Notorious Benglis Ad Stops the Presses

Pages 44-45 of the November/December 2013 Art Papers.
Pages 44-45 of the November/December 2013 issue of Art Papers.

The current issue of Art Papers contains a rich irony in the form of an almost blank page where an image should be, thanks to the magazine’s printer in St. Louis. An image violated the company’s decency code and was pulled at the last minute.  Saskia Benjamin, executive director of the Atlanta-based publication, received a call from their account representative: “We’ve stopped the presses.”

The yanked image was an illustration by New York artist Sara Greenberger Rafferty riffing on the notorious Lynda Benglis ad that appeared in 1974 in Artforum, featuring the nude artist holding a dildo at her crotch. Rafferty’s version was altered, primarily by the superimposition of David Letterman’s head over Benglis’. It was to have preceded an article by the always insightful Ben Davis on the waning of Artforum’s influence (also sure to spark some controversy).

In a brief statement that appears on the censored page, Rafferty says about the image: “It is not an artwork, but a joke in keeping with the spirit of this spread.” The spread also includes a partial “Top Ten” list, also a spoof, on the reasons artists look at art magazines. Before the incident, Rafferty says that her main joke had been that the Artforum page with the Top Ten list got cut off because of Art Papers’ different size and format.

Benjamin says that the publication has a good relationship with its printer, whom she declined to name. “They understood the irony of the situation,” she says, and were very concerned about how it would reflect on them. “It really wasn’t about censorship but policy,” says Benjamin. “It was about creating a work environment that cannot be construed as hostile. “

Sara Greenberger Rafferty's "indecent" contribution to Art Papers.
Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s “indecent” contribution to Art Papers.

Artist and writer Dushko Petrovich, who guest edited the magazine, discussed options with Rafferty. Her original proposal had been to sell the rights to her page to an advertiser, “but that was not accepted,” she says. “I briefly wanted to go back to that, but I decided in about 20 minutes” to run the nearly blank page.

In a sort of hybrid of the two nixed projects, she has made a PDF of the image available by request in order to make the piece a transaction and to have control of the work. Describing the situation as “an ethical riddle,” Rafferty rather forgivingly says that “this was not editorial censorship, it was capitalism: the printer as a private business has the right to refuse printing an image suggesting David Letterman with female and male sex organs.”

Art being art, of course, there are other instances of nudity in the issue. “People have a harder time with photography than with drawings or paintings” says Benjamin. “Sara was very generous to rework her project for us,” she says. “It was an elegant solution.”


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  • Mery Lynn McCorkle
    November 25, 2013 at

    I read this last week and haven’t been able to quite shake the sensation that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Except that 1974 was far more open and adventurous than 2013.

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