The London Arts Gallery came to the notice of an international public when in 1970, its then owner Eugene Schuster was charged with corrupting morals when he exhibited erotic artwork by Beatle John Lennon of himself and Yoko Ono in various stages of lovemaking.
The London Arts Gallery, located in an upscale district on New Bond Street was the first gallery to exhibit John Lennon’s artwork..
The gallery was known for original fine print works by Old Masters like Durer and Rembrandt and modern artists such as Picasso and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The gallery was also an important and respected showplace for many contemporary Pop artists of the time.
The signed and numbered lithographs included five prints that were erotic or offensive depending on whom you asked.
At the opening of the London exhibition eight of the fourteen lithographs were confiscated by the Vice Squad of Scotland Yard on the grounds of indecency.
"It appears they seized the art mainly because John Lennon did it.”
A London Arts Gallery press release from the time commented:
“Lennon’s sex life in the medium of lithography is a poignant comment on a modern society. In the last year Lennon has repeatedly attempted to identify himself as an artist beyond Pop music. It has brought ridicule on him and his efforts have been scorned.”
“The history of lithography has seen a change of emphasis from content to technique and Lennon has taken advantage of this movement to expose a society by exposing his own private life to encourage a more introspective commitment to content by today’s artists who can be so timid. In a society where movement and social change play such an important part, the artist’s need to experiment is not new. Warhol and Rauschenberg have created a pattern. John Lennon is developing this tradition and although he may not be making many friends, he has committed himself to a particular cultural leadership which has always been the position of the artist.”
The Police later said that the gallery could reopen the exhibition of the remaining lithographs If it wished to do so.
The gallery owner Eugene Schuster, an American citizen was tried in the Queen’s Marlborough Street Court. Witnesses were called on both sides. At one point prints by Pablo Picasso were brought before the court for comparison. The charge of obscenity was changed to disturbing the pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk.
Ultimately, the gallery was cleared of all charges.
The critics and public remained divided on both the subject of obscenity in art and the artistic merit of John Lennon’s lithographs.
Nonetheless...Lennon is an artist and I want to encourage him to do more art." Schuster declared. "Good or bad that’s up to the critics. It’s not for the police to say."
"‘None of my staff here is prepared to help on such terms, or indeed any other, I think; and I cannot understand why you should demur at going to an eminent art critic whose job it is to make assessments of this kind.
Would you have similarly demurred to John Ruskin or to Roger Fry or Clive Bell – always supposing that you have heard of these gentlemen?"