... expose city to ridicule for a nervousness about nudes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 May, 2010, 12:00am

A police visit has turned a sedate art exhibition into the talk of the town. Jonathan Thomson - whose artworks featuring nude females have attracted the force's interest because of a single complaint - has suddenly received more publicity than the best-run advertising campaign could generate. The art historian - who is also an artistic consultant to French fashion powerhouse Louis Vuitton - appears more amused than worried. He is right; it's the authorities who should be worried about the way in which they go about enforcing the city's obscenity laws.

Like similar incidents over many years, the police raid has again threatened to make Hong Kong an international laughing stock. The officers have referred the case to the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority, and the Obscene Articles Tribunal will visit the gallery to determine whether the artworks are indecent, obscene or not at all.

The 67 works by Thomson - a former deputy secretary general of the Arts Development Council - may be artistic or erotic. Some might even think them pornographic. But it's a debate best left to art lovers and critics. Police officers do not have the expertise to make such determinations. Since the works are all displayed inside a Mid-Levels art gallery, there is little chance children would wander in to see the provocative nudes. It is puzzling why police should waste manpower to make the visit on the strength of a single complaint. Surely the police have more serious matters to attend to.

From the start, the complainant should have been referred to the Tela and the tribunal, which could then act to make a judgment. The tribunal may decide some or all of the works are indecent and that the public needs better protection, such as requiring the gallery to block window viewing or restrict admissions to adults. Alternatively, it may decide the complaint is invalid and quietly drop the matter. The public interest would then have been served.

Either way, police officers have no business visiting the art gallery. In doing so, they have created a wholly unnecessary - and embarrassing - controversy.