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  • Camille Basso

A museum of censorship... and why not?

The Museum of Forbidden Art recently opened its doors in Barcelona, to the delight of the rebellious and the curious. This unique venue presents over forty works from the 20th and 21st centuries, which have been censored for political, social or religious reasons. Many of the works are by masters such as Picasso, Banksy, Warhol and Klimt.

Photographie de l'Oeuvre "Silence rouge et bleu", au Musée de l'Art Prohibit, Barcelone
Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Silence rouge et bleu, 2015, Museum of Forbidden Art, Barcelona.

« Warning! Some of the works on display at the museum may cause discomfort. »

That's what it says when you enter Barcelona's Museum of Forbidden Art, also known as the Museum of Censorship. This original project was the brainchild of Spanish journalist and collector Tatxo Benet, who hopes to advocate "the triumph of freedom of expression". His museum includes many works that could easily irritate or shock the most sensitive of audiences, as they have been censored in the past. These include Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic nudes, and Andres Serrano's controversial photograph Piss Christ (1987). Most of the works presented in the museum challenge Christianity and Islam, as well as certain political and social views.

"In the museum, we don't show scandalous or polemical works, we show works that have been censored, attacked, violated, banned. These are works that have a history. Without this history, they wouldn't be here," Tatxo Benet explained to Le Parisien in early November. "An artist who cannot show his work because someone prevents him from doing so is a censored artist, which will always earn him a place in this museum. [...] Having different works side by side increases the viewer's tolerance, and the work's level of scandal is diminished," he added. Similarly, the collector says he has no fear of reprisals against his museum and the works it exhibits.

A natural attraction to censorship and the forbidden

The creation of the Museum of Forbidden Art is no coincidence for journalist Tatxo Benet. Indeed, this businessman has been collecting censored works since 2018. Back then, he bought Santiago Sierra's Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain (2018), a creation withdrawn from ARCO, Madrid's contemporary art fair. The work featured photographs of 24 Catalan pro-independence activists who had broken the law, generating controversy.

Later, Tatxo Benet purchased Silence Rouge et Bleu (2015), a work by French-Algerian artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah. This time, it was an installation of thirty Muslim prayer rugs, on top of which were pairs of heeled shoes. The work was due to be exhibited in Hauts-de-Seine in 2015, but was threatened by a local Muslim association. The artist decided to withdraw the work for fear of reprisals. However, it was the acquisition of this emblematic work that encouraged Tatxo Benet to create the Museum of Forbidden Art. Silence Rouge et Bleu is exhibited in a dedicated room.

In this Museum of Censorship, Mexican artist Fabián Cháirez also had the pleasure of rediscovering one of his works, La Révolution (2020). This painting depicts 20th-century revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata on horseback, in an effeminate pose, wearing only a pink sombrero. The painting had obviously created a scandal when it was exhibited at Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts in 2019. "This work has counted a lot in my career," said the artist upon finding his painting in Tatxo Benet's museum.

Currently, the Museum of Forbidden Art only displays 42 of the 200 censored works owned by the Spanish journalist and businessman. Nevertheless, he hopes to unveil the rest of his highly original collection over time.


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