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Temecula criticized for removing nude portrait from gallery

February 18, 2010 | 11:36 am

An anti-censorship advocacy group is criticizing Temecula city officials for removing a nude painting from a city-owned gallery.

The National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter this week to City Manager Shawn Nelson after a portrait of a woman by local artist Jeffrey Scott Hebron was pulled from the show “Visual Expressions 2010” at the Merc gallery because it was not "family-friendly."

“Simple nudity is not sufficient ground for excluding artwork from public exhibition,” the letter stated.

It also cited several U.S. Supreme Court cases that found public officials could not censor material simply because they found it offensive or provocative.

Hebron said he went to the gallery on opening night Jan. 22, expecting to see his painting, but it was not there. He went up to the storage unit in the attic, where he found it stashed, and as he was carrying it down, artists and gallery-goers came by to take a look.

“I’ve been painting for 20 years," Hebron said. "You go to any gallery in the world and you’ll see this. I’m not a political person, but as an artist I feel like everyone should be able to judge for themselves.”

City officials could not be reached for comment.

The coalition's programs director, Svetlana Mintcheva, who penned the letter, said it was probably too late to rehang the painting in the gallery because the show ends Sunday. But raising the issue may prevent a similar situation from occurring, she said.

“We’d like the city to apologize to the artists, but much more importantly, to clarify policy," Mintcheva said. "The city manager cannot come in and censor a curated show.”

-- Amina Khan