Friday, May 28, 2010

An Ex-Mormon In Paris

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward, and the seven wonderful followers of my blog
From: Donna Banta
Subject: A BYU alum finally sees Rodin and other things

Friday, May 21, 2010
Around 9:00 AM
Paris, France.

Mark and I had breakfast at our hotel, then walked a few blocks to the Musee Rodin, housed in the former Hotel Biron. It was a glorious day, the garden was just coming into bloom and boasted a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower. Seeing Rodin's work was a treat for a pair of disgruntled BYU grads shamed by their alma mater's censorship of a Rodin exhibition in the Fall of 1997. After requesting, authorizing and paying for the exhibit, BYU decided to ban four nude sculptures immediately before the exhibition opened on October 27, 1997. One of the censored sculptures was The Kiss. A Sunstone Magazine article quoted the following:

An AP story, which was picked up nationally by newspapers such as USAToday, quoted [BYU Art Museum Director Campbell] Gray as saying,"We have felt that the nature of those works are such that the viewer will be concentrating on them in a way that is not good for us."

That same day the Church owned Deseret News further quoted Gray as saying that the excluded pieces did not convey a positive message about either Rodin or the exhibition. "Nudity isn't the issue, it's more the latter [lack of dignity] ."

The Salt Lake Tribune also quoted the museum director in an enigmatic statement: [The decision to exclude] "is more a process of trying to ensure that the integrity of the exhibit is maintained." The Tribune also noted that Gray denied that censorship is occurring and quoted him further: "Censorship connotes a sense of fear. If we had a sense of fear. we wouldn't do this because of the media attention we are drawing." Read the full article here.

Another of the censored sculptures, Monument to Balzac, was described by then BYU President Merrill J. Bateman as a "nude male in the act of self-gratification," an interpretation that drew a slew of incredulous reactions from serious art critics, as well as a bunch of mean-spirited sarcastic bile from ex-Mormons like me.

Among the many ironies of this idiotic episode was that patrons of the BYU exhibit could purchase books that included pictures of The Kiss and the other Rodin nudes at the BYU museum bookstore. Moreover, BYU art students were allowed to study the censored works in their classrooms, but not view the real things when they were on their campus.

So here I am, at long last, viewing The Kiss:

Guess I should have studied with these guys instead of at BYU:
Parisian Primary Grade Students Preparing to Sketch Rodin's "The Age of Bronze."

Around noon
Paris, France

We lunched at a sidewalk cafe across from the Musee Rodin. To-die-for goat cheese salads, a carafe of rose wine, one raspberry tart, and two cafe cremes. Then we strolled around Paris until it was time to leave for our flight.


Around 10:00 PM
New York, New York

We'd come through customs at JFK, freshened up in our Mid-town hotel room and were now strolling the streets of Manhattan. The night was clear and warm enough for just shirtsleeves. My past visits to New York have been uniformly pleasant, and entirely absent of New Yorkers' fabled rudeness. That was until tonight:  (Caution advised.)

The LDS temple's proximity to Lincoln Center seemed, to say the least, disturbing. From now on, my image of sophisticated Manhattanites attending a performance of The American Ballet Theater, or enjoying the talents of Yo Yo Ma will be overshadowed by the scenario playing out across the street. That is, the Mormons, dressed up in Pillsbury dough boy hats and green satin aprons, exchanging secret handshakes, waving their arms around, then retiring for "celestial" meditation in a room that resembles the lobby of the Sacramento Radisson. I must admit, Gotham does have its share of kooks and crazies.

We abandoned the LDS temple for dinner at a sidewalk cafe. Seated around us were couples engaged in discussion about the plays and performances they'd just come from. Mercifully, we heard no mention of the Patriarchal Grip. Then we strolled past Central Park to our hotel, marveling at having viewed the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower on the same day.                                  
12:45 AM (Technically May 22)
New York, New York

The bar at the hotel was open for 15 more minutes, so we ordered a couple of martinis. Wow! Mark and I closed out a bar for the first time since . . . oh yeah, we went to BYU.

Because her last e-mail made no mention of the Musee Rodin, I've sent Sister Millie Loomis a complete photo gallery of Rodin's nude sculpture.


  1. Thanks for thinking I'm wonderful (I am one of the chosen 7)

  2. Thanks for reading, JustMe. -- Since you're not in the list on the sidebar, that might mean I have as many as 8 followers! -- Or maybe you have more than one handle. Either way, yes, you are wonderful.