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Art or obscenity? A nude model is arrested at the Met

August 27, 2009 | 10:00 am


Venus de Milo, Liberty leading the people, Lady Godiva ... and next?

Nudity has been a staple of the visual arts since time began, but apparently the real thing is still too much for some people to handle.

On Wednesday, a 26-year-old model was arrested in New York after posing for a photo shoot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Police said Kathleen Neill was posing naked for a photographer in full view of visitors at a gallery in the museum's arms and armor department.

Neill has been charged with two crimes: endangering the welfare of a minor and public lewdness, according to her lawyer, Donald Schechter. She was released from police custody Wednesday and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 22.

"She didn't do anything sexual. She didn't perform lewdly and she made no reference to her genitalia," Schechter said in an interview with Culture Monster.

"There are nude sculptures and paintings all over the museum. It's the height of stupidity accusing a live model of showing the same thing in a house of art."

The photo shoot was conducted by Brooklyn-based photographer Zach Hyman for an upcoming art show. (Hyman has not been charged with any crimes so far.) "It's a project I've been working on for three months now -- it's the idea that nudity isn't necessarily perverse or sexual," he said in a phone interview today.  

Hyman didn't have formal permission to photograph in the museum but he said that "people take personal pictures there all the time." 

A museum employee who was passing through the gallery stopped the photo shoot and escorted the pair to the front of the building to wait for police. 

When asked for a comment, the museum issued the following statement: "As a nonprofit institution on city-owned land, the Met, like all other individual and institutional citizens, is subject to municipal laws, rules, and regulations."

Hyman's photography exhibition is planned to open Sept. 3 at the Chair and the Maiden Gallery in Manhattan. 

-- David Ng

Photo: a view of the Metropolitan Museum's arms and armor gallery. Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Comments () | Archives (37)

Um... is this some kind of a publicity stunt for the MET and the photographer?
'Cause seriously, folks. This is just ridiculous.

I've seen his work, and I'm not impressed.

I sleep in the nude, maybe I should be arrested each morning when I get up...?

great publicity for the model and artist, and this case is a slam dunk First Amendment dismissal.

This is much ado about nothing. Nudity is not in itself obscene.

In Vermont and San Fransisco, among other places, it is legal to even walk the streets naked. I go to the hot springs in Ojai, CA all the time without a stitch on and no one says a word.

Why was she arrested whereas the men paying her were not? This goes beyond absurd!

What a waste of money and time. I thought we got over this in the 60's!

Slamdunk First Amendment dismissal? And you got your law degree where?

Has Miller v. California been overturned? Since obscenity is based on a "community" standard and this is NYC versus some rural community, there's a compelling argument but it's by no stretch a slamdunk since it seems that public nudity is against municipal rules (which could defacto be argued to be the "community" standard).

This is just insane. How can they be confusing fine art with profane acts?

I just hope they all get off without any charges otherwise this just opens the flood gates to similar prosecutions in the future.

When I was a kid, If I wanted to see a naked woman the choice was an Art Gallery or the National Geographic.

Now that I realize the immense harm that exposure to images of nude women has done to me. I am pleased that National Geographic has cleaned up its act and no longer has to be hidden from minors, but the Art Galleries have been in flagrante indelicto for centuries now, believing themselves to be above social and cultural norms by virtue of their many degrees and foundations.

I strongly believe that these lurid and suggestive works of art should be made decent with perhaps a grant from Victoria's Secret, PlayTex or some other brassiere manufacturers, who will cover not only the bill, but the artworks as well, especially the busts.

Oh, the busts . . .

If they didn't like it, they should have asked them to stop, not arrested them. It sounds like art to me.

They probably thought having the shoot there was safe since it has to be one of the least visited section of the museum.

Paintings and sculptures of naked women are art. They have taken a subject and interpreted and rendered it as some other object. A naked person is not art. A naked person may perform art, as in a dance, but the naked body is not itself art.

Even if it were, it does not belong in an art museum without permission of the institution, just as it's not okay for any old person to tack a few of their drawings to the walls.

you've got to be kidding

This is the big inconsistency in this culture where brutality and depravity can be shown on TV. How are we suppose to deal with this discrepancy between appearance and reality?

hey, kids, what time is it?

it's time for a tush-in at the met!

A point that people characteristically miss, even people commenting on this article and certainly for as long and in every place this subject has been visited in the courts, is that the rights of the public are one thing. Obscenity is quite another. This is not about obscenity. The issue usually, and certainly in this case, is appropriateness. It is appropriate to paint or sculpt a nude. It is appropriate to display the nude painting or sculpture in an appropriate place. It is appropriate to bathe in the nude. It is appropriate for some to sleep in the nude. It is inappropriate by generally accepted and community standards to sleep or bathe in the nude in “Macy’s window”.

There is a time and place for nudity. I just wonder what kind of reaction she would have if she wore a bikini? I just know without a shadow of a doubt, someone would have either put a dollar bill in a fold or started chanting "Take it off, or show me..........."

People are just so cavalier with respect to those things God intended to be shared as being 'special' between a married couple. There is a season for everything, including and especially nudity.

America's Fear of the Naked Body is Beyond Belief.

new york is a very confused place.

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