Managers at Edinburgh airport appear to have been learning the intricacies of public relations at the feet of Argyll and Bute council, quickly if belatedly reading the chapter marked: The Lessons of Martha Payne.
With all the deftness of a fully-laden Boeing 747, the airport today executed a sharp u-turn on their decision on Tuesday to cover up and then ban a poster carrying a widely-celebrated nude by Picasso from their international arrivals lounge.
This morning, courtesy of the Times, it emerged that the airport’s new owners Global Infrastructure Partners had reacted very hastily to a handful of complaints about a large advert for a new Edinburgh festivals exhibition featuring Picasso’s Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, which went up there last week.
Apparently, the nude’s bare breasts – the poster was deliberately positioned in prime site near the arrivals gate – were regarded by at least one woman passenger (and others) as not the kind of welcome she expected in Scotland. So the airport placed a white vinyl cover over the offending area, as a temporary measure before it was removed.
Buying that site was the biggest single item of marketing expenditure by National Galleries of Scotland for their new exhibition Picasso and Modern British Art which opened on 4 August at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in time for this month’s Edinburgh festivals.
John Leighton, director general of the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), which runs the gallery, said the airport had also asked for it to be removed, and replaced with something less controversial. He was nonplussed by the controversy. Speaking before the airport relented, he said:
It is obviously bizarre that all kinds of images of women in various states of dress and undress can be used in contemporary advertising without comment, but somehow a painted nude by one of the world’s most famous artists is found to be disturbing and has to be removed.
I hope that the public will come and see the real thing, which is a joyous and affectionate portrait of one of Picasso’s favourite models, an image that has been shown around the world.
There were several reasons why Leighton was taken aback. The image had been used heavily and without complaint on the London underground for the same show at Tate Britain earlier this year. And it was given prior approval by the airport’s managers and their advertising company JC Decaux.
Happily for the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh airport has learnt the lessons which Argyll and Bute council did back in June when they banned the now world-famous and celebrated Neverseconds blog on school dinners by their pupil Martha Payne, and then lifted the ban in less than 24 hours.
The National Galleries of Scotland had been now wrestling with what to do next: the advert took up a large chunk of the advertising budget for the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition, and there is little time and money left to get approval from the Picasso estate to find a suitably strong new Picasso to replace it. A spokeswoman explained:
The problem is that the Picasso estate has control over the majority of images in the show, and it would be quite a lengthy period of time to get that approval. We’d only just got that ad placed at the airport for the month so it’s quite frustrating for that reason.
Apparently it was all down to “confusion” at the airport.
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, an airport spokeswoman said:
We have now reviewed our original decision and reinstated the image. The initial decision was a reaction to passenger feedback, which we do always take seriously. However on reflection we are more than happy to display the image in the terminal and we’d like to apologise – particularly to the exhibition organisers – for the confusion.
As well as returning the image to its original display we also hope that the interest assists in further promoting the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to the many visitors in Edinburgh at the moment.
Leighton has had one wish granted. He said before the ban was lifted he hoped the public “will come and see the real thing, which is a joyous and affectionate portrait of one of Picasso’s favourite models”. Thanks to the airport, word of the exhibition is, metaphorically at least, now flying around the world. But then Martha could’ve told anyone that. Her site has now had more than 7.6 million hits.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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