Britney Spears gives birth in Brooklyn

What's the deal with this sexualized sculpture?

Published March 25, 2006 2:13AM (EST)

Wait till Us Weekly gets wind of this: The Williamsburg, Brooklyn, gallery Capla Kesting -- we've stopped linking to the gallery's site because of its spyware, but if you'd like to visit, just plug "Capla Kesting" into your preferred search engine -- is preparing to show Daniel Edwards' sculpture "Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston" in April. The lifesize piece depicts Britney Spears crouching naked on her elbows and knees atop a bearskin rug, in what the gallery Web site calls an "idealized depiction of Britney in delivery." Yes, I'm serious.

My first thought was: These people have to be kidding. First of all, the statue doesn't resemble any birth I've ever seen. Bloggers have spent the week proposing alternative names for the piece, like "Monument to the Nasty in the Third Trimester" (courtesy of Jeneé at People Are Idiots) and "The sex doll I was making but somebody caught me so now I'm pretending it's a Britney Spears monument" (from the Superficial.) Secondly, what hipster/huckster Williamsburg type would sincerely select Britney Spears as the subject of a Jeff Koons-reminiscent modern-day Madonna and child, unless it was intended to be subversive? Besides, the gallery's site struck me as strange: It lacks the slick graphic design most galleries boast; it's loaded with pop-up ads; and its own description of the sculpture mentions Spears' "lactiferous breasts" and notes that she "clutches the bear's ears with 'water-retentive' hands." Come on.

But hey, I'm the first to admit I'm not an authority on art. And possibly the antiabortion movement idealizes birth so much that water-retentive hands seem glorious; what do I know.

So I took the bait and called them up. Maybe these guys (they all seem to be guys) are really media-savvy pranksters, but over the phone, at least, they seemed sincere. And they certainly expressed a range of opinions about the piece. Gallery co-owner Lincoln Capla confirmed that the exhibit has the backing of -- and includes materials from -- the Manhattan Right to Life Committee. And when the exhibit opens, he told me, "I believe we are going to have not a protest but a culmination of all the people that work there and those who are pro-life."

On the other hand, Capla's pro-choice business partner, David Kesting, says, "I would certainly hope that we don't have a pro-life rally break out here. I would hope we'd have a rally of support for artwork and the gallery community ... I'm sure Lincoln sees this as a very pro-life piece. When I see this, we're talking about Britney Spears choosing to have a kid and this being glorified as a statue. I can see a lot of irony."

And artist Dan Edwards says that while he's "not passing judgment on anybody's decision ... I witnessed the birth of all three of my children, saw what my wife went through. I really believe in the content of the piece." Not that he's attempting to comment on the current abortion debate: "I don't want to come off as being political. To me, the pro-life movement is too politicized, and the piece isn't supposed to be about politics, and I think that's why you see Britney chosen to depict it. On both sides, pro-choice and pro-life, are people you don't see yourself relating to. The subject is much greater than the stereotyped people who represent each movement."

Still, Edwards is quoted on the gallery site as saying, "Britney provides inspiration for those struggling with the 'right choice.'" And though he acknowledges that it's financially easier for Spears to be a young mother than it would be for most anyone else on earth, he says that "having a child is a struggle; it would be a struggle for anybody. I admire her for being able to let go of her career -- most people aren't able to do that."

Unsurprisingly, the piece has already generated a huge amount of public comment; Capla told me the gallery received more than 1,000 pieces of hate mail in one day alone. The surprise is that, at least so far, the mail isn't expressing ire over the antiabortion issue. Instead, the piece's critics have expressed dismay that Spears, who opted for an elective C-section when her son was born, appears to be giving birth vaginally in the sculpture. Here's Edwards' theory on the flak he's been getting: "There's a hierarchy. Those that give vaginal birth resent those that get a C-section so she can avoid the pain. So there are people that are resentful that she's been chosen to represent something lofty when she made the decision not to give birth in a natural way. It's kind of misdirection, a distraction point."

It's all a little mystifying. I'm hoping Broadsheet readers in New York will swing by the gallery and report back on what they find.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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