Controversy marks unveiling of 40-foot-tall naked sculpture

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A privately funded 40-foot-high bronze sculpture of five naked women and four naked men has been unveiled on public ground in Nashville, Tenn., and some are questioning why such "artwork" is acceptable while a display of the Ten Commandments is not.

The $1.1 million sculpture, called "Musica" and placed in the center of a roundabout on Music Row in downtown Nashville, is meant by the sponsors to provide tourists with a sense of the different types of music that have emerged from Music City.

But some observers note there is no obvious connection between naked sculptures and music, and the sculpture would violate the city's obscenity laws if it were not categorized as "art."

"It seems quite hypocritical to me that, in a nation like ours, naked statues paid for by private money can be displayed on public land but a copy of the Ten Commandments paid for by private funds could not," Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, said in a statement to Baptist Press.

"If someone were to pay for a bronze statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments to be displayed on public property, my guess is that the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State would be crying out against it."

Sutton said he hopes the newly elected Nashville Metro City Council will review the issue and remove the statues.

Musica is composed of five 16-foot-tall nude figures springing from a limestone foundation surrounding a vertical group of four more figures reaching upward with the highest figure, a female, holding a tambourine. The 10-ton sculpture is believed to be the largest bronze figure group in the United States.

"What I intended, in very simple terms, was to convey the sense of joy and exuberance that music gives us, and it had to be something that lasted for all time, not something that was specifically one kind of music," Alan LeQuire, the sculptor of Musica, said in The City Paper in Nashville Oct. 13. "It had to represent all kinds of music."

The figures were constructed at a Wyoming foundry before being shipped to Nashville on a flatbed truck and assembled at the Music Row roundabout. About 2,000 people turned out for the unveiling Oct. 11.

The Tennessean daily newspaper in Nashville set up a forum on its website, www.tennessean.com, for people to share their comments about the new sculpture. Despite a mostly positive response, some citizens took issue.

"This isn't about music.... I cannot recall one instance of people celebrating the sounds of music AND displaying their most private parts at the same time. Did this design come from the Sodom and Gomorrah scrapbook?" one man wrote.

Another person said she thinks the display of nudity is a disgrace to the community and to children.

"We put ratings on our movies for children, and then you are allowed to put something like this for everyone to see," she wrote.

Another person is ashamed of Nashville for allowing the sculpture to be placed on public property.

"As an artist myself I have no problem with nudity," the person wrote. "But to say this embodies music, or even Nashville is a very large stretch.... It makes me sad to think of the many parents who don't share the artist's view that have to drive past this sculpture with their kids. I agree it is an art piece and is nicely done, but linking it to music and Nashville and displaying nudity in everyone's view is a very bad call. Once again the art does not embody the Nashville community as a whole but merely a very small sect."

The sculpture was first proposed in 1999 when the city was preparing to undergo road construction near Music Row and wanted to enhance its standing as a cultural center. Local arts patrons funded the sculpture on the condition of anonymity.

LeQuire, a Nashville sculptor known for his 42-foot-tall rendition of the goddess Athena in Nashville's replica of the Parthenon, sculpted Musica using live models -- two white women and one white man, a black man and woman, one Asian woman, a Native American man and a Hispanic man and woman.

In the original proposal, the sculpture was to feature semi-clad dancing figures, according to a 1999 Tennessean article, but LeQuire ultimately chose not to clothe the sculptures so that he would not "date" the time period. He also chose to use easily recognizable "contemporary" figures rather than idealized or allegorical figures, The Tennessean reported.

"I react negatively to realistic figurative art that has mythological or religious subject matter. It's just hard to relate to that anymore," LeQuire said. "Those particular themes aren't as vital to our culture anymore, especially mythology. And it has been my motivation from the beginning to create significant figurative work that uses real people."

LeQuire believes the rough texture of the surface of the figures will keep the graphic nudity "semi-hidden," though he justifies the nudity by explaining that he is "a classically trained sculptor and this is a classically inspired piece."


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SHROUDED NO LONGER.

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