Art and morality collide at the North Van's Polygon Gallery

A North Vancouver father says the Polygon Gallery has gone too far, hosting a children’s event when one of the exhibits inside features an illustrated penis.

Alex Goldkind was with his four-year-old daughter in Lower Lonsdale Feb. 1 when a gallery staffer invited them in for their monthly Kids First Saturday event on the upper floor.

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On the main level, however, they were given a booklet that accompanies the current collage exhibition called I Spy, by Vancouver artist Elizabeth Zvonar, and were asked to circle images inside as they found them in the large collage on the wall. The first one Goldkind saw on the wall was an 18th century political cartoon depicting Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, with general Marquis de Lafayette, who is riding an ostrich shaped like male genitalia.

“Well, it’s a penis and balls. It’s pretty obvious, right? This is not rocket science here. I was just floored,” he said. “I just grabbed my daughter quickly before she saw it and I walked around the corner, just livid. I tore into all the staff there. I said ‘Are you guys insane? You’re inviting children into this?’”

Staff were so frightened by the outburst, they called the RCMP.

Goldkind said he takes no issue with nudity in art and he has no problem with adults coming to view it, but he said he feels the collage image should be considered pornography.

“It’s one thing to see the statue of David or something with a non-erect penis — because I think that’s art — but this is a situation where it is like an erotic piece of art, which should not be displayed to children.”

Reid Shier, director of the Polygon Gallery, wrote to Goldkind after to apologize, saying staff unintentionally failed to post a warning sign for visitors about the imagery they may see.

“And we take full responsibility for that. We dropped the ball,” he said in a later interview.

The political cartoon was not one of the images in the seek-and-find booklet.

He also invited Goldkind to the gallery so he could apologize in person. Goldkind said he was “absolutely not” satisfied with the apology and wants the gallery to stop inviting minors in when they might see images like he saw in I Spy.

While Shier apologized for the warning not being posted, he makes no apologies for the art itself. Anyone who fixates on any one image in I Spy is going to miss the entire point Zvonar is making with it, he said.

“Her interests are in the proliferation of visual imagery, particularly now, and certainly across the internet – our ability to deal with all of that, which often comes at us in unrelated ways, and in torrents at times,” he said.

“She’s interested in the representation of women and the idea of why it’s OK to show female nudity and sometimes it’s not [OK to show] male nudity.”

The collage itself is three and a half metres by two and a half metres, made up of more than 100 images taken mostly from lifestyle magazines. The cartoon featuring the penis is more than two metres from the ground.

Shier said the warning sign for parents will stay in place but the exchange won’t impact how they curate exhibitions in the future.

“The responsibility of the gallery is to show challenging material. We really regret that there was no adequate warning and context to the parent and complaint,” he said. “The variety of our programs and activities allows for diverse communities to enjoy all kinds of art, yet everything is not for everyone.”

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© North Shore News

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