London's Courtauld Gallery faced backlash against gag gifts they were selling in their gift shop during the current "Van Gogh. Self-portraits" exhibition. Apparently, some felt that items like an ear-shaped rubber eraser and a bar of soap for "the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles" made light of mental health issues. (Van Gogh spent time in a psychiatric hospital after cutting off his own ear.)
"This is, after all, the Courtauld Institute, supposedly the center of Art History in the UK if not Western Europe," said art critic David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw magazine. "Would they, for example, be prepared to sell pencils in the shape of a false leg at a Frida Kahlo exhibition?"
The gallery removed several items from the shop and issued a statement, reading in part: "The Courtauld takes mental health extremely seriously. It was never The Courtauld's intention to present an insensitive or dismissive attitude to this important subject by stocking these items."
An "Emotional First Aid Kit" is still available for sale. From CNN:
Charles Thomson, a co-founder of the Stuckist art movement, told CNN Tuesday: "This case feels like a small but clear example of the cynicism and commercialism that has affected the modern art landscape, as mental health and mental illness are treated as a joke — which they aren't — or as a novelty."
He said that the sale of "insensitive" gifts is reflective of a current attitude in artistic circles in which "people want to be clever and trendy at the expense of having dignity in art."
Top image: Earaser (Fred)