The Sun pulls art gallery ad depicting nude

Concerns raised about readers

August 04, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Art "banned in Baltimore" - by The Sun, no less.

That's the claim on posters recently created by Craig Flinner, owner of an art gallery based two blocks from the newspaper's headquarters in downtown Baltimore. On July 16, The Sun published an advertisement for the Craig Flinner Gallery that included a stamp-sized, black-and-white reproduction of a nude. Painted in oils by William Reginald Watkins, it depicted a woman seated on a chair draped in heavy cloth.

Later that day, Flinner said, he was told by a Sun advertising representative that publisher and CEO Denise E. Palmer had decided the ad should not run again because of the nudity. Flinner singled Palmer out in a poster protesting the paper's decision.

"I'm not truly upset about this," Flinner said at his gallery, where he sells paintings, posters and vintage newspapers - including historic editions of The Sun. But, he asked, "Who's it going to offend?" He pointed out that the newspaper accepts advertisements for strip bars and massage parlors.

The Sun decided not to republish the painting in subsequent ads, according to Lenora Howze, The Sun's vice president of advertising. Instead, she said, after reviewing the ad, which ran on page 3A, the advertising department invoked Palmer's right to decide what's fit for publication on her behalf.

"We have a somewhat conservative readership," Howze said. "We've gotten complaints on things as innocent as underwear ads."

The Sun aims to be responsive to the tastes of its readers as well as the marketing desires of its advertisers, Howze said. "It's really a discretion and judgment call," she said, adding that she considered Watkins' painting to be artistic, not offensive.

Other newspapers similarly juggle readers' tastes with the pursuit of profits. For example, the Seattle Times attempts to show restraint in considering provocative images, though it has no stated policy. "We tend to avoid any material that is sexually explicit in the newspaper itself," said Seattle Times spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin.

On its news pages, The Sun has repeatedly published artistic images of nudes, including paintings and sculptures by Henri Matisse, Michelangelo's David, and renderings of Honore Balzac by Auguste Rodin.

What would the British-born Watkins, who taught for 48 years at the Maryland Institute College of Art, think of the flap over his painting? Undoubtedly, Watkins, a realist who died in 1985 at the age of 94, would have made his feelings clear. Known for his criticism of contemporary tastes, Watkins once condemned the Baltimore Museum of Art as "incompetent" because it unwittingly selected for display an "abstract" painting by his 5-year-old son while turning down several of his own.

Sun researcher Shelia Jackson contributed to this article.

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