Nottingham Trent art professor who organised striptease loses director post

July 25, 2003

The art professor who invited a former lap-dancer to perform a striptease for his students at Nottingham Trent University has lost his role as the UK's only university artistic director, writes Phil Baty.

Robert Ayers, a respected performance artist and professor of contemporary art at Nottingham Trent, has been told his post will disappear through redundancy after a strategic review at the university.

Angry staff have suggested that university managers were unhappy with his controversial projects and were still smarting from embarrassing headlines in 2001 when he arranged a show by feminist performance artist and former lap-dancer Cathy MacGregor.

Professor Ayers was appointed artistic director of Nottingham Trent in 1994, and given a personal chair a year later. He had a lead role as curator of the Future Factory, a university-run project at the Bonington Gallery, which will be discontinued.

He was also instrumental in inviting often-controversial performance artists to the campus.

Recent performances have included Vulva's Morphia by artist Carolee Schneemann, described by Future Factory as a "taboo-breaking performance artist and writer on the subject of the ecstatic body as the source of knowledge".

Professor Ayres incurred the wrath of his dean, Simon Lewis, in March 2001 over the stripping incident. Although the performance involved only a limited amount of striptease, combined with video and narrative to illustrate her feelings and experiences from her former career as a lap-dancer, university managers were furious that the show attracted media interest.

Mr Lewis wrote to Professor Ayers in an email: "You can't be so naive as to believe that the press will not view this an an absolute gift!

"Sex, academia, the education debate, double standards in public life, the 'Is it art? Is it pornography?' merry-go-round.

"I can see the headlines now: 'Professor of Sleaze proud to present lap-dancing as Art', 'First degrees in knitting, now doctorates in lap-dancing, what next from the ex polys?'"

This week, Professor Ayers, who is understood to be appealing against his redundancy, was advised not to comment by his trade union.

A university spokeswoman said she could not comment on individual personnel matters, but she added that the university had decided to scale down its art symposium activities after an independent review of its provision in May, carried out by a dean outside the school. Mr Lewis played no part in the review.

"The symposium is not closing but it will be made smaller and will be absorbed into the School of Art and Design to focus more directly on the needs of students," the spokeswoman said.

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