"Porn Is the Norm"?: Incensed LES Parents Take on Explicit Gallery Show Outside an Elementary School

"Porn Is the Norm"?: Incensed LES Parents Take on Explicit Gallery Show Outside an Elementary School
Earlier this year, the Lower East Side art scene erupted in an X-rated controversy when "Pornucopia," a show of pornography-inspired art was mounted at Allegra LaViola Gallery, right under the censorious gaze of a neighboring Orthodox enclave. Now, yet another sex-fueled art scandal has landed in the neighborhood in the form of "Porno Paintings," a show of a dozen provocative works by artist Nick Weber that recently opened in an Orchard Street gallery, directly across from the gaping tweens and angry parents at the P.S. 42 elementary school.

Weber's photorealist oil paintings, inspired by stills from hardcore Internet pornography, show men and women cavorting in the nude and engaging in such explicit acts as group sex, oral sex, and fetishistic behavior (in one work, a collar-wearing boy sucks on a lady's foot). And, as much of the show at the aptly named Windows Gallery is visible from the street, concerned parents, educators, and members of a nearby church have felt compelled to complain both to gallery owner Dino Eli and to the police.

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The artist defended his paintings to the Herald Sun with the argument that children these days are frequently exposed "to much worse." For instance, "kids can watch people getting shot on TV," he told the Sun, explaining, "I was conflicted about how something that is bad could be beautiful." But "they are not photographs — they take about six months to paint." Parents, including LaToyia Carter, mother of a P.S. 42 first grader, aren't buying it. "I'm not ready to have this conversation with my six-year-old when he's walking to school and he sees pornographic pictures," she told CBS.

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Hamptons-based dealer Eli says that while he believes there's a positive message to the show — that "porn is the norm" — he's doing his best to stand outside the gallery and bodily block the offending images from view each afternoon, when school lets out. Again, Carter begs to differ. "We walked right here, and he was not here taking his precautions," she told CBS. "He was actually on the corner cheering."

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In an interview posted on the artist's Myartspace page, meanwhile, Weber cites another propriety-breaching artist, Balthus, as a major influence on his work. He then goes on to describe the meaning of his artistic practice: "We walk down the street and immediately have opinions about the people we pass," he says. "After enough years on the planet we should understand universal humanity." (No mention of how many years "enough" might be, or whether first graders apply.) "That's mostly what it's about, that and sexuality."

See the video below for both the artist and the gallerist's views on "Porno Paintings," which will remain on view through May 27: