That’s the patriarchy for you. This painting should be taken down so that no one will ever see it. That way everyone will know what her name is… or something. Not to mention the fact that she’s wearing black so obviously, she’s protesting some kind of sexual violence. The artist obviously painted that white sock thing over her shoulder to cover her #TimesUp pin. Clearly something insidious is happening here if you read between the lines — and the lines between the lines between the lines that no one ever looks at but are super important and tell us things. This one’s got to go, there are too many connotations of connotations here.
In all seriousness, though, what on earth were the people at that museum thinking? I’ve gotta go, I need to see a bunch of paintings before some idiot takes them all down.