Censorship at Mellwood?

"Female Oppression; False Privilege" by Billy Twymon and Devon Turley

“Female Oppression; False Privilege” by Billy Twymon and Devon Turley

When an artist proclaims censorship has happened, the statement is so volatile that it’s the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded building. Art professionals, who are more comfortable with controversial subjects than the general public, have a knee-jerk reaction to it, recalling the First Amendment (visual art became part of “the freedom of speech” in the 1970s). As a result, the gap between what artists create and what viewers see can be miles apart.

Artists Billy Twymon and Devon Turley have accused the Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center of censorship. The collaborators were asked to remove three large paintings from their exhibition “The Really Big Show” (hanging in Mellwood’s Hallway B). The removed works feature female nudity, sex and religious subject matter.

“The paintings went up around Aug. 23,” says Turley. “They were supposed to hang … until after the Mellwood Art Fair on Sept. 7-8. On Sept. 4, Billy was approached by the management of Mellwood (director of sales and marketing Scooter Davidson) and told (we) would have to remove three of the paintings. Management reported that there were complaints by other shopkeepers at Mellwood. They told her the exhibit was offensive and bordered on pornographic. Many of the fellow artists at Mellwood loved the complete exhibit and share (our) concerns over the censorship.”

Davidson defends the decision, saying the owners and board of the Mellwood complex felt the works were “sacrilegious and pornographic.” “They’re not family-friendly,” she says. “We have children 3 years old and up in the buildings. Other tenants complained; I had a flood of people (who complained).” She says all the people who talked to her personally were artists with studios at Mellwood.

Twymon says his first thought was that he was being censored. “This isn’t the first time Mellwood has dictated to artists,” he says. “They thought children … and Christians would be offended. Scooter said, ‘We don’t want to show nipples.’ Waiting for the 11th hour before the September Fair concerns me. I think (what) happened is that a few of the residents put pressure on Scooter, offended by the woman on the cross.”

“We are private property, we own these walls,” Davidson says. “It’s not for negotiation. This is our image. The Jesus one is horribly offensive — Jesus as a naked female, with erect nipples, with a crown of thorns.”

Hallway B houses businesses including Rhinestone Runway, an organization that caters to child models and pageants, as well as public bathrooms. About five years ago, Mellwood was sued on a related issue. “We were sued because (a father said his) child suffered psychological damage (from the art), and he sued us for the psychiatrist bills,” Davidson says.

The Mellwood board told Twymon he could show the works in his personal workspace (studio 241), just not in the hallway. His counter-argument is that “children will still be exposed to the paintings. Christians, children — anyone that comes through here will still see them. I’m hoping for artists … (not to be) subjected to censorship.” —Jo Anne Triplett

14 Comments

  1. Dr. Yoshev Omed
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    If the management at Mellwood is indulging in a fit of pearl-clutching, as a commenter on Facebook put it, over something so tame as the pictured artwork, there is no need to shop for art there, as there is unlikely to be anything interesting hanging on the walls.

  2. Dr. Yoshev Omed
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    As for the suing for psychological damage, I’d pay to see a little real psychological damage in the local art.

  3. David Costello
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I agree that it is a shame that this happened. due to the fact that other than the fine art gallery up front, I had yet to see any real talent at Mellwood in my dozen or so trips. I world much rather see Twymon &Turley’s works on the wall than some of the infantile crap I have seen in the past (soda straws and hot glue covered in spraypaint? Really Scooter?).
    I also notice that it was artists and shop owners complaining. It is probably due to the fact that there are no patrons in the building. If there were more people selling stuff, there would be less to complain about.

  4. Sean Tyler
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Sure he can display the work in his own studio but it is likely to be ruined there by the water that pours through the studio ceilings every time it rains.

  5. Jennifer
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Weddings and Art. Two things the money-grubbing Scooter Davidson should stay far, far away from. #nobueno

  6. E.M.Ray
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    K.A.S. Gallery, before they were driven out of Mellwood by Scooter, held an exhibition of photography that included a pre-op transgender female attempting to perform fellatio on herself and getting impressively close to success. I doubt “artists” are the ones complaining, Scooter is the type of person who will say literally anything if she thinks it helps her. I’m sure some renters are complaining, but sorry, a kids beauty pageant business doesn’t count as “artists”…

    Family friendly, too, cracks me up. They’re supposed to be an exciting and vibrant art community not “family friendly”, but the conditions over there are so poor and there’s so much rain and bird crap pouring from the sky, that they can rarely keep talent when it actually comes through the door. The few they do have, they treat horribly and none of those artists are happy in their situation, they just have yet to find an alternative that works. See, a professional artist generally makes some money, so they aren’t about to stick around that dunghole, watching valuable works get destroyed, to save a few bucks a month. Not worth it.

