By Mathew Katz
CHELSEA — Is it art, or bare-faced self promotion?
A naked Brooklyn brunette who planned to lead therapy sessions in the nude as part of a performance art piece for this weekend's West Chelsea art festival was given the boot from the show — with organizers saying her work is self-promotion, not art.
Sarah White, who calls herself the Naked Therapist because of her penchant for leading talk sessions with clients in the nude, was planning to make her first foray into the arts scene as part of this weekend's West Chelsea Artists Open Studios, a four-day festival that includes 80 artists in more than a dozen galleries and venues across the area.
White's proposed a four-day performance art piece, which was initially accepted by the festival's organizers in April before being rejected May 1, would have invited gallery-goers into a room in the Hotel Americano decorated with portraits of scantily-clad White, 24, alongside pics of nearly-nude dudes.
Visitors were invited to watch White on a live webcam while she stripped down to the buff while talking to "clients" about their concerns — from sexual to childhood issues.
White said it was a piece of art that was meant to comment on the use of hotels and the web as studio spaces.
But organizers rescinded their invitation for White to be included in the May 11 event a week-and-a-half before kickoff, after she sent them a promotional image for the event that included a scantily-clad man and an image of a bare-shouldered White, along with the URL for her "performance art" website, www.thenakedtherapist.org, she said.
"There's two layers here: why is he outlawing a URL, and why is a URL not a piece of art?" White said. "That phrase — the Naked Therapist — it's my title. It's a piece of art."
Organizers said the inclusion of White's website's address pushed her piece over the line from art into commerce — adding that White has no place alongside the creative set.
"The West Chelsea Artists Open Studios event provides over 80 artists the rare opportunity to showcase their work to the public and is not open to commercial entities who take advantage of this free event to promote their own businesses," organizer Scotto Mycklebust said in a statement.
White, who is not a licensed therapist, and has not displayed her work in galleries previously, claims that Mycklebust has censored her and her work in a move she describes as a strike against women who, like her, use their body both provocatively and commercially.
"As I have been advised, I am not allowed to be a licensed therapist/counselor because I used nudity as therapeutic device," White wrote in an email.
White said that Mycklebust's rejection email came minutes after she sent him the promotional image, and left her scrambling to cancel her $2,500 four-night reservation at the pricey Hotel Americano at 518 W. 27th St.
White said that the URL was not connected to SarahWhiteTherapy.com, the one she uses to promote her work, a combination of sex therapy, art, and nude webcam chats.
White herself has not shied away from self-promotion: when she first burst on the scene in late 2010, she was profiled in media outlets around the city and appeared on national television stations.
On May 13 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., White will host a one-night exhibition of her work at the Hotel Americano, as well as an open discussion forum on the issues of advertising versus art and the segregation of women who use their bodies for performance.
"How is any piece of art not an ad for itself?" White said. "All artists want to make money out of their work."