Why a Sarasota painter removed a non-nude painting from a Sarasota Orchestra gallery (Corrected)

Published February 10, 2010

I’ll Be Seeing You
Runs through Feb. 11, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., Sarasota Orchestra’s Harmony Gallery, Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 953-4252 or sarasotaorchestra.org; Pablo Rodriguez’s next exhibit, featuring “Modern Venus” and works from recycled materials, runs Feb. 20-26 at Art Uptown, 1367 Main St., Sarasota, 955-5409 or artuptown.com, pablorodriguezmedina.com.

“It was like an invitation to a date,” says Sarasota artist Pablo Rodriguez of his painting, “Modern Venus,” which he installed in early January in the Sarasota Orchestra’s Harmony Gallery as part of his exhibit, I’ll Be Seeing You. “This piece was supposed to be the centerpiece of the whole thing. It was a pretty big piece and in the Harmony Gallery that was the thing that was drawing your eye.” The piece hung uninterrupted for over two weeks after the exhibit opened on Jan. 12, but three mothers with children in the Sarasota youth orchestra deemed “Venus” too racy for their children’s innocent eyes and filed one formal and two informal complaints.

“They gave me two options,” Rodriguez says. “It was drape it or take it down. I chose to take it down.” Rodriguez removed the painting — a mild, not-nude ode to his wife — on Jan. 29. rather than accede to the Sarasota Orchestra’s request for him to cover or remove it during the three-hour window in which the youth orchestra practices. [See correction below for a note on this passage.]

Rodriguez’s frustration stemmed from the personal nature of the piece. “After you have worked on something for two months straight for a show it was of course disheartening,” explains Rodriguez. “In the past six months I have married the love of my life and the exhibit was supposed to be a celebration of love through music. … When we got back from our honeymoon I started working on it. There’s a lot of things that are personal to both of us, like our favorite number is 11 and there’s 11 stars in the sky. What better thing to immortalize the show then to have my wife as the center of the show.”

Gordon Greenfield, the chief marketing officer for the orchestra, feels for Rodriguez, but says in this case his hands were tied. “I understand Pablo’s view because it is personal,” says Greenfield. “There were three complaints and that was enough that we had to treat it seriously. I can’t make other people’s judgments for what their children are exposed to. I personally didn’t have a problem with it. I have a 13-year-old daughter and I wouldn’t feel anything wrong with her walking past it. If it was a private gallery there wouldn’t be a problem. Because of the nature of our gallery, which is really our lobby, there really wasn’t a choice to see it or not.”

“The original Botticelli was so controversial it was actually put in a room for only certain people to see,” Rodriquez says. “It’s kind of ironic that 500 years later they’re still having problems with a ‘Venus.’ … You think in a town driven by the arts it would be more embraced. It’s just a female figure. You actually see more skin at the beach. You see more skin walking down to Publix and buying groceries.”

Rodriguez says his “Venus” is less erotic even than “Unconditional Surrender,” that perennial Sarasota art-or-not conversation piece: “There’s a heck of a lot more action in that than mine. There’s nude sculptures around downtown Sarasota as well. Where’s the line? You could go into Ringling Museum and see something more sexual than this. By today’s standards, it’s nowhere near a sexual piece.”

“I think it was unfortunate and I totally respect Pablo’s discomfort,” says Greenfield, “but we stand by our decision.”

CORRECTION

Ed. note: Due to an error I made in editing this piece, Creative Loafing implied that Rodriguez was asked to drape or take down “Modern Venus” for the duration of the show, when, in fact, the Sarasota Orchestra asked him only to drape it or take it down during the hours when the youth orchestra is in session. We apologize for the error.

Photo courtesy Pablo Rodriguez

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