SYDNEY- An art versus pornography debate has erupted in Melbourne over a painting depicting a woman and an octopus engaged in a sexual act.

Police and the gallery directors have received dozens of calls complaining the A$13,500 ($15,828) work is pornographic and offensive.

Entitled The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, the work is by Victorian artist David Laity.

An adaptation of an 1814 Japanese woodcut print, the work is seen by hundreds of people passing the High St gallery every day. A government-funded regional gallery is negotiating to buy it.

Metro 5 Gallery director Brian Kino said more than 50 threatening phone calls had been received about the work.

"People have rung up and said they will throw rocks at the work," he told the Herald Sun Newspaper.

"Someone even said they will bomb the place."

Police have visited the gallery after complaints, but have decided not to take any action.

Australian Family Association national vice-president Bill Muehlenberg said the picture should be removed.

"They should keep it in the confines of the private art gallery and not inflict it on the unsuspecting public."

Artist David Laity defended his work, saying it was not offensive.

"I don't think it's controversial or is going to have any effect on anyone," he said.

"I can't see hundreds of women jumping off St Kilda pier in search of octopus as a result."