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Naked truth denied, says artist


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2000

TAMPA -- University of South Florida graduate student Shane Richardson labored for months over his art exhibit at the Centre Gallery at the Marshall Center on campus.

To express the fragile nature of mankind, he built a long tunnel of white cloth and stretched it to a fiberglass cave. Richardson planned to live naked in the cave for three weeks while visitors made their way down the tunnel to watch him on a monitor.

Five weeks ago, he shared details of his exhibit Sanctuary for Satellites with Centre Gallery director Katherine Manger.

Manger raised concerns about security at the Marshall Center, where people are not allowed to stay overnight. She wasn't too crazy about the nudity, either.

"No one can be in the gallery while the Marshall Center is closed," Manger wrote in the final contract allowing Richardson to present the exhibit. She added, "The artist does not have permission to be nude in the gallery."

Richardson, who had spent $5,000 creating the exhibit over several months, altered it to conform to those specifications. When the exhibit opens at 7 tonight, he'll only spend two hours in the cave. And he won't be naked.

To him, it's censorship, and it undercuts the themes he is expressing in his exhibit. "(It is) about fragility and the human form," Richardson said. "Nudity is a very vulnerable state. (Not allowing the nudity) inhibits the fragility."

Manger, who is presiding over her first gallery exhibit since becoming director recently, said her concerns had nothing to do with censorship. She said Richardson's delay in telling gallery officials about the nudity didn't leave them enough time to accommodate those aspects of the exhibit.

"The whole crux of the issue is that (the nudity proposal) was too late," she said. "And it was a huge added element." She said a compromise could have been worked out had Richardson let them know earlier. "No nudity was never a posted rule," she said.

The Centre Gallery, founded in the mid-1980s and autonomous of the University of South Florida art department, has traditionally been considered an alternative space for cutting-edge artwork.

Exhibits are given the initial go-ahead by a panel of students and teachers who make up the gallery board. "It's driven by student decisions," said Ron Jones, dean of the school of fine arts at USF. But a final decision comes from the Centre Gallery director.

There have been censorship issues raised in previous exhibits at the gallery, which is in the heavily trafficked Marshall Center, where students come to eat, play video games, browse shops or use the ATM machines.

Local artist Derek Washington chose to include a loop of a pornographic video in his 1991 Centre Gallery show. The gallery added disclaimers about the adult nature of the show and IDs were checked at the door. "They tried to shut it down," said Washington,"But it went through. But I do believe doors closed for other artists because of it."

The tunnel leading to the cave is visible from the corridors of the Marshall Center, but when Richardson is inside the exhibit, neither he nor the television monitor will be visible to passers-by. Richardson said there was enough time for officials to consider, and allow his exhibit as proposed. He thinks the ruling against his nudity came from Marshall Center officials, and not the students who decide on the exhibits. Debbie Lum, the assistant director for the Marshall Center, said the center had no input on the decision. "We work together . . . but we never tell them, "No, you can't do this.' "

This week, as he prepared for the opening, Richardson was resigned to exhibiting his work in its altered state.

"Fighting this was just too much work," he said.

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