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Tennessee art gallery's no-nudes policy draws criticism

By The Associated Press

03.28.02

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Arts Commission bans nude art at its gallery, but an anti-censorship group says the naked truth is that nudes have been a staple of Western art since ancient Greece.

The commission has blocked a Knoxville artist's painting of a female nude.

As a result, the New York-based National Coalition Against Censorship has urged Rich Boyd, executive director of the arts commission, to reconsider the ban.

"This has always been our policy, because this is a public gallery, and we are a state agency that has schoolchildren coming through here," Boyd said yesterday.

He said the state Attorney General's office had advised him that the ban appeared legally sound.

The dispute arose after a group of oil paintings by Ernie Sandidge of Knoxville was accepted last fall for a future group show at the gallery. When Sandidge was later informed that a nude work included in his submission could not be part of the show, he objected.

The NCAC took up his cause with a letter to Boyd dated March 21. However, the group said legal action would not be practical.

"In court, this could go either way and would go into this complex public forum analysis," said Svetlana Mintcheva, NCAC's arts advocacy project coordinator. "It takes four years for something to come through (the courts), and in the meantime you can't see the work of the artist. So, it's not productive, in terms of getting the art out there."

Sandidge, 35, said he thinks schoolchildren can learn from his paintings.

"What I'm working on now is a total work. The nudes form an integral part of the complete body of work. Although all of the work doesn't necessarily represent naked people, some of the work does, and all the work goes together."

The commission's 650-square-foot gallery, located across from the state Capitol, features work by Tennessee artists, usually in small group shows. The exhibits rotate every six weeks.

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