Breasts, three of them, to be exact, are shown in Two Tahitian Women, one of the French painter's most famous works. The island poitrines were recently the subject of an attack by Susan Burns, an apparently demented woman who went to Washington's National Gallery and tried to destroy the painting. Ms. Burns felt the breasts portrayed were the evil work of an evil man. No harm was done, luckily, and Two Tahitian Women, which is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is back on exhibit. We don't know the status of Ms. Burns' own breasts, but hope she treats them with more tolerance.
There's nothing really new about crazy people attacking works of art. In 1972 Michelangelo's La Pieta was injured by Laszlo Toth, an irate geologist wielding a mallet. In a 2008 article, the UK's Observer listed 13 works of art that had been damaged by viewers. These included a Picasso (elbowed), a cast of Rodin's Thinker (dynamited) , a Mondrian (vomited upon) and a Monet (punched). There is even another breast case: ex-soldier Robert Cambridge drew a 12-bore shotgun from under his coat and fired at the Virgin's breast in Da Vinci's Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist at London's National Gallery. Breasts are obviously popular with the mad.
But breasts are not what I'm really interested in writing about today. Rather, I am fascinated by the electronic media's reaction to the assault.
The same people who give us Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of Wherever and a host of other truly repugnant programs decided that their viewers should not be subjected to the sight of the Gauguin maidens' torsos and used all sorts of ingenious methods to pretend nipples don't exist.
Fox blurred the nipples, making the two Tahitian beauties look as if they'd been maimed by Torquemada. ABC affiliates used the news banner to cover the breasts while NBC merely cropped the image of the painting so it resembled a driver license photo.
According to today's Washington Post, Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Superbowl might be to blame. Or (and I shudder to think this might be the case) complaints were voiced by a few viewers forced to see naked statues during the last Olympic's opening ceremonies. Or maybe the same people who a while back shrouded the statue of a clothes-less Justice in a government building have finally come to power.
It would be funny if it weren't sort of sad, this love-hate thing with breasts. Half the population has them, and (let's face it) the other half worships them. Personally, I think we should focus our attention on knees, or spleens, or maybe even tracheas. No one would attack them, and no one would be bothered if they were displayed.