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“Buy Sexual” Art Piece Will Be Moved to More Discreet Spot in Santa Maria Government Building

Santa Barbara County Arts Commission votes to relocate work deemed offensive, briefly removed from the wall by staff in Fourth District Peter Adam's office

Los Angeles-based artist Steve Olson’s “Buy Sexual” social commentary piece will be moved after some objected to its prominent placement in the Betteravia Government Center’s art gallery.
Los Angeles-based artist Steve Olson’s “Buy Sexual” social commentary piece will be moved after some objected to its prominent placement in the Betteravia Government Center’s art gallery. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A piece of art some considered offensive should be moved to a more discreet location in the Betteravia Government Center, the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission decided Thursday afternoon.

Instead of the wall across from the main entrance into the lobby leading to the Santa Maria building’s board hearing room, the artwork reportedly will wind up on a wall near the restrooms.

The Arts Commission held an emergency meeting in Solvang to settle the brouhaha that erupted when Bob Nelson, an aide to Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam, last week removed the artwork deemed offensive. Others charged Nelson with censorship for removing the art on his own for a few days.

The large piece of art, “Buy Sexual” by artist and skateboarder Steve Olson, was prominently displayed on the wall as part of the Love+Guts exhibition. The words “Buy Sexual” are against a background of nine red price tags with white lettering saying $69.99. 

The art gallery is secondary to the building’ primary purpose — running county government, Nelson told commissioners Thursday afternoon while denying it’s a censorship issue.

“This piece does not add, it subtracts,” Nelson said. “It is not appropriate and to many it’s offensive.”

County employees have contacted Adam’s office to complain the artwork creates a hostile work environment, Nelson said, urging the commission remove “Buy Sexual.”

Arts Commissioner John Hood, who coordinated the exhibit and represents the Fifth District, said the art speaks to society’s penchant for using sex to sell cars, clothing, magazines and more in today’s culture.

“The artist is a little taken back by it all,” Hood said.

The Los Angeles-based artist has a press release on PRNewswire about the dispute.

The “Buy Sexual” artwork by Steve Olson will be moved to a more discreet location in the Betteravia Art Gallery, the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission decided Thursday. Click to view larger
The “Buy Sexual” artwork by Steve Olson will be moved to a more discreet location in the Betteravia Art Gallery, the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission decided Thursday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Well it’s about what I’d expect in today’s climate of knee-jerk reactions,” Olson said a written statement.

“I’d prefer the art to provoke thought about the world we live in — The piece is commentary on how sex sells, everything from cars and Instagram ​‘likes’ to news and clothing. The fact that it’s a play on words probably went right over his head.”

A petition calling for the artwork’s removal was countered by another urging the commission to keep “Buy Sexual” in place. 

A majority of commissioners supported an earlier decision by a subcommittee, the County Art in Public Places, which had recommended “Buy Sexual” be moved to “a more discreet, less prominent and less public location.”

The recommendation also called for a photo of the controversial artwork be placed near the original location along with a didactic panel be added near “Buy Sexual” to explain the significance and the intention of the piece as social commentary.

Commissioner Dante Sigimondi said he objected to moving the artwork since it’s become “a piece of attraction.”

“People will be going there to see this piece and I don’t think we should put it in a corner and tell this artist that we think his is secondary art,” Sigimondi said.

The dispute has drawn attention to the often-overlooked art gallery, commissioners noted.

It also may attract more people to the reception planned for 5 to 9 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Betteravia Art Gallery, with a question-and-answer session planned for 6 p.m. with many of the 17 artists involved.

The commission also decided to create an ad hoc committee to update guidelines for art exhibits, with staff noting the procedures were last revised approximately 20 years ago.

The committee will use the National Coalition Against Censorship information to revise the local policy.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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