MANHATTAN (CN) – A model claims in court that New York City police falsely arrested her as an artist painted her nude body in Times Square, “transforming the once-bare body into a dramatic display of colors, shapes and lines that added new life to his already thriving medium.”
Zoe West sued New York City, NYPD Sgt. Anthony Fusaro and three John Doe officers, in Federal Court.
West, 22, acknowledges that she stripped in front of a crowd of pedestrians and reporters so artist Andy Golub could paint her, on Aug. 30, 2011.
“Andy Golub is a street artist who uses the nude body as a human canvas, painting his models in public spaces to allow his audience to observe the transformation,” the complaint states. “His work has been well received by art critics and the media. San Francisco Weekly described Golub’s body-paintings and ‘stunning,’ and recognized, ‘Doing this in public is part of Golub’s process. … Painting people in public lets anyone watch the joint creation being made, and it’s a more direct way to show his work than, say, photographs in a gallery.”
During the process, West says in her complaint, which contains five color photos as exhibits, “Ms. West disrobed, removing all clothing except her black thong underwear. Golub immediately began painting the topless model. With big, colorful strokes of his paint brush, Golub quickly clothed Ms. West in a vibrant layer of paint, transforming the once-bare body into a dramatic display of colors, shapes and lines that added new life to his already thriving medium.”
West says defendant Sgt. Fusaro ordered her to be arrested.
“At around 4:30 p.m., Golub had nearly completed the body-painting when NYPD Sergeant Fusaro approached him and Ms. West,” the complaint states. “Less than a minute later, Police Officers Does 1-3 moved in on Ms. West.”
At or about this time, West says, she removed her thong so Golub could complete the art on his “thriving medium.”
“Visibly unnerved by Ms. West’s removal of her panties, Sgt. Fusaro told Ms. West he had to ‘bring her in,'” the complaint states.
“Ms. West was cooperative, and stood quietly as Andy Golub explained to Sgt. Fusaro that Ms. West’s exposure was not illegal and that an agreement had been reached between Golub’s lawyer and the NYPD that Golub’s models would not be arrested for removing their clothing during exhibitions.”
According to the complaint, New York Penal Law §§ 245.01 and 245.02, which criminalizes public nudity, exempts people “entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment.”
“The New York State Legislature has granted local authorities the right to pass local laws to further restrict public nudity, but the City of New York has passed no such laws,” the complaint states. “Indeed, the City of New York regularly authorizes film companies to engage in nude film shoots in public spaces in the city. Hence, plaintiff was arrested for a crime that does not exist.”
West says three unidentified officers cuffed her anyway without giving her a chance to cover up.
The complaint continues: “Photographers and onlookers snapped her picture as Ms. West, clad only in colorful paint and metallic cuffs, was escorted through Times Square and into a police vehicle by Does 1-3.
“She was transported to the Midtown South Precinct, where she was forced to stand in front of a desk in the lobby of the precinct, still unclothed, for approximately fifteen minutes. Several officers gawked at her as she stood there, humiliated.
“At some point, a female police officer returned Ms. West’s clothing and brought her to a room where she was permitted to dress. As soon as Ms. West was dressed, the female officer searched her, patting her down.
“Ms. West had been at the precinct for approximately two hours when Sgt. Fusaro came into the juvenile delinquents’ room, where Ms. West was being held, and told her she was free to leave. Without apology or an explanation, Fusaro removed the handcuffs from Ms. West and she was released. No charges were filed against her.
“Ms. West has never committed a crime, and prior to August 30, 2011, Ms. West had never been arrested.”
West says that Golub aims to have viewers “see nudity in a nonsexual way,” and his models show unpainted skin only for “minutes, if not seconds.”
“To Golub, full nudity (as opposed to toplessness) is crucial to convey his artistic message,” the complaint states. “Nevertheless, the amount of time Golub’s models are fully nude during his public exhibitions is extremely short. When doing a full-nudity exhibition, Golub’s models typically remove their underwear last, simply to allow Golub to complete the painting. The rapidly applied paint covers the exposed area in minutes, if not seconds, and, once masked in a blanket of paint, the genital area is no longer visible.
“Golub’s art has received international recognition, but the artist is most famous for his live body-paintings in New York City streets. He has painted models in front of numerous city landmarks, including Columbus Circle, the Brooklyn Bridge, Tompkins Square Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library; outside the tents of Fashion Week; at the 2006 Art Expo; and, more than a dozen times, in Times Square. His painted models have also made annual appearances at several New York City parades,” according to the complaint.
Despite this history, New York City police have tried to “censor” Golub only recently, West says.
“On July 30, 2011, members of the NYPD arrested Golub and two of his nude models during an exhibition in Times Square,” the complaint states.
“Despite an agreement subsequently reached between Golub’s attorney and the NYPD, police officers disrupted Golub’s exhibition again on August 30, 2011. On that date, Golub was not arrested, but his model, plaintiff Zoe West, was.”
West seeks compensatory and punitive damages, for false arrest and municipal liability.
She is represented by Lea Spiess, with the Law Office of Ronald L. Kuby, a well-known criminal defense attorney.