Ann Arbor Artist Brenda Oelbaum’s art installation “The Willendorf Project” has drawn controversy for featuring a nude photo of the artist. The installation, housed in the front window of River’s Edge Gallery in Wyandotte, has prompted some residents to complain to city officials.
By ANDREA POTEET Sunday Times Newspapers WYANDOTTE —
A window display at a local gallery has stirred up controversy. Ann Arbor artist Brenda Oelbaum’s installation, “The Willendorf Project,” which features a photo of her naked and surrounded by diet books, has met with some criticism since it first was showcased in the storefront window of River’s Edge Gallery at the beginning of the month. “People have contacted the city and said it was disgusting,” River’s Edge Gallery Director Jeremy Hansen said. “But no one’s come into the gallery to complain.”
Oelbaum said she created the work, an attack on the diet industry, with the intent to shock, but that she thought the shock would come from her message, not her body. “I was pretty shocked that the reason someone might complain about my picture was because it was fat nude,” Oelbaum said. “It might be because I am real. The audience can relate to me, so they feel naked in the presence of it.”
Hansen said several residents have contacted city officials and asked them to step in and force the gallery to take the installation down. Since the gallery is a private business, they have not. “The people who do complain don’t support local artists,” Hansen said. “They don’t come in and buy art.” He said everyone who has come into the gallery to comment on the installation has given positive feedback.
The gallery hosted an opening for the exhibit Jan. 21. Women who attended ripped up diet books and created miniature “Venuses,” based on the nude female sculpture Venus of Willendorf, which inspired Oelbaum’s installation. She said she intended to send a message about the harms of yo-yo dieting and the importance of being healthy at any size. “I really believe very strongly that the diet industry has created the obesity epidemic,” she said. “You see a direct correlation between the overweight population and the number of diet products on the market. It’s training your body to be overweight.” She said she used the nude photo of herself to draw attention to “the hysteria and fear” she believes the diet-driven culture creates in women. “We’re all a little like lemmings,” she said. “We just kind of drink the Kool-Aid. Especially this time of year, you go into a bookstore and you’re completely immune to the fact that every book is a diet publication.”
River’s Edge Gallery owner Patt Slack said she invited Oelbaum to show her work because she thought her message needed to be heard. She said she was surprised at how little negative feedback she actually has heard from patrons regarding the installation. “It seems to have done what it was supposed to do,” Slack said, “and that’s start a conversation.”