Is there something about Michelangelo’s statues of David that leads people to act erratically? According to the New York Times a man attacked his iconic sculpture in Florence in 1991. Wielding a hammer he broke the second toe on David’s left foot, bizarrely claiming he was acting on instructions from an artist’s model who lived in the sixteenth century.
Now, another David statue has also been assaulted – although this time more in artistic terms.
The culprit was China’s state TV channel CCTV which was reporting on the statue’s arrival in the country. But when it was shown on the midday news segment, the broadcaster blocked out the statue’s genitals fearing that they might “arouse sentiments”.
Netizens reacted immediately, mocking the channel for its inability to distinguish between pornography and art.
“The obscene only see obscenity,” remarked one weibo user, while a joke quickly went viral: “What next? Will Venus di Milo have to wear a bra?”
Later in the afternoon CCTV thought better of its decision and removed David’s digital fig leaf in later bulletins. But by then netizens already had their gander up and the subject became one of the favourite topics on weibo. In particular, CCTV’s prudishness inspired acres of photoshopping, as clothes were added to a series of other works of art. David himself got a Mao suit, while Michelangelo’s Adam (from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) donned a strategically-draped Chippendale tie.
Of course, the Venus di Milo was soon sporting various sizes of bra.
Netizens also superimposed a large pair of red shorts on an image of CCTV’s much-ridiculed headquarters in Beijing. The futuristic structure, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, is nicknamed ‘the underpants’ because of its unorthodox shape.
The newspapers largely agreed that CCTV’s act of censorship was unnecessary, not least because the segment was intended to publicise an exhibition of Italian Renaissance art at the National Museum in Beijing. The show, the most prestigious the museum has ever held, is part of its centenary celebrations and plays into a wider drive to raise China’s cultural standing.
“The CCTV decision shows a refusal to be open-minded,” the People’s Daily wrote (quite a claim, given the source). “Actions like this are an enemy to cultural exchange.”
The Xi’an Evening News weighed in too, saying that CCTV’s inability to tell the difference between “an artistic depiction and an image taken from pornography” showed that the channel’s “artistic sensibility and cultural understanding are low”.
Yet some came to CCTV’s defence, arguing that a midday newscast during the summer holidays would be seen by lots of children.
Fortunately, the Beijing Times then quoted a representative from the Italian Embassy striking a more conciliatory note.
“Blurring the private parts of the sculpture with mosaic is perhaps a choice made by CCTV to protect the most sensitive audiences, for which we express our respect and also our thanks for their broadcast.”
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