Home Interior Design A judge has rejected far-right efforts to remove a Miriam Cahn painting of Russian war crimes from the Palais de Tokyo

A judge has rejected far-right efforts to remove a Miriam Cahn painting of Russian war crimes from the Palais de Tokyo

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A French judge has rejected a legal request to remove a controversial painting by Swiss artist Miriam Cahn from an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

Factions of France’s political far-right have brought the lawsuit against the contemporary art center because they objected to the content of one of the Swiss artist’s semi-abstract paintings, which they say depicts the sexual abuse of a child.

The work, titled ffucking abstraction!, features a scene of forced fellatio, which the Swiss artist intended as a denunciation of sexual crimes used as a weapon of war. The plaintiffs – six associations headed by the Association Juristes Pour L’Enfance [lawyers for childhood] (JPE) – interpreted the victim in the scene as a child and demanded the removal of the work on the grounds that French law prohibits the exhibition of pornographic representations of minors.

In a statement released earlier this month by the museum, Cahn clarified that the painting does not depict any children and that the central victim appears on a smaller scale for symbolic reasons. “The contrast between the two bodies shows the bodily power of the oppressor, and the fragility of the oppressed, kneeling and emaciated by war,” said the artist, who is no stranger to controversy.

Today, French administrative judge Sylvie Vidal dismissed the case, noting in her ruling, seen by Artnet News, that Cahn’s painting references crimes committed in Bucha, Ukraine, during the Russian invasion and “cannot be understood out of context”. adding that the artist “aims to expose the horrors of war”.

The judge’s decision was based on the fact that she believed that the museum had taken appropriate measures to warn visitors of the sensitive content of the exhibition entitled “Ma Pensée Serielle”. [My Serial Thought] including enough explanatory text and having additional staff on hand to talk to visitors.

Miriam Cahn, fucking abstraction!  (2007-2022).  3009 CAH/P 3029. Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Jocelyn Wolff and Meyer Riegger Berlin/Karlsruhe.  Photo by Francois Doury.

Myriam Cahn, fucking abstraction! (2007-2022). 3009 CAH/P 3029. Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Jocelyn Wolff and Meyer Riegger Berlin/Karlsruhe. Photo by Francois Doury.

A furious talk about the artwork has been brewing for weeks on social media and talk shows, especially among far-right platforms and spokespersons. An online petition against the exhibition of the work has been signed more than 13,000 times.

The debate reached new heights last week, when French culture minister Rima Abdul Malak was forced to defend the artist and his work in the French parliament. Far-right MP Caroline Parmentier launched an impassioned plea for the Ministry of Culture to intervene and remove the work. Malak retorted that “freedom of expression and creation is guaranteed by law”, and said it was not up to her or the elected official, but to the courts, to determine whether a crime had been committed in exhibiting the work.

JPE lawyer Adeline Le Gouvello told Artnet News that the association plans to appeal the court’s decision to France’s Council of State, which serves as the supreme court of appeal for administrative tribunals. She pointed out that the administrative judge did not specify in his judgment whether the painting appears to represent a child, as critics claim. Le Gouvello said that French law states that all characters depicted in a pornographic context can be assumed to be minors if they appear to be, unless clearly demonstrated or otherwise indicated.

She also argued that the fact that the artist and the museum made additional explanatory statements after the controversy arose suggests they weren’t clear enough to begin with. “If the painting is so problematic – as they seem to suggest – then why not respond properly and make it inaccessible to minors?” asked Le Gouvello. The lawyer said she and the other plaintiffs were “not against free speech”, but simply wanted a painting taken down. “If we want to denounce horrors, that’s fine. But we cannot do this by spreading these horrors further. There are other ways,” she explained. She said a decision on the appeal could be made in the coming weeks.

The Palais de Tokyo has not denied the shock value of Cahn’s works. But the art center insists that discomfort is an integral part of artistic creation and freedom of expression, as long as it is contextualized. “We know that the painting is shocking, although it is not child pornography,” defended the lawyer for the Palais de Tokyo Paul Mathonnet, speaking to Artnet News. “It would be excessive and would violate the freedom to create, if we totally banned painting… If we go in this direction, we will have to start emptying museums, and closing many galleries. All museums feature sexually explicit and violent works,” he said.

In a statement welcoming the court’s decision to dismiss the case, the art center said it regretted the “instrumentalization” of Cahn’s work by fringe groups.

For Mathonnet and his associate, Richard Malka, the controversy illustrates the tip of a “war of cultures” between marginal groups in France and in the rest of the country. Malka said local extremists have been influenced by ideologies “blown across the Atlantic”, in the United States, referring specifically to “far-left cancel culture” and the “Trumpism, to the far right”.

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