Utah Elementary School Fires Art Teacher for Showing Students ‘Pornographic’ Paintings

A parent called police after discovering that a teacher showed nude paintings by the likes of Modigliani and Ingres during an art history lesson.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, The Valpincon Bather (1808). Courtesy of the Louvre.

Utah art teacher and artist Mateo Rudea is out of a job at the Lincoln Elementary School after parents objected to his showing sixth-grade students post cards of historical paintings, some of which included nudity.

The four nude works, by artists Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Amedeo Modigliani, Francois Boucher, and Agnolo Bronzino, were part of a set of postcards that depicted 100 art-historical works, reproduced by Phaidon and called the Art Box. It had been purchased as a teaching tool by the school some years ago, before Rueda was hired, and he was unaware that there was any nudity in the collection, which also features Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and other famous works by  Paul Klee, Claude Manet, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Gauguin, J.M.W. Turner, and Vincent van Gogh.

“This is not material at all that I would use. I had no idea,” he told the Herald Journal of the December 4 incident. After students spotted the nudes, Rueda took back the cards in question and explained to the class that “‘when you grow up, you’re going to find yourselves going to museums or to places where unavoidably there’s going to be nudity.'”

François Boucher, Brown Odalisque (1745). Courtesy of the Louvre.

François Boucher, Brown Odalisque (1745). Courtesy of the Louvre.

Nevertheless, some parents complained of “classroom pornography” and, within days, Rueda was suspended and then asked to resign. He refused, and was promptly fired.

An anonymous complaint from a parent also brought the Cache County Sheriff’s Office to the scene. At the school, principal Jeni Buist was found destroying the pictures of nude works from the Art Box and other publications in the school library.

“She said she was putting the postcards and paintings in the shredder at the request of the school district so they wouldn’t be distributed again,” sheriff Chad Jensen told the Journal. “We got some of the pictures and showed them to the County Attorney’s Office, and they said these wouldn’t meet the definition of pornography. They declined to file charges.”

Agnolo Bronzino, Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (c. 1545). Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Rueda’s firing made the news when a parent, Kamee Jensen, wrote a letter to the Journal arguing that he had been wrongfully terminated.

More parents have since spoken out in support of Rueda, as did Utah state Senator Jim Dabakis, a Democrat. “This is what happens when Porn Czars go amuck.… Remember, this is a real teacher with a real career and real mortgage payments,” he wrote on Facebook. “Have any of you moralists, who fired this art teacher, ever been in an art museum?”

Amedeo Modigliani, <em>Iris Tree</em> (c. 1916). Courtesy of the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Amedeo Modigliani, Iris Tree (c. 1916). Courtesy of the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Rueda said he will appeal his termination. “I am determined to fight their accusations and clean my name,” he wrote in an email to Jensen, which she shared on Facebook. “I explained to the whole class that art can sometimes show images that are not always comfortable to all, that art is better understood when placed in its proper context, that the human body is often portrayed in art, and that the images in the school collection are icons of art history and a patrimony of humanity.”

As of press time, Rueda, principal Buist, country school district human resources director Kirk McRae, and sheriff Jensen had not responded to artnet News’s request for comment.

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