In June 2009 at the opening night event of an exhibition of my work in an art gallery in Melbourne, the Director of that gallery, Robert Cripps, approached a woman viewing a painting picturing a rear facing female nude and asked her
"Is that your lovely bottom?"
This was not a question asked by someone with insider knowledge expecting that the woman was actually the model for the work, but a straight out sleazy pick up line, delivered poorly and in inappropriate circumstances. The painting was one of mine and the woman Robert Cripps asked this question of was my manager from my place of work.
Several things are wrong with this picture. A male asking a woman such a question has obviously checked out that woman's bottom and made a distinct comparison. Clumsy and dumb, not complimentary as the deliverer assumes. It is intrusive and sexual objectification in the classic sense. And, worse, it was not only intrusive and embarrassing for my manager, and mortifying from my perspective, it was not just in poor taste, it was unlawful, which I will cover.
|"Is that your lovely bottom?" - digital collage - 2013
Not unexpectedly the relationship with my manager hit some issues as a consequence of this event. It created an awkwardness and a distance not previously present between us that I can only put down to this event. She had gone to see the art and to support a co-worker she supervised and had experienced sexual harassment in doing so. Though this was not as a consequence of my art work per se, the implication for it being used as a pretext for the making of such an intrusive enquiry is pretty clear. The experience she had of viewing my art work came to be associated with an unpleasant and sleazy encounter in her mind and understandably so.
Cripps had as well inappropriately questioned me, during the installation of my work and the work of my co-exhibitor Demetrios. Cripps pointedly asking me had I modelled for any of Demetrios' works? We had been rearranging the pieces together and I laughed out loud at the time at such a suggestion, mainly at the blatant simple mindedness of it, and informed him firmly no we use professional life models. It was a ludicrous question and one I had been unprepared to receive from anyone let alone the Gallery Director. Demetrios asked me later what was all the hand cupping motions Cripps had been making whilst talking with me, at the other end of the large gallery space? Cripps, I explained, was enthusiastically telling me at that point he loved "all the soft flesh", and the cupping motions he made at the same time were to emphasise the shape of the bottom of one of my female nudes. It was a low point for us in terms of our opinions of this Director who'd by then already demonstrated unreliability and unprofessionalism in other ways. Later when the hanging was completed I checked with Assistant Gallery Manager, at the time, Stacy Jewel, to confirm if everything in her opinion was in order, and whether she knew if Robert was happy, overall, with the presentation? Her reply was an emphatic "Oh Robert, will love it, he will love all the flesh!" This stunned me to a silent nod and a bit of a weak polite smile. It was before the "lovely bottom" incident but was another example of the tone set within this gallery by a director not particularly interested in the art or of the ideas that have inspired it, but more interested in who appears naked in the art.
There is more to it than that though, these are not simply acts of general inappropriateness or a lack of artistic qualification by a person incapable of taking the work seriously or behaving professionally around it, it is more serious because, where and under what circumstances these acts took place, actually constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace which is unlawful.
Examine the following from HREOC's website
"In what circumstances is sexual harassment unlawful?
The Sex Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for a person to sexually harass another person in a number of areas including employment, education, the provision of goods and services and accommodation."
My work manager attended the art show at my invitation. The person asking her the intrusive questions, as she worked out, was the Gallery Director, Robert Cripps. His actions as well put me at risk by making me a party to an unlawful act due to my having an agreement with the gallery. Witnesses to such conduct are by law considered party to it if they choose to ignore it, which was our situation when I was informed about the "lovely bottom" encounter.
(According to Section 105 of the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984, we have legal duty to "not permit" Cripps to act in this way, because "for the purposes of this Act, [we could] be taken also to have done the act." (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/sda1984209/s105.html)
|SEX DISCRIMINATION ACT 1984 - SECT 105 - Liability of persons involved in unlawful acts
Cripps' questions of me as a client of his gallery constitutes "circumstances [for] unlawful sexual harassment". Cripps' staff and volunteers are protected as well by the act should they have ever experience forms of unwanted, uninvited, non consensual inappropriate proposals of a sexual nature, insults or taunts of a sexual nature, or repeated requests to go on dates…HREOC's advice is quite clear. All of this taking place in an "employment, education, provision of goods and services…" context is unlawful.
|"Sexual harassment is not interaction, flirtation or friendship which is mutual or consensual. Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) makes sexual harassment unlawful in some circumstances."
How many others did Cripps asked these types of questions? What was his conduct towards his staff and volunteers, who were largely female? The full answer is unknown to me however it goes to reason he did likely utilise any opportunity that may have presented itself.
Robert Cripps' actions, subsequent to his inappropriate comments to my manager, deteriorated so much further into the absurd that any steps we might have taken to tackle this with him were subsumed by his further belligerent actions he conducted to degrade us and our art completely. He declared the show and us racist at the end of our opening night event, kicked us out in front of a crowd of onlookers, repeating this on a second occasion, and subsequently barred us from all access to the gallery. He is now suing us for writing about that which he forced upon us by repeatedly denying all responsibility for doing so on the several occasions we attempted to reason with him.
The sexual harassment aspects of his behaviour alone have him in a great deal of bother. In Cripps' original April Fools Day writ his inappropriate "lovely bottom" comments were denied. They were instead claimed to be malicious falsehoods by me written when it was known they were not true, and on account of his denial he was claiming $140,000.00 in losses*. He has since admitted to approaching my manager and asking her if that was her lovely bottom, however I am still being sued for "defamation" by him.
|April Fool's Day Cripps Writ - "Injurious Falsehood" - click on image to read.
*$140k? Yes, the demands made by Cripps were and remain unreasonable as are the claims what we wrote of constitute "Injurious Falsehood" at all. Later in the same year as this first demand of $140k Cripps acquired a Steinway D Grand concert piano which go for around that amount retail minimum. Interesting.
As a final point, to create a contrasting perspective, consider this last image with the first image at the top of my article. Would it have been complimentary, okay, appropriate, for men to be asked the same? Did Cripps ask men or was Cripps himself asked "is that your lovely penis?" whilst viewing the paintings shown below? I'm betting not.