A display due to go on show to the public at Tate Modern
tomorrow has been withdrawn after a warning from Scotland Yard that the naked image of actor Brooke Shields aged 10 and heavily made up could break obscenity laws.
The work, by American artist Richard Prince and entitled Spiritual America, was due to be part of the London gallery's new Pop Life exhibition
. It has been removed from display after a visit to Tate Modern by officers from the obscene publications unit of the Metropolitan police.
The exhibition had been open to members of the Tate today before opening to the public tomorrow. A Tate spokeswoman confirmed that the display had been "temporarily closed down" and the catalogue for the exhibition withdrawn from sale. The work had been accompanied by a warning, and the Tate had sought legal advice before displaying it.
The decision by officers to visit Tate Modern is understood to have been made after police chiefs saw coverage of the exhibition in today's newspapers, rather than as a result of complaints.
Officers met gallery bosses and are also understood to have consulted the Crown Prosecution Service as to whether the image broke obscenity laws.
A Scotland Yard source said the actions of its officers were "common sense" and were taken to pre-empt any breach of the law. The source said the image of Shields was of potential concern because it was of a 10-year-old, and could be viewed as sexually provocative.
The work has been shown recently in New York, without attracting major controversy, where it gave the title to the 2007 retrospective of Prince's work at the Guggenheim Museum.
The Pop Life exhibition also includes works from Jeff Koons's series Made in Heaven, large-scale photographic images that depict the artist and the porn model La Cicciolina having sexual intercourse.
There are also works by Cosey Fanni Tutti, who, as part of her artistic practice, worked as a porn and glamour model in the 1970s and then displayed some of the resulting images in an exhibition at the ICA in 1976.
Spiritual America is a photograph of a photograph. The original ? authorised by Shields's mother for $450 ? had been taken by a commercial photographer, Gary Gross, for the Playboy publication Sugar 'n' Spice in 1976. Shields later attempted, unsuccessfully, to suppress the picture.
Prince used the image as the source material for his own 1983 piece; he placed it in a gilt frame and displayed it, without labelling or explanation, in a shopfront in a then rundown street in Lower East Side, New York. The title comes from a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz from 1923 of a gelded horse.
Prince has described the image as resembling "a body with two different sexes, maybe more, and a head that looks like it's got a different birthday."
In an essay in the exhibition catalogue Jack Bankowsky, co-curator of the exhibition, describes the image as of "a bath-damp and decidedly underage Brooke Shields ? When Prince invites us to ogle Brooke Shields in her prepubescent nakedness, his impulse has less to do with his desire to savour the lubricious titillations that it was shot to spark in its original context ? than with a profound fascination for the child star's story."
The Metropolitan police said: "Officers from the obscene publications unit met with staff at Tate Modern ? The officers have specialist experience in this field and are keen to work with gallery management to ensure that they do not inadvertently break the law or cause any offence to their visitors."