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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.

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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 his talent."

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 person."

Luff concluded, however, that the prosecution should go ahead because of the influence that Lennon could wield as a member of the Beatles.

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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