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October 01, 1999 04:22am
Tough Week To Be an Artist in NYC
Source: AP

NEW YORK (AP) - If it looks like horse manure and smells like horse manure - it just may be art.

Self-described artist Scott LoBaido was grabbed by police outside the Brooklyn Museum of Art on Thursday for hurling fistfuls of horse manure at the museum's facade. It was his way of protesting an elephant dung-decorated painting of the Virgin Mary set to go on display this weekend.

``I'm expressing myself creatively!'' shouted LoBaido, who criticized the upcoming exhibit as Catholic-bashing as police led him away.

His arrest added to a wild week in the New York art world in which the museum and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani went to war and a gallery owner found herself jailed for distributing live ammunition as part of an exhibit.

The latest flap in the centuries-old battle over what constitutes art began when Giuliani took on the Brooklyn museum for booking ``Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection,'' which opens Saturday.

When the controversial show was in London, it drew more than 300,000 visitors eager to glimpse the controversial Virgin Mary piece by Chris Ofili, and dissected pigs floating in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst.

Giuliani ripped the exhibit and vowed to withhold $7 million in annual city funding for the museum. A city lawsuit, filed Thursday, claims the exhibit violates terms in a lease requiring the museum ``to educate and enlighten school children and the public,'' and to provide free admission on most days. Exhibit tickets are $9.75.

Lawyers on both sides are also squaring off in federal court, where museum attorney Floyd Abrams accused the city and the mayor of ``seeking to punish the museum for exercising its First Amendment rights.'' U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon set a hearing for next week to hear the museum's request for an injunction barring the city from cutting its funding.

Outside court, Michael Hess, the city's top lawyer, said Giuliani ``is concerned with taxpayers' money, and he feels it should not be used on an exhibition of vile (art).''

Countered Abrams: ``Why in the world would the mayor... want to throw the museum out of the city?'' If the mayor wins, he said, ``the museum would probably wind up in New Jersey.''

The mayor, in California on a fund-raising trip, said the exhibit gives voice to ``some very, very disturbed people'' at taxpayer expense.

Also in court Thursday was art dealer Mary Boone. She was arrested the night before at her Manhattan gallery, where visitors to a one-man show by artist Tom Sachs were welcomed to take home a 9mm bullet as souvenir. A display of homemade guns, Sachs' signature artwork, was also seized.

Boone was charged with illegal distribution of ammunition and other misdemeanors, including resisting arrest.

``This is an outrageous attack on the artists' right to express themselves,'' she said late Thursday.

Many feel similarly about Giuliani's opposition to the Brooklyn exhibit. A full-page advertisement supporting ``Sensation'' appeared in today's New York Times, signed by more than 100 writers, artists and actors, including Steve Martin, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller and Kurt Vonnegut.

The Times' critic, meanwhile, called the show ``uneven'' but said its best work ``does what all good art should do: It makes you think.''

Others have been less supportive. New York Observer critic Hilton Kramer wrote this week that the much-hyped exhibit is ``appallingly witless and stupid.''

Art exhibits didn't always spark such a response in New York.

The Guggenheim Museum accepted $3 million worth of Robert Mapplethorpe's work with barely a peep in 1992, two years after the photographer's homoerotic works were nearly banned in Cincinnati.

And now, the Brooklyn museum's ``Sensation'' gift shop is selling lunch boxes with the biohazard symbol and lapel pins shaped like traffic caution signs with a label that has ``Danger'' over the word ``Art.''

Museum officials have placed a plastic screen in front of Ofili's ``The Holy Virgin Mary'' to prevent vandalism. The work, meanwhile, received praise by many who attended a Thursday night preview.

``I don't get the feeling the artist is poking fun at the church,'' said Steven Richman, among those who attended. ``It's an interpretation. Dung is considered a respectful symbol.''

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