Nude Art Controversy Raises the Question: Is it Art, Or is It Naked Therapy?

Nude Art Controversy Raises the Question: Is it Art, Or is It Naked Therapy?
Sarah White, the original Naked Therapist
(Photo by Francesco Sapienza, courtesy sarahwhitetherapy.com)

NEW YORK — Earlier this month the Brooklyn-based artist Sarah White was suddenly removed from the roster of participants in this weekend's West Chelsea Artists Open Studios (WCAOS) after submitting an image pertaining to her planned performance at the Hotel Americano. The performance would have melded components of her artistic work and her actual therapeutic profession, so-called "Naked Therapy" — a hybrid practice that incorporates elements of relationship and sex therapy, often via live video chat. "I was removed from WCAOS after submitting my feature art piece," White explained to ARTINFO today, "by the director [Scotto Mycklebust] who stated in an email that my piece was an 'ad' and not art and that I am a 'commercial entity' and 'not an artist.'" Undaunted, she has decided to press ahead with an abridged performance and public discussion at the hotel on Sunday, the final evening of the open studios event.

"I decided to hold my one-night event to protest the censorship," White said, "to show my work and let people decide if it's art or not, if I am an artist and/or a commercial entity, and to hold an open public discussion forum on the issues of ads vs. art, commercial entities vs. artists, and the professional segregation of women who use the performative body provocatively."

 

Meanwhile, Mycklebust accused White of using WCAOS to advertise her therapy practice with the image featuring the Web site address TheNakedTherapist.org — which White claims is the title of her artwork and unrelated to her separate commercial site, SaraWhiteTherapy.com. In a statement he gave to DNAinfo, he specified that the event "is not open to commercial entities who take advantage of this free event to promote their own businesses." 

White — who cites Marina Abramovic, Cindy Sherman, and Laurel Nakadate as major influences, and has appeared on many television programs including as an expert on a Fox News segment at the time of the Anthony Weiner scandal — sees Mycklebust's objection as an earnest but troubling symptom of a broader, more systemic problem. "I actually take Mr. Mycklebust's assertion that he removed me from the event due to his thinking that my work was self-promotion as being an accurate statement of how he felt," she told ARTINFO, "but I also find it to be the exact issue that is so troubling."

"It's troubling because of what I believe the underlying issues to be," she continued. "I believe that I was removed so suddenly because what I do for a living is considered by some to be illegitimate and illegitimizing, because I am a woman using the performative body provocatively and unironically inside and outside my art, because some in the art world have yet to recognize the realities and modalities of the 21st century in which the Internet deeply blurs the lines between self-promotion, commerce, and art, because I am not yet a 'famous' (i.e. 'money-making') artist."

White specifies that at the time she was rejected from the event she had not yet settled on the format of her performance — which would have accompanied a hanging of her photography-based work in a hotel room — but she also admitted the blurry line between her artistic and therapeutic naked therapy practices. "There is a distinction, though they are at times in conversation," she said. "Naked Therapy is a therapeutic practice meant to help people feel better. And while I have made and still do make art entirely unrelated to my work as The Naked Therapist, some of my recent artistic practice draws on themes also found in Naked Therapy (arousal, sexuality, body, repression, the Internet, etc.)."

West Chelsea Artists Open Studios runs May 11-13. Sarah White's performance at the Hotel Americano takes place May 13 from 4-8pm.

To see a clip of Naked Therapist Sarah White on Fox News addressing the Anthony Weiner controversy, click on the video below:

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