Originally created 11/07/97

Professor's art causing controversy



Walk into Augusta State University's Fine Arts Center and the first thing the eye hits is an odd-looking array of feminine hygiene products exhibited on the wall as art.

The eyebrows raising as a result of that sight have created a slight ruckus at the university, where six students have officially complained about art Professor James Rosen's works in the annual faculty art show. At least seven years have passed since anyone complained about an exhibit in the show.

Dr. Rosen's two pieces are fashioned entirely from sanitary napkins, each with a single red dot and adorned by tampons. The works, Period Piece and Successful Showing, have been up since Oct. 30 and will remain for about a month.

Originally, only a pseudonym, MelisSA LEVY, was listed as the artist. But Dr. Rosen's name was added with his permission Wednesday after complaints. The pseudonym apparently is a play on the phrase c'est la vie, French for "that is life."

Choosing a feminine name instead of his own created more complaints than the materials Dr. Rosen used, university President Bill Bloodworth said Thursday. For example, Mary Jo Blue, a staff member at Augusta State who called the pieces "degrading and tasteless," mainly took issue with the pseudonym.

"It deeply offends me because it was done by a man using a woman's name," Ms. Blue said. "If he is so proud of his work to hang it up in the gallery, then he should use his own name on a piece like that one."

That is precisely Dr. Rosen's point in creating the pieces, said Elizabeth House, dean of the school of arts and sciences. She spoke Wednesday with Dr. Rosen, who is in Philadelphia until the weekend, to tell him of the complaints.

"He really was following an example in art history," Dr. House said. "It becomes an intellectual question: Does one perceive the work differently if it was created by a male or by a female? That was part of his intent."

The example Dr. Rosen used is that of Marcel Duchamp, a pioneer of the Dada movement that called ordinary objects art. He is most famous for his Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 but also is known for Fountain, which was nothing more than a urinal. He used "R. Mutt" as a pseudonym on Fountain.

"But that (Duchamp reference) is not immediately apparent to most people that see it," Dr. Bloodworth said. "I hope we can get Professor Rosen to discuss this a little bit."

There has been no talk of removing Dr. Rosen's pieces, though, and Dr. Bloodworth said the university wouldn't consider that. But Dr. Bloodworth said he regrets people have been offended.

"That act of removing it might be a worse act than the impression that people draw of it," Dr. Bloodworth said. "I'd hope that we'd turn it into an educational opportunity for people.

"I'm curious about the work itself," the president said. "I think a lot of people are."

Staff Writer Trey Reeves contributed to this article.