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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)

Yup, I'd say that this is exactly what the photographer was hoping for. Intentionally set out to do something that (he hopes) will cause a stink, then wax eloquent about how he can't believe that anyone noticed. I wonder what he would have tried next, if no one had taken notice of this stunt.

Just because there are paintings of nude people in the museum doesn't mean that it's OK to take your clothes off in there. There are paintings of dead people in the museum, too; doesn't mean it's OK to drag a dead body in there.

How many people would be comfortable in a completely clothing optional world ? Usually, with public nudity, its the context of the act that seems to determine the pub;ic reaction.

26 year old model? Nothing wrong with it!!

63 year old grandmother? The horror!!!

Had it been a nude man, this would have been considered sexual harassment because it occurred in a workplace and it created a hostile environment for the female employees.

Remember The Nude Guy at Berkeley who decided he would go to all his classes naked?

What century are we living in? Nearly every channel on tv has nudity, web sites everywhere, it is pure human, it is what we are made of. Get over it. Nudity is beauty even if "art" is not involved.

I guess it is OK to sell automatic guns at the gun shows, invent previously inexistent syndroms just to sell "new" drugs (restless legs syndrom), kick out of health insurance sick people, but it is NOT ok to see a naked person because......

Yes a nude body is not in itself obscene, but what she did is still against the law because it's done in a public place. There's a huge difference between a painting on a wall of a nude woman and a woman who takes all her clothes off in front of a 7 year old boy in a public place. Some may find that ok, but it shouldn't be forced on that kid. How would you feel if some dirty old man felt like he wanted to become an "artist" and decided to walk around naked in front of your 7 year old daughter who was on a school field trip to a museum? I guess by the standards of some of those who responded here, since the nude body isn't obscene, it's perfectly ok.

I once wrote an essay on why we wear clothes. It is interesting to really give it some thought. The first time I swam in the nude was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. Being nude is a very liberating feeling for some people. On the other hand, I love clothes. Clothes are used not only for warmth and protection to our physical bodies but a way to tell others who we are or perhaps more accurately who we want them to think we are. There is a wonderful documentary that I was able to get from Netflix called "Naked World". Whether something is appropriate or not is a function of the mind. Maybe rather than examine why someone goes naked we should examine why we wear clothing when it would be more "appropriate" to go without.

Consider this: the incident took place at a display of arms and armor. So it's okay to display the various ways we kill and injure one another, but not okay to stand there wearing what we were born in?

The same thing applies to television. I can flip through the basic cable channels at any time and see blood-splattered death and violence on several channels. But when I look for actual nudity, I don't find it.

Why is it okay to display acts and implements of cruelty, but not okay to display the human form in all its forms?

Charged with "endangering a minor", "ENDANGERING A MINOR"!!!!!!. No wonder the USA has such appalling outcomes for things like teenage abortion, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Attitudes have consequences and the attitudes that produce such a stupid charge result in widespread and often serious harm. There is not a shred of evidence that nudity causes harm to anyone, of any age.

The countries which are most relaxed about nudity and children have vastly better outcomes for body image and body knowledge related issues. Teenagers become sexually active nearly a year older, are more likely to use a condom and contraception and are less likely to be promiscuous. The results are not surprising. Several times less likely to have an abortion, about ten times less likely to become pregnant and about seventy times less likely to catch gonorrhea. Body-shame is harmful, and it is especially harmful to children and young people. There is absolutely no question about that.

It was the right charge but the wrong perpetrator. The authorities who arrested and charged her are the ones endangering a minor.

I work as a life model over here in England and have done for 20 years. I think I can say with confidence the museum has over reacted on this. Though I do think the photographer should have gained permission from the museum first.

I allways believed America to be the land of the free, it appears that if one does my job (life model) then it's not so free.

I guess I best stay in England where I can work without fear of being thrown into jail

artists have drawn, painted and sculpted the naked human (mostly female)figure since time immemoriam....does that mean it was all about art?
i think not; artists are no less sexual beings than anyone else....they simply found an acceptable reason for gazing upon naked women.
life figure classes at art schools are merely anomalies, a throw-back to pre-camera times and a "society-sanctioned" opportunity for instructors to get some free t and a.
i kind of believe the last pornographer not using a camera was the brilliant austrian artist egon schiele.
i have extensive experience as a naked male art model and you can read abut my experiences and observations on my blog at www.themodelundraped.blogspot.com

I am not surprised at all. Seriously.

is nudity is an art?

the artist has the right to free speech,the model broke the law that's why she was arrested.

For what its worth, it's technically legal for women to go bare-chested in New York City parks. This was tested some time ago by two friends and the only victim appeared to be the red-faced cop who had to admit he was wrong.

Dear Friends:

To arrest someone just for posing nude at a museum is
beyond acceptance. With her nude body, the model was credit-
int the Museum, to say the least. In any case, the person
who called the police is rather uncouth. He or she should
simply have asked the couple to discontinue the activity.
To call the police for this is offensive. Thank you, JRM

Well they should just take down all art forms in the museum that resemble any nudity then, what's the difference between someone viewing a picture of someone nude and the real thing if he/she believes the picture to be real? The people nude in the painting were most likely real people nude at one point no?

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