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French Authorities Charge Artist Who Tagged “MeToo” on Courbet

French authorities have charged performance artist Deborah De Robertis over her intervention involving the tagging of Gustave Courbet’s “The Origin of the World” (1866) with the words “MeToo” at the Centre Pompidou-Metz earlier last month. The artist was charged on May 29 with property damage and theft, Le Monde reported.

The disruption, which took place on May 6 in an exhibition focused on French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, was not the first time the provocative performance artist responded to the Courbet painting in her work: Her 2014 conceptual performance “Mirror of Origin” involved mimicking the painting by exposing her own genitals. While some critics decried the latest action as an empty gesture that dilutes the meaning of the MeToo movement, De Robertis said her aim was to expose six male art world personalities — including one of the exhibition’s curators, art critic Bernard Marcadé — whom she accused of sexual abuse and misconduct in a lengthy missive posted on Mediapart. (Hyperallergic could not verify the allegations. Marcadé has not yet responded to requests for comment.)

“It is not up to me, as an artist, to bear the guilt of other people’s abuses of power,” De Robertis said in a statement. “Being placed in police custody and indicted for having used my artistic freedom and my freedom of expression is completely disproportionate.”

De Robertis’s action involved two other women, who used reddish paint markers to write “MeToo” on the glass covering Courbet’s painting and on and four other works including a photographic print from De Robertis’s “Mirror of Origin” and a poster of Valie Export’s “Aktionshose: Genitalpanik” (1969/2021). The two women were both charged earlier in May with “degrading and stealing cultural property,” Yves Badorc, a regional prosecutor for the Metz Judicial Court, told AFP.

During the action, the artist also made off with visual artist Annette Messager’s “I Think Therefore I Suck” (1991) embroidery work. A video subsequently posted to Vimeo (which has since been removed) appeared to show the work previously on display in Marcadé’s residence; the video, seemingly filmed by De Robertis some years earlier, also shows an explicit exchange between Marcadé and the artist, in which he tells her to “suck” him.

AFP reported that while De Robertis is not currently being held in any detention center, she remains under “judicial control” and is prohibited attending any exhibitions or appearing in the Moselle region of France. Additionally, she and the two other women are banned from communicating with one another in advance of a potential trial. Hyperallergic has contacted the Metz Judicial Court for comment.

In a statement to Hyperallergic, De Robertis called on artist Valie Export to support her and help end the “criminalization” of her performance at the museum. Export has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

“Whether my artistic work pleases or not I can understand, but art is not made to please,” De Robertis told Hyperallergic. “The fact remains that I have a true artistic intentionality and no one recognizes me as such.”

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