Artists leave Baltimore Life Gallery with the nudes


George Fondersmith's name was spelled wrong in yesterday's article in Today about the Baltimore Life Gallery.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Call it a ritual of abandonment.

"Electronic Palette," an exhibition of computer-generated art that was to open at the Baltimore Life Gallery in Baltimore Life Insurance Company headquarters on Thursday, has been canceled after the gallery removed depictions of nude female figures.

The three works were from Diane Fenster's series "A Ritual of Abandonment."

"Some of the employees are a little more conservative and didn't feel comfortable with the nudes in the workplace," says Gwyn Willis, public relations spokeswoman for the gallery. "It's a corporate headquarters first, a gallery second."

Employee complaints, according to Willis and the director of the Baltimore Life Gallery, George Sondersmith, are what prompted the removal. Maintaining comfort in the workplace is the company's first priority, and since the works hang in corridors, they are not easily avoided.

How anyone could be offended by the works is what Fenster wonders. One of the pieces, "Two Running Rails of Mercury," features a supine nude woman, blending into railroad tracks against a small town in pastels with fluorescent hints. Writing appears on the side.

"They're very strong images of women, and I can't begin to tell you why female nude bodies are in any need of censorship," the San Francisco Bay-area artist says. "It's a very dangerous precedent when corporations are allowed to censor work."

Fenster's work has appeared in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is soon to be on view at the San Jose Museum of Art.

After the removal of Fenster's work, Tom Hyatt, guest curator and contributing artist for the exhibition, responded by removing his work from the show. After he called the other artists involved to tell them what had happened, several independently opted to do the same. The attrition of artists prompted the gallery to cancel the show yesterday.

"It's a selective censorship that suits their needs," says Hyatt, a teacher at Harford Community College and the Maryland Institute, College of Art. "If that's the case, they owe it to the artist to say they're not a serious gallery and they only show a certain kind of art."

Nude works have been removed from exhibitions before, but Sondersmith couldn't recall specific incidents, and such removals have never resulted in termination of a show, the gallery director says.

The gallery has been putting on non-commission art shows that have supported thousands of artists for the past 13 years. In light of Baltimore Life's support, Sondersmith thinks Hyatt's actions are unjustified.

"He's doing everything possible to sidetrack our efforts," Sonder-smith says. "He's doing more to hurt the art community."

To see Diane Fenster's work on the Internet, look up, click on "artists' studios," then "visual artists," then "Fenster."

Pub Date: 8/06/96

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