The Line Between Art and Obscenity: Marshall Krause on Ron Boise’s Kama Sutra Sculptures

The Line Between Art and Obscenity: Marshall Krause on Ron Boise’s Kama Sutra Sculptures


let’s talk about you know one of the
first ones that comes up chronologically I think is the Vorpal Gallery and Ron
Boise who was a sculptor his kamasutra sculptors and this was 1964 gentleman by
the name of Muldoon Elder was the owner of the gallery and I believe he was the
the individual who was was arrested could you tell me a bit about what what what was
involved in this and and you know why is this something that we that is well
remembered today well I think it’s well remembered because it was such an
outstanding trial the Boise sculptures were a group of figures made of metal
about 18 inches high and I have one here that I could show if
you want me to bring it out yeah and they all depicted various positions of
sexual intercourse in the as described in the famous Indian Kama Sutra and they
were displayed along with a number of other Ron Boise pieces in a small
gallery right near the City Lights bookstore in North Beach called the
Vorpal Gallery and Muldoon was the founder and owner of that gallery and
the police came in and they said that this obscenity had to be removed and
Muldoon wouldn’t remove it so they arrested him and confiscated all of the
kamasutra sculptures and we had a jury trial on the matter of whether
the obscenity law of California was breached by this display of the
kamasutra sculptures and the trial was absolutely incredibly interesting
because on one side we had the archbishop the Catholic Archbishop of
San Francisco who testified for the prosecution and we had the director of
the Legion of Art Museum who testified for the prosecution and we had a number
of other people and they all were talking about this definition that the
Roth case established in 1957 was this material utterly without redeeming
social importance redeeming social importance was the key and of course the
archbishop said no this is not socially important this is socially negative
because of the depiction of sexuality sexuality itself was thought by these
people to be something that was should not be openly discussed and just the
matter of showing sexuality was considered to be by them obscene on our
side we had Walter Horne who was the chairman of the UC Berkeley Art
Department and he gave an incredible description of sexuality depicted in
fine arts through the generations starting with the the Greeks and the
Romans and we brought in all sorts of Greek and Roman art and then the
Renaissance painters and and we had a complete discussion for a day at least
about sex in fine arts and then we had on our side the director of the Museum
of Modern Art here in San Francisco and we had Alan Watts who philosophically
thought that this material was presenting a philosophical message and
he had an incredible line that broke up the whole courtroom the test for what is
obscene was that the material had to appeal to the prurient interest meaning
an interest in sex and so the district attorney asked or maybe it was me
I asked Alan Watts whether this Kama Sutra sculpture made out of metal appealed
to his prurient interest and he leaned back and he said well I would sooner
make love to a bicycle so there were all sorts of lines like that and in the
trial and I was helped in this trial by a very good attorney named Ephraim
Margolin who represented the clerk at the Vorpal Gallery who was also arrested
so there were two defendants two defense counsel and between the two of us we had
an incredibly important list of people who were our defense witnesses and the
jury was out a couple of days thinking about this case and finally they came in
with a not guilty verdict I remember talking to the jury about this
particular sculpture and showing them how delicate it was how these two people
were in love or lovemaking but they were doing it in a very loving way with their
arms around each other and I said Ron Boise’s delicacy can be seen
with this hand right here touching the back that isn’t there and that is about
the most delicate kind of touching you could have so I was trying to impress
upon the jury how artistic this was and actually our expert witnesses had
testified to how beautifully technically this sculpture was made how the fingers
were very unusual the toes the body the shape of the body was so perfect and
beautiful that it obviously showed a lot of artistic talent

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *