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Censorship in the Arts  
 
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However, early in his career, Demuth painted a series of watercolors of sailors with their genitals uncovered. He was unable to exhibit these works. He also painted flowers, fruits, and vegetables in a way that suggests human sexuality without directly portraying it. In 1950 officials of New York's Museum of Modern Art excluded the still life A Distinguished Air from a major Demuth retrospective because they considered its sexual theme too controversial.

The work of gay photographer Minor White (1908-1976) is also marked by a similar indirectness. In his work, rocks and cracks in stones often substitute for parts of human bodies. White learned to be cautious with his imagery early in his career when an exhibition of his work was canceled in San Francisco on the grounds of "public taste."

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One of the most famous incidents of suppression of pre-Stonewall art due to breaches of public morality and taste was the case of Paul Cadmus and his painting The Fleet's In! In 1933, Cadmus was hired by the PWAP (the Public Works Art Program, a forerunner to the better-known WPA projects) to produce paintings that dealt with American themes. Cadmus produced The Fleet's In!, a painting that depicts drunken sailors on shore leave carousing in New York's Riverside Park with a group of women--some of whom may be men in drag--and at least one flamboyantly effeminate man.

When The Fleet's In! appeared in 1934 in an exhibition of federally financed work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., naval officials were outraged, and the painting was immediately pulled from the show. Cadmus expressed surprise at the response, and disavowed any scandalous intent; but the painting was not returned to public view until 1981.

Once out of sight, however, The Fleet's In! became sensationally visible. It was reproduced in newspapers and magazines across the country. Consequently, Cadmus became an art star who got considerable mileage out of inviting and evading questions about the homoerotic tenor of his work.

Five years later, in 1939, Cadmus was hesitantly commissioned, under the auspices of the Treasury Section of Fine Arts, to execute a mural for the Parcel Post Building in Richmond, Virginia. His subject--Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain John Smith--seemed relatively safe. However, when design of the mural was publicly exhibited at Vassar College, controversy erupted.

The fact that one of Pocahontas's breasts was fully exposed met with little concern or unease, but a male warrior's bared buttocks in the center of the mural provoked an outcry of protest, as did the rendering of another warrior with an animal pelt dangling between his legs. Given the way Cadmus had positioned the fox skin, it bore a remarkable resemblance to male genitalia. Government officials ordered Cadmus to paint out the fox's snout, which resembled a penis.

In 1964, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was commissioned to create a piece for the facade of the New York State pavilion at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadow, New York. The work, Thirteen Most Wanted Men, was a mural-size composite of enlarged police mug shots, mainly of young and handsome accused felons. Almost immediately after the work was installed on the pavilion, however, World's Fair officials had the piece painted over and destroyed.

Fair officials said that Warhol had been disappointed with his work and wanted to replace it. Others said that Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller had found the mug shots not in keeping with the fair's "Olympics of Progress" theme. What no one dared mention, including the artist, was the implicit homoeroticism of the work.

By whom were these thirteen handsome men really "most wanted"? On one level, it could be surmised, they were wanted by Warhol himself, whose homosexuality was widely presumed, but who chose not to acknowledge it overtly while he was shaping his art career.

Post-Stonewall Censorship in the Arts

In direct opposition to such pre-Stonewall artists as White, Cadmus, and others, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) built a reputation on the explicitly gay content of his work, which came under aggressive political attack during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it became a rallying cry in the era's "culture wars."

But here, as with Cadmus, censorship brought its own recognition and rewards. When the Corcoran Gallery (the same gallery that had come under attack in 1934 for the Cadmus painting) abruptly canceled a Mapplethorpe show in 1989, the story was widely reported in the media as a scandal, and the artist became a household name.

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