Is art censorship or art? Expo shows just top of famed David statue

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — One of the most talked about attractions at the world’s fair under way in Dubai is a towering statue made of marble dust that’s raising eyebrows just as the original did more than 500 years ago.

At Italy’s pavilion, a 3D replica of Michelangelo’s David stands tall, his gaze intense and defiant. Visitors will only see David’s head as they visit the pavilion. The statue will only be visible from the head and feet of VIPs who have special access. It’ll remain on display at Dubai’s Expo 2020. for six months.

The original David is nude and some visitors see the limited view offered as a form of censorship. Some others believe that the Expo’s display of David at its best is an expression of artistic freedom.

“It is no coincidence that David is not seen from the bottom to the top, as it normally is, but it welcomes people by looking at them in the face,” said David Rampello, the director of art at the Italian pavilion.

An art historian in Rome said choosing who can view the statue in full and who cannot creates a hierarchy.

“What the rich, the great and the good can see and what the ordinary folk can see shouldn’t be two different things,” said Professor Paul Gwynne, who teaches medieval and renaissance studies at the American University of Rome.

It took a team of Italian experts 40 hours of digital scanning to create the replica, made with what organizers describe as one of the world’s largest 3D printers. The filaments were made from recycled plastic and then mixed resins with marble dust.

At its home in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia since 1873, the original David draws gasps from onlookers to this day. The piece is a testament to Michelangelo’s skill and passion for anatomy. This includes the contraction of David’s abdominal muscles as well as the stretching of his right leg muscles.

In Dubai, those details get lost. David is positioned in the middle of an octagonal shaft that runs from his chest upwards. It’s surrounded with replicas of Roman columns. If visitors to the area lean on a railing, they can view parts of David’s body.

The rest of his body sits inside a clear partition on the separate floor. The partition between his floors allows for the full view of his genitals, and even his buttocks if someone stands close to the floor and looks up.

“Why can’t you see the whole body of the biblical hero, because you only see the head, the magnetic eyes staring at you silently? And where is the rest?” an article in the daily newspaper read, at one point referring to David’s “beheading.”

David’s nudity has been part of a centuries-old debate about art pushing boundaries and the rules of censorship. In the 1500s, metal fig leaves covered the genitals of statues like David when the Roman Catholic Church deemed nudity as immodest and obscene.

Expo visitor Calli Schmitz from Germany she said she didn’t think the way the replica was displayed at the Expo did it much justice.

“I think it was not as exposed as it should have been,” she said. “I think because of the gold everywhere, people did not really realize it was the statue of David.”

Italian visitor Ricardo Mantarano offered another take.

“It’s a different way of approaching the same sculpture and putting it in another perspective,” he said.

Dinara Aksyanova, a 31-year-old visitor from Moscow, however, wasn’t as forgiving.

“Why was it only half? She said that it makes no sense. “The most interesting part is underneath.”

Follow Malak Harb on Twitter at www.twitter.com/malakharb.

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