Vegas Covers Its Nipples

| Tue Jan. 5, 2010 2:27 PM PST

Absurd development in the national capital of reckless abandon: County officials in Las Vegas are putting their foot down about some nipples featured in a painted mural decorating the Erotic Heritage Museum. (See the mural here.)

The Las Vegas Sun reports: 

The exposed nipples on portraits of women in the Ho-Down Mural Project violated a county sign code that bans (among other things) the showing of the areola of female breasts, the county says.

After I died laughing, I just had to come back to life and write about this. Clark County maintains that the murals are signs for the neighboring Déjà Vu nude club, and the nipples have now been covered with pasties. What a relief! Now we can all go about our business without having our eyes burned out by areolas.

This is the third mural in recent years to provoke an ironically Puritan hissy fit. Four years ago, a member of the Las Vegas Centennial Committee whined about a mural by Los Angeles artist Alexis Smith that featured an upside-down rendition of the 18th-century Thomas Lawrence painting "Pinkie" covered with the inverted letter "A." (The Scarlet Letter turned on its head.) The reference to adultery, of all things, was seen as a problem. Adultery! This was right around the time that Las Vegas was riding high on the wildly popular "What happens here stays here" advertising campaign. At that time, Libby Lumpkin, former director of the Las Vegas Art Museum, explained that "people in the community see art as an intellectual retreat from the hyper-sexualized world we live in."

Meanwhile, back in the hyper-sexualized world we live in, Michelangelo and the creators of erotic frescoes at Pompeii rolled over in their graves. 

The only time I ever went to Las Vegas, I was too young to gamble, but I remember emerging into the sunlight the day after our arrival to find the sidewalks papered with pornographic advertisements. These too featured breasts, with stars printed over the nipples. The fliers rolled down the street like tumbleweeds, blown by the hot desert wind.

Who are you trying to fool, Clark County? When Vegas eventually does go the way of Pompeii, will its erotic heritage, unearthed by archaeologists, be one of covered nipples? Perhaps the conspicuous coverage actually provides more erotic allure than the uncensored version, sort of like when the Victorians covered up the legs of their tables and pianos, concerned that the bare shafts of supportive wood beneath their furniture might turn somebody on.

On a blog at Flavorwire, Kelsey Keith responds by covering up nipples in canonical art images.

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