Tauranga Art Gallery has come under fire for displaying two photos that feature coarsely worded messages scrawled in ballpoint beside images of a 1974 gay liberation dance.

Jocelyn Winwood was so appalled that she emailed the Bay's political leaders and Tauranga councillors asking for the photos to be withdrawn from the Now and Then exhibition of contemporary New Zealand photography.

Mrs Winwood said she was astonished and disgusted that such exhibits could be viewed by the public, regardless of age.

"This could not be deemed 'art' by any stretch of the imagination ... I trust you will find them as repugnant as we did," she wrote.

Advertisement

Mrs Winwood said she was not a prude but found the text, which contained sexual references, to be unforgivable. "This is not a good look for Tauranga and is an insult to the ratepayers who contribute to the running of the gallery."

She said she watched other gallery-goers react with shudders and shaking of heads.

Gallery director Penelope Jackson said the images were part of a touring exhibition that had not been withdrawn from any other venue.

"We would not consider withdrawing any works as they are very much part of the exhibition.

Having said that, they are small works and discreetly hung."

Ms Jackson said the artist Fiona Clark was very much a part of the four decades of New Zealand art photography featured in the exhibition.

"Art often challenges us, both in good and bad ways.

"Given recent events with gay rights in New Zealand, the [Auckland University gay liberation] dance was part of our country's history," she said.

The two art works have created controversy ever since they were first exhibited in 1975. A Taranaki gallery withdrew them because they were "indecent".

Tauranga councillor Murray Guy said the photos should have carried the warning "Art works may be offensive".

Deputy Mayor David Stewart said art was supposed to be thought provoking and challenging. It seemed to him that the two works were designed to offend, and although he was not offended he could understand how some people would find them offensive.

Mr Stewart said it was easy to take the two works out of context and he would like to see the whole exhibition. "We need to see it in its entirety."

The comments accompanying the images were selected by the participants featured in the gay lib dance photos.