Minneapolis Institute of Art billboard replaced after clothes painted on nude Venus

  • Article by: TARA BANNOW , Associated Press
  • Updated: February 24, 2011 - 8:18 PM
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A billboard in Long Lake, a suburb of Minneapolis, is as good as new after someone spray-painted clothing and the word "Brrr!" over a nude 16th-century Venus painting. The billboard was returned to its previous condition over the weekend despite museum officials' urging to leave it up because they thought it was funny. None of the other billboards throughout the Minneapolis area have been damaged.

Photo: Lezlie Pinske, Minneapolis Institute of Arts via AP

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MINNEAPOLIS - A billboard for a Minneapolis museum has been replaced after someone spray-painted clothing and the word "Brrr!" in red over its depiction of nudity from a 16th-century Venus painting.

The advertisement is for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' exhibition of works by the Italian master Titian. The museum chose to feature the famous "Venus Rising from the Sea" painting on the billboard because "it's very typical of paintings in the show," said MIA spokeswoman Anne-Marie Wagener.

The graffiti was discovered on a billboard in Long Lake, a western suburb, last week. None of the other Minneapolis area billboards advertising the show have been damaged. The one that was vandalized has been restored to its previous condition, despite objections from museum officials.

"We said 'We think it's funny, just leave it, don't bother replacing it,'" Wagener said Thursday.

But she said Clear Channel Outdoor, the company that owns the billboard, has a policy that ads with graffiti must be taken down so as not to encourage vandalism.

The billboards are slated to come down in mid-March.

The museum has fielded about 10 calls from angry passers-by who said they weren't comfortable seeing nudity outside of the museum, said MIA marketing director Kristin Prestegaard. Some people said it forced them to talk to their children about nudity in art, a conversation they weren't ready to have.

But during the Italian renaissance period, the human body was held in high esteem and wasn't seen as erotic, Wagener said.

"It was the absolute of perfection," she said. "I think it's only now that people project certain ideas — but it's art."

The billboard raises the question of whether it's acceptable to impose one's culture and aesthetics on others, said Paul Rosenblatt, a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota.

"That art comes out of a particular culture," Rosenblatt said. "I can really understand why there are plenty of people who, from their own cultural perspective, would be really uncomfortable."

The classic paintings in the MIA exhibit — on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland — feature a number of Venetian women, religious figures, mythical Cupids and soldiers. The exhibit closes on May 1.

Wagener denied that the graffiti was a publicity stunt to attract attention to the exhibit, which she said is exceeding attendance projections.

"We're not that creative," she said flatly.

Nonetheless, both Prestegaard and Wagener said they think whoever did the graffiti was probably just trying to be funny, not censor the image.

It would be different "if the words 'Brrr!' weren't there and they hadn't given her such a nice, shapely swimsuit," Wagener said. "I mean, if you were angry, why would you make it kind of pretty?"

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