The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’s premiere repository of art and culture, is standing fast against a coterie of critics, including neo-Fascists, who are demanding the removal of a Balthus painting titled “Therese Dreaming.”
The painting depicts a young girl leaning back on a chair with her leg propped up and a far-away look on her face.
Critics say it sexualizes the subject because her underwear is visible and the pose is “suggestive.”
The artist, real name Balthasar Klossowski, was born in Paris in 1908 to Polish expat parents. His work focused on portraits of young girls on the verge of adulthood in often sexual poses.
Last year, Austria’s right-wing populist FPÖ party protested a retrospective of the artist’s work at Vienna’s Bank Austria Kunstforum. It claimed the work was “erotic.”
Balthus faced similar charges throughout his career and at times was accused of promoting paedophilia, according to popular accounts of his life. He died in 2001.
In the Austrian protest, right-wing FPÖ leader Hans-Jörg Jenewein said in an interview Balthus’ work was infused with “an inherent and unpleasant paedophile undertone.”
Balthus first exhibited his art in 1934 in Paris and touched off a scandal. Still his work was widely exhibited in Paris, London, Tokyo, Chicago and New York City.
The first U.S. exhibition took place at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1956, followed by an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Art in 1980.
In 2013, the Met held a major retrospective titled “Balthus: Cats and Girls: Paintings and Provocations.”
The campaign against “Therese Dreaming” began with a petition posted on website Care2. It has since been signed by about 7,000 people, according to USAToday.
“Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses, The Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children,” the petition charges.
“The artist of this painting, Balthus, had a noted infatuation with pubescent girls and this painting is undeniably romanticizing the sexualization of a child,” according to New Yorker Mia Merrill, 30, who started the petition.
She suggested replacing it with a work by a female artist of the same time period.
But so far, The Met is standing fast against the request.
Spokesman Kenneth Weine offered the following statement.
“[Our] mission is to collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas. Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression.”
The protest smacks of Nazi Germany’s attack on modern art in the 1930s.
The National Socialist regime deemed the art “degenerate” and seized paintings and other works from museums and private collections across Europe during World War II.
The campaign targeted such highly regarded artists as Picasso, Van Gogh, Cézanne and such German artists as Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde, Lasar Segall and dozens of others.
Swept up in the campaign was such movements as Bauhaus, Cubism, Dada, Expressionism, Fauvism, Impressionism, New Objectivity and Surrealism.