News & Politics

Graphic 1916 Painting of Female Genitalia Appears on Giant NYC Street Ad

Kids, teens, and their possibly red-faced parents strolling through New York City’s heavily foot-trafficked Soho neighborhood are getting an eyeful today.

A large hand-painted mural of Egon Schiele’s 1916 “Reclined Female Nude” appears on the side of a building at 220 Lafayette Street in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan this week. Measuring approximately 10 feet by 15 feet, the startlingly graphic mural is being used by the Vienna Tourist Board to promote 100 years of the “Viennese Modernism” art movement:

Clearly visible to the public, the mural appears to be in violation of the relevant state law: New York Penal Section 245.11 — Public Display Of Offensive Sexual Material.

However, local government apparently approved it.

Via email, PJMedia asked the Vienna Tourist Board if New York City “agreed to allow” the mural. Ava Rollins of Ava Rollins & Associates — the PR agency representing the Vienna Tourist Board on this campaign in New York — answered affirmatively:

[T]he mural conforms to our regional ad standards + practices in New York, and was allowed in the painted form you see.

This screenshot, taken from Google Street View, shows how prominently the mural might appear to passersby. Pictured, top left, is a similarly sized mural on the same spot in 2017:

According to the Vienna city website featuring this “Viennese Modernism 2018” campaign, New York City did reject uncensored Schiele paintings for city transit locations. This rejection was incorporated into the final campaign — the below posters are now featured in New York City subway stations and elsewhere:

New York City transit locations weren’t the only places that refused to show the advertisements uncensored. According to the campaign site, cities around the world did:

In New York, too, Schiele stimulates a discourse on the freedom of art. After the UK and Germany, the Viennese Modernism campaign is now continuing in the United States from mid-April to mid-May and shows that here, too, the handling of art in advertising is a controversial topic.”Still too daring” are the 100-year-old works for New York subway and bus stations, in which not even painted female nipples may be shown, while magazines like “The New Yorker” see no reason to deprive their readers of the world-famous nudes.

Especially spectacular: the uncensored depiction of Schiele’s “Lying Woman” in the public space, which would previously only be permitted in Vienna, can be seen on a large façade painting in New York’s SoHo. This mural stands in contrast to the sometimes allegedly more open-minded European metropolises, which rejected the motif even in censored form.

It certainly can be seen on a large facade painting in Soho. But what does New York law say about placing it there?

According to an attorney who responded to PJMedia, the mural violates the law. But finding a court willing to enforce it — if the city was sued for a First Amendment violation based on the mural being “art” — is another matter.

Here’s how New York Penal Section 245.11 reads:

245.11 Public display of offensive sexual material.

A person is guilty of public display of offensive sexual material when, with knowledge of its character and content, he displays or permits to be displayed in or on any window, showcase, newsstand, display rack, wall, door, billboard, display board, viewing screen, moving picture screen, marquee or similar place, in such manner that the display is easily visible from or in any: public street, sidewalk or thoroughfare; transportation facility; or any place accessible to members of the public without fee or other limit or condition of admission such as a minimum age requirement and including but not limited to schools, places of amusement, parks and playgrounds but excluding rooms or apartments designed for actual residence; any pictorial, three-dimensional or other visual representation of a person or a portion of the human body that predominantly appeals to prurient interest in sex, and that:

(a) depicts nudity, or actual or simulated sexual conduct or sado-masochistic abuse; or

(b) depicts or appears to depict nudity, or actual or simulated sexual conduct or sado-masochistic abuse, with the area of the male or female subject’s unclothed or apparently unclothed genitals, pubic area or buttocks, or of the female subject’s unclothed or apparently unclothed breast, obscured by a covering or mark placed or printed on or in front of the material displayed, or obscured or altered in any other manner.

Public display of offensive sexual material is a Class A misdemeanor.

According to the PR agency and the campaign website, New York City approves of an approximately 150 sq. ft. mural that — unlike, say, Michelangelo’s David — clearly was intended to shock with graphic nudity.

But the same image, if shrunken to poster-size and placed in a subway station, is a crime.

However the law is interpreted, for the next month or so parents may wish to steer their impressionable kids away from Lafayette Street’s massive genitalia.

Follow PJMedia Editor David Steinberg on Twitter: @DavidSPJM