Newsweek magazine may have painted itself into a corner by featuring a nude portrait on the cover of its June 7 issue. Readers, newsstand operators and the Moral Majority all want to cover up the cover.
A city attorney for Lubbock, Texas, says the magazine may be a violation of a city ordinance because it exposes minors to pornography. Stores and newsstands selling it could be prosecuted.
'If they're offended, citizens are welcome to come in and file a complaint,' said Assistant City Attorney Don Vandiver.
The artwork in question is 'Portrait of S' by William Bailey, now a Yale University painting instructor, and shows a stark, pensive woman sitting with her dressed pulled down to reveal her breasts. The accompanying article is entitled 'Revival of Realism.'
A Sarasota, Fla., magazine wholesaler went so far as place gum-backed pasties on the woman's breasts. Some dealers have hidden Newsweek behind other magazines and at a Fast Fare convenience store in Raleigh, N.C., it is available on request -- from the 'adults only' rack.
'It's a painting and it doesn't bother me personally, but a lot of people might find it offensive,' said store manager Charlie Smith.
'There was general astonishment that Newsweek would put something like that on the cover,' said Marvin Rose, newsstand operator in New York's Daily News Building. 'I had to reassure quite a few people that it was Newsweek ... Some of them said, 'This is art? What's happening to Newsweek?''
Avery Hunt, director of public affairs for Newsweek, said 3 million copies were distributed and newsstand sales were twice as big as normal in New York City. Hunt said the magazine has received 'about a dozen phone calls' protesting the cover and that 'one or two of the callers wanted their subscriptions canceled.'
'I thought this was 1982,' said Newsweek editor Lester Bernstein. 'This just tells you that there are a lot more people around who haven't been inside a museum than you might suspect.
'I expected that there might be some objections, but I felt that it was a beautiful painting illustrating a distinguished article of art criticism. Any different view of it is in the eye of the beholder.'
Moral Majority spokesman Cal Thomas, showing a gift for facetiousness, said: 'I'm sure the cover was chosen solely to appeal to the artistic depths and interests of the nation and that Newsweek had no interest at all in its prurient appeal.
'Now if you believe that, I've got a bridge in New York I'd like to sell you.'
The uproar couldn't have been too big a surprise at Newsweek since the the realism article starts: 'At first glance, William Bailey's 'Portrait of S' quickens the eye. Nudes usually do, which is one reason why artists paint them.'
Bailey even has a few qualms about the painting.
'I have mixed feelings about all this and I'm beginning to have more and more regrets,' he said. 'I don't know that the cover of a national newsmagazine is the place to display paintings. One feels very vulnerable in this position.
'I heard about this man in Florida putting white pieces of tape over the breasts. That's disgusting to me as an artist.'