The paintings came from the university's art collection. One depicted a female nude, a self-portrait of the artist, Nicki Jane Palin. Another, a male nude by Sam Walsh, attracted the most negative comments. The third, a relatively "straight" portrait of J Edgar Hoover by the same artist, was also condemned as inappropriate for a public space.
The experience here suggests that the threat posed by the display of genitalia is inclusive: if the female nude is effectively obliterated as an acceptable subject for painters whose work is displayed in public spaces, so is the male.
However, the objection to the portrait of J Edgar Hoover is about an opposition to modernism - as is the real objection to the nudes in this case. Had they have been classically real and beautiful, the traditionalists would not have felt so threatened. They would have been satisfied that their norms and traditions were being carried on in the best possible taste. A reproduction of The Three Graces and its genitalia would have been admired by all.
The alarming consequence will be that the work of living artists will not be purchased by institutions nervous of offending the new moral vigilantes. Who in such institutions, I wonder, will keep on addressing modern aesthetic values, rather than the anodyne decoration of rest rooms?
Lecturer in Education
University of Liverpool