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Salt Lake City Weekly BYU Does It Again

By City Weekly staff

NOVEMBER 10, 1997:  Two weeks ago, with some fanfare and news media looking on, the Salt Lake Art Center opened its new show illuminating censored art in Utah.

The exhibition assembled by Will South, the curator for the U. of U. Museum of Fine Arts, traced the history of controversies surrounding art. Astute onlookers hailed the show and, shaking their heads, wondered how the 35 works now on display downtown could have been censored.

Well, here's an insight:

Last week, after convincing the Cantor Foundation to bring the Rodin exhibit to Provo, BYU censored the famous 19th-century sculptor because of certain nude statues. Four of the sculptor's most famous works were hidden.

Why? Nobody outside of BYU is sure, except that apparently the art director at BYU is somehow ashamed of the human body and extremely aware of university politics in Provo.

But although some of Rodin's nudes were banned, they couldn't possibly be seen as sexually suggestive or pornographic. And, according to the Cantor Foundation, the exhibit has traveled the entire country without similar objection.

BYU has always been known for its conservative, if not downright puritanical atmosphere. But lately, things have gotten even more strange at the Mormon-owned school. Students on- or off-campus are subject to heavy-handed puritanical housing regulations. Professors have been dismissed for not kowtowing to church officials, and national organizations have criticized BYU for its lack of academic freedom.

Higher learning? It's laughable.

It makes you wonder why they have a university at all, given their fear of ideas at Brigham Young. It's becoming clear to people all over the country that there is no academic freedom at BYU. Let's add no artistic freedom to the list.

It seems odd that the Mormon Church would put its smallest-minded people in charge of its premier learning institution, rather than people of intelligence and vision. It makes us wonder what kind of puritanical headlock is strangling freedom of thought at BYU.

Sure, Brigham Young is a private school. And the little dictators who run the place are free to do as they please. But BYU is part of Utah. And because the university is owned by the Mormon Church, which is synonymous with Utah, the blundering down there washes up on everyone in the state.

It's no secret that the Mormon Church hierarchy believes the 2002 Winter Olympics can transform the perception outsiders have of Utah and the LDS faith. Olympics or not, as long as BYU persists in its drive to stamp out freedom of thought, Utah will continue to be seen as a puritanical backwater.

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