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Y. excludes 4 Rodin sculptures, citing `lack of dignity,' not nudity

Brigham Young University's problem with four pieces included in "The Hands of Rodin, a Tribute to B. Gerald Cantor" exhibit is not with the nudity but with the lack of dignity portrayed, says the museum's director.

Campbell Gray, director of the Museum of Art for the past year, said a committee made up of faculty members, administrators, the museum's board and him, determined the pieces they've chosen to exclude do not convey a message that's positive about the exhibit or the 19th century French sculptor, Francois-Auguste-Rene Rodin."The Kiss," "Saint John the Baptist Preaching," "The Prodigal Son" and "Monument to Balzac" all move away from the sensitive and subtle messages the rest of the 56-piece exhibit portrays, said Campbell.

"Nudity isn't the issue, it's more the latter (the lack of dignity)," said Campbell.

"It's a wonderful exhibit without them. It is superb. Rodin focused on the human body as the source of expression for his art."

Every exhibit has its own message and Rodin used hands to convey allegories of deep emotion wonderfully well, said Gray. "We believe each (of the four pieces excluded) would have deflected the meanings of the exhibit."

"The Kiss," portrays a man and a woman embracing. "Saint John the Baptist Preaching" shows the biblical prophet striding toward an unknown purpose. "Monument to Balzac" is unflattering of the portly gentleman.

Each piece is of naked subjects, but so are many of the other pieces kept in the exhibit, which opened Monday in the museum and stays on display through Jan. 24, 1998.

"Rodin's subject matter is the nude figure, generally," said Rachael Blackburn, curator of exhibitions at the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, which loaned the exhibit to BYU's Museum of Art. "If you get Rodin, that's what you get."

Blackburn said the Rodin pieces have not raised controversy at other places, including some universities and museums with religious affiliations. She was surprised at BYU's decision not to show the four pieces and not to distribute a free pamphlet the Cantor Foundation includes with the exhibit.

BYU will, however, sell two books about the exhibit at its bookstore.

"We didn't really understand the internal decisions going on there," Blackburn said. "It's not our preference that this be the situation, but we'll live with it. We didn't want to be reactionary about it."

BYU will store the four pieces until the entire exhibit is returned to the Cantor Foundation, Blackburn said.

Gray said he's been most interested in the quality of the debate that's gone on over whether to permit all of the pieces to go on display.

"I've only been here a year and it's been a very fulfilling experience for me, never having worked in the United States before, to see a freedom of debate that was a broad as this," said Gray.

"There is a genuine interest in our audience and the kind of message we're giving them," he said.

Each exhibit that comes to the university has three basic factors that interrelate and bring meaning to the works, said Gray. "The curatorial meaning, the context and the audience it's intended to reach."