Damning verdict on Lennon's art
Lennon: Police officer said the lithographs were "pathetic"
LONDON, England -- Artwork by former Beatle John Lennon was so bad it was only displayed because of his superstar status, according to newly released police files.
Police officers, a gallery owner and some members of the public were unanimous, it seems, in deciding that the lithographs were of dubious quality.
The verdict on the sexually explicit work has emerged from files from 1970 and released on Thursday.
The "Bag One" exhibition lasted only a few days before
police confiscated most of the pictures and prosecuted the gallery
owner under Britain's obscenity laws.
And the artistic merit of the scrawled drawings, which showed
Lennon and wife Yoko Ono in sexually explicit poses, failed to
impress either Eugene Schuster, the American who put on Lennon's
controversial "Bag One" exhibition -- or the police officer who
raided the gallery.
The police files on the case, released by the UK's Public Record
Office as part of efforts toward greater government openness,
quote Schuster as saying: "They are bad art but after all it's the
name that sells them."
The arts editor of the Guardian newspaper, Michael McNay,
agreed, telling police: "I took exception to them because I
thought the exhibition was trading on Lennon's name rather than
And Detective Inspector Frederick Luff, who swooped in after
complaints from the public, had doubts whether the pictures were
well enough executed to count as genuine pornography.
"Many toilet walls depict works of similar merit," he noted
scornfully. "It is perhaps charitable to suggest that they are the
work of a sick mind.
"The only danger to a successful prosecution, as I see it, is
the argument that they are so pathetic as to be incapable of
influencing anyone and therefore unable to deprave or corrupt any
Luff concluded, however, that the prosecution should go ahead
because of the influence that Lennon could wield as a member of
Publicity material for the show put out by Schuster's London
Arts Gallery was more polite, saying: "Lennon's art speaks of life
and reality, not mere pornography."
Some members of the public who strayed into the gallery were
less charitable, according to the files.
George Holmes, an accountant, said he was horrified.
"They were exaggerated distorted caricatures depicting
intimate sexual relationships of a repulsive and disgusting
nature," he said.
Housewife Nansi Creer added: "I was stunned. I couldn't
believe what I was looking at."
In the end, a London magistrate dismissed the charges against
Schuster, and Luff returned the confiscated lithographs to the
gallery, where they were on sale at a price of $58 each or $800
for the set.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Memorials worldwide for John Lennon
December 8, 2000
Public Record Office
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