    That place had a (family friendly) hawk in it while I was there. They did noting because it was a Sunday and tenants had to remove it. Good thing those kids that came up from one of the weddings and walked right up to it, didn’t get mauled, but just in case, get married somewhere without hawks, bugs, mice, a (family friendly) homeless drug addict guy who lives in one of the stairwells with his dog….those are all true stories.

    And brides to be, if you enjoy either heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer, don’t plan your wedding at Mellwood. That goes for renters too, because now even though the eat has been consistently off every winter forever, you may not use a space heater. You are, however, welcome to freeze and try to paint until your fingers become too stiff to hold your brush. Six months of the year I was there, my studio was completely unusable because of temperatures.

    No, no, no, wait, if you have a problem, I forgot, you just go talk to Scooter! Nothing makes a problem go away faster than having her smile at you in a twisted way, like you’re a sad moron, before she calls you an “idiot” or “stupid” or randomly accuses you of having an affair with another tenant when your husband is standing there….I think that one made her the happiest because her face glowed with an evil triumph. Too bad for her it didn’t work an he just laughed it off, because I’m sure potentially ruining a happy marriage would have been the biggest dung jewel in her crown of sh!t.

    My point is, avoid the place whether you’re a bride or an artist looking for a studio and never be surprised they pull a d!ck move over there. Be surprised when they don’t.

  7. Melloki
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Scooter, Miguel and Clark are the axis of evil. Miguel and his crew regularly sexually harass women. Clark is a slumlord (see Arcadia Aptmts. That literally have sh!t coming out of the floors.) Scooter is the manager and a completely mean spirited person. There is no more embarrassing place in Louisville, not even Fourth Street Live. Horrid folks that seek to con artists into signing a lease so they can screw them.if they dare to try to get out of the lease they sue the Hell out of the artist. I feel thankful I never got a studio there, but a lot of artists I know have been burned. Weddings are the only thing keeping that place afloat (despite the fact that most people are dissatisfied), along with a few lucrative tenants. Artist, and art lovers, should avoid this hole like the plague. The place is built on a culture of negativity.

  8. E.M.Ray
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I left my lease with three months unpaid. Just moved out. They sued me, I countersued and walked in with letters from other tenants and photos of the place. Guess who walked out with money? Me. And I cost them at least $1000 in lost rent and court fees to boot. And best of all, proved to everyone there that if you fight back, even a little, no judge is going to hd you to a lease with a slumlord. So make sure everyone knows. That lease is totally invalid due to broken windows, vermin, lack of heat etc. they can’t enforce it in court unless you stand there and do nothing to prove the conditions are unacceptable.

  9. Devon Turley
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    I am the artist who’s original art was redone by myself and Billy on a large scale. My choice of subject matter NEVER gets censored at The UnFair, where I am a regular participating artist! All the pieces that were banned at Mellwood can be been seen in all their glory in their smaller original versions at The UnFair the first weekend of October in the backyard of the Mag Bar. Scooter is incorrect in calling my “Female Oppression; False Privilege” the one shown above, religious in content. If she had read it’s title, maybe she would realize that. It has nothing to do with religion, it has everything to due with feminism. The other pieces were not offensive or pornographic either. Thank you all for the support!!! I think I will stick to showing my art with my regular family of REAL artists, my UnFair family where I am free to express whatever I want!!! I will never rent space at Mellwood!!! EVER!!!

  10. Stacie
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    I must point out the irony of the “offensiveness” of a nude female Jesus, but all of the nude male Jesus images across the world aren’t ever questioned as obscene. That coupled with the title of the painting is just perfect. By it getting taken down and called offensive, their point is only being further proven.

  11. na
    Posted September 17, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    As one of the tenants here… running a store with regular hours and an eCommerce website that has been in existent for ten years I wanted to comment and let you all know how the management has treated us. With comments, letters, not letting us promote our business properly with signage, kicking us out while we host events like they did to Billy & Devon, I think even once they put a dumpster in front of a store for a tenant wanting out of their lease. I wanted to comment and let you know you are are all right, and how its about time this gets some public exposure.

    However, since we are all horrible artist with nothing good to hang on our walls, busy gluing Popsicle sticks together I guess we are getting the respect we deserve. Thanks for your support Louisville =)

  12. Devon Turley
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    A SPECIAL SPECIAL thanks to na… your support is beyond appreciated and we will continue to stand up… : )…thanks for admitting they knew all along and they did wrong.

  13. Venusof Willendorf
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    If any of the artists that are unhappy with the way they are treated at Clark’s Hellwood, and would like to be part of starting a new smaller co-op type organization, please private message Venusof Willendorf, on facebook. We can make it happen!

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