But is it Art? No, it's Child Abuse

How the 20th century New York pop art brigade and its middle class sexist followers are too hypocritical to stand up and identify child abuse when they see it

I guess one should never be surprised by the hypocrisy, sexism, and downright inhumanity of those who dwell in the higher echelons of the publishing, literary and art worlds. It's the same all over the world.

Edifying news this week of Emma Tamburlini's legal battle to destroy footage taken by her famous father, Larry Rivers, of herself and her sister, beginning when she was 11 years old and going through puberty. The girls, it is reported, were told to strip naked every six months so Daddy could film their growing breasts. For five years he continued, filming their genitalia and getting them to talk about their relationships with their boyfriends. All in the name of art, of course.

And how Emma suffered. At 16 she was anorexic, but her father dismissed this as "middle-class".

Ha! Nothing could be more bourgeois than using shock, surely, to thrill the dull matrons and their rich husbands into buying art? Oh yes, Rivers knew all about middle-class, he was dirty old man middle-class masquerading as high art, and getting away with it all the way to the bank.

As is the Rivers Foundation today. New York University, which has purchased all the Rivers archives from the Foundation, looked set to follow in the same footsteps, at first merely expressing "sympathy" for Emma, now 43, who is terrified the footage will be publicly displayed. But after the story came to light, NYU now says it doesn't want the series of films and videos titled Growing. The Rivers Foundation, however, is still unable to say what it will do with them.

Why? Because it's art, dahling, and the show must go on, and the film represents Rivers' commitment to shock and outrage.

There are many ways to shock and outrage, and breaching property rights is one of them. Just whose body is it in these films? And is an 11-year-old able to give consent?

Artists, writers and publishers are the first to cry foul when someone breaches copyright, and (correct me if I'm wrong Andrew Geddis) but I'm sure the "shock and outrage as art" defence wouldn't get the defendant very far in court.

And before anyone starts thinking about comparing this case with literature, such as Lolita - don't. First, Lolita is a novel so there is no real victim. And secondly, my take on Lolita (and I've read it several times, including one version with a foreword by Nabakov) is it's a cautionary tale, not a recommendation for underage sexual relationships. 

Emma Tamburlini is more than just a human being at the centre of this case. She's the daughter of a famous artist who abused her. Now she's abused again by the organisations who kid themselves that child porn is art. And if you agree with them, answer me this:

If George W. Bush had stripped his daughters naked and filmed their breasts, and their genitals every six months until they were 17 years old, then the movies had ended up in the national archives, do you really think the Manhattan art scene would have stood around in DKNY, sipping champers, air-kissing and saying, "Isn't it marvellous, dahling?"