Hemming Plaza: MOCA Jacksonville and City Hall and Clay Yarborough

by Tim Gilmore, 12/4/2014

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Angela Strassheim’s photograph, part of the exhibit Project Atrium at MOCA Jacksonville. In Strassheim’s own words, the image depicts a “very pregnant woman basking in the last bit of afternoon sunlight as she waits for the birth of her child.” Folio Weekly published the image, while The Florida Times-Union published a censored version.

It wasn’t meant to be a gift. It was a mean-spirited, perverse, and vile attempt to hold the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville for ransom until they and the mayor acceded to his demands.

MOCA, by the way, is administered by the University of North Florida, and is one of Jacksonville’s oldest, largest, and most significant art museums.

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Poet and Professor Michael Palmer, with his daughter Cordelia, protesting on either side of Strassheim’s photograph. Image courtesy G.M. Palmer.

But Jacksonville City Council President Clay Yarborough accidentally proved not only that he knows nothing whatsoever about art and the flourishing culture of the city he supposedly represents, but that the arts community in this city is strong and vibrant and will not be bullied.

Artist Jefree Shalev, wearing a Jax by Jax Literary Festival t-shirt, photo by Debra Heuskin-Adloff.

The hundreds of arts supporters who rallied during downtown’s monthly Art Walk vendors’ fair on December 3, 2014 turned Yarborough’s anti-artistic and anti-intellectual vitriolic blackmail into loving support for all this city’s efforts at beauty and meaning.

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Yarborough, the 33 year-old baby-faced conservative whose biggest support group is probably the enormous First Baptist Church, found a dreamlike image of a nude eight-months-pregnant woman exhibited at MOCA Jacksonville pornographic.

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Yarborough, photographed by Will Dickey, courtesy The Florida Times-Union.

The photograph is part of photographer Angela Strassheim’s exhibit Project Atrium, which celebrates early childhood, the fleetingness of adolescence, and motherhood.

What Angela Strassheim Says

Strassheim told The Jacksonville Daily Record the photograph represented an “intimate moment of a nude, very pregnant woman basking in the last bit of afternoon sunlight as she waits for the birth of her child. She is not affected by the cold of winter outside her window.”

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December 3rd, Art Walk and MOCA Rally, brought thousands of visitors to see Strassheim’s exhibit at MOCA Jacksonville.

What Clay Yarborough Says

Yarborough—who apparently has no knowledge of art’s long history and tradition, which includes nudes from the Venus of Willendorf of 30,000 years ago to Titian’s 1538 Venus of Urbino to photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s 1919 Georgia O’Keeffe, Hands and Breasts with the great modernist master artist, his wife, as model—said he took “great offense on behalf of the people of Jacksonville” to this celebration of approaching motherhood.

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Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538

Yarborough then demanded, “Unless Mayor Brown supports this inappropriate, pornographic display, and accepts that anyone, including children can enter and see it, I insist that you immediately cause to be pulled all funding designated for MOCA for the current fiscal year or otherwise explain how this will be addressed within 24 hours.”

What the Miller Test of Obscenity Says

Miller versus California is a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision. The “Miller Test” refers to the ruling and to Marvin Miller, owner of a mail-order erotica distributor, who sued California after it passed legislation prohibiting  distribution of “obscene matter.”

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The Supreme Court came up with three criteria, every one of which must be true in order for any representative work to be subject to state obscenity regulations.

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According to the Miller Test, Clay Yarborough thinks Angela Strassheim’s pregnant nude:

  1. is a work “the average person would find…appeal[ing] to a lewd curiosity,”
  2. “depicts or describes, in an offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions,” and
  3. “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

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If Clay Yarborough thinks Strassheim’s photograph “appeals to a lewd curiosity,” and “depicts” sex or bodily waste excretion, and lacks any and all artistic value, then:

  1. Clay Yarborough is a most perverse and sexually-disturbed misogynistic individual,
  2. Clay Yarborough owes Angela Strassheim a deep and sincere apology, and
  3. Clay Yarborough owes the city of Jacksonville a deep and sincere apology.

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What Mayor Alvin Brown Says

The city’s miniscule (already embarrassingly low) funding ($233,029) for MOCA Jacksonville will remain, and MOCA will not be bullied into removing Strassheim’s art.

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What the Protestors Say

Just as the sun sets, hundreds of protestors against Clay Yarborough and supporters of MOCA Jacksonville hold signs and chant and laugh and smile and make fun of the petty Puritanical Councilman and wave to drivers-by who honk and smile, then speak about the beauty and grandeur and wonder of art and the strong support of Jacksonville’s “quality of life,” right here, on the steps of City Hall, this building itself one of Jacksonville’s great works of art, the 1912 signature piece of our greatest historical architect, Henry John Klutho.

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Wayne Wood, cultural impresario, one of the founders of Riverside Avondale Preservation and the Riverside Arts Market, tells this crowd that Clay Yarborough has inadvertently offered us a golden opportunity to display the strength of our culture and sophistication against him and to avoid electing politicians who claim to represent us while maligning and embarrassing the city.

Keri Kidder, LGBT advocate and cultural activist, has organized this rally and leads us in chants supporting MOCA. She’s directed all the negative energy churning bitterly in Jacksonville’s belly into an evening that invigorates everybody who’s shown up, confirms our solidarity, and allows us both to champion the arts and to have a great time.

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We hold signs and chant before news cameras in front of City Hall and we march past MOCA and all the artists set up in booths and tents for Art Walk in Hemming Plaza. I’m walking with my sister and my nephew, friends, writers, artists, students, professors, and friendly strangers.

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What the Signs Say

MORE CULTURE     LESS CULT

STOP EMBARRASSING OUR CITY

SKIN is not a SIN

small MINDS BELONG IN small CITIES

VOTE! (so BOOBS stay in MUSEUMS not in OFFICE)

DAVID WAS A PORN STAR

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VENUS WAS A PORN STAR

SAVE JAX FROM CLAY YEEHAW-BOROUGH!

BORN NUDE!

TRUE ART IS BUT THE EXPRESSION OF OUR LOVE FOR NATURE!

#istandwithMOCA

There is only one BOOB that needs to be removed from our sight

I ♥ MOCA

DON’T BITE the BREASTS that FED YOU

Pregancy ISN’T Pornography!

MOTHERS AREN’T OBSCENE!

Art = freedom of expression

MAYBE GOD DIGS ART

ART IS NOT PORN

CENSORSHIP ≠ LEADERSHIP

Jacksonville City Council Needs a “BOOB” Reduction

GOD CREATED PREGNANT WOMEN