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October 02, 1999 12:34pm
City Withholds Funds Ahead Of New York Art Show
Source: Reuters
by: Christopher Michaud

(NEW YORK, NY) -- New York City Friday withheld a funding payment to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, site of a controversial art exhibit featuring an elephant dung-marked portrait of the Virgin Mary, as free speech advocates protested Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's war on the show.

Museum officials said that the check for just under $500,000 was not received in the wake of a lawsuit filed by the city Thursday seeking to revoke the museum's lease for the city-owned building and evict it from the site.

The museum, New York's second largest, receives some $7 million a year from the city, about a third of its $23 million budget, in the form of monthly payments in the $500,000 range.

Tuesday, the museum sued Giuliani in Brooklyn federal court, seeking an order barring him from withholding funding over the exhibit.

Giuliani escalated his war of words on the show Friday, branding it ``pedophiles on parade.''

``I believe that the use of public funds to have a portrait of a pedophile glorified is disgusting,'' said Giuliani, who has led the outcry against the show entitled ``Sensation.''

The mayor, who is expected to face first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton next year in a run for New York's U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was referring to Marcus Harvey's portrait of British child murderer Myra Hindley, another work in the show that opens to the public Saturday.

Giuliani said ``Sensation,'' which features British artists and has been shown in London, would be better suited to a psychiatric ward than a museum.

About 200 people joined in free speech demonstrations sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union outside the museum Friday, while the Catholic League and the ACLU planned opposing rallies for Saturday's opening.

The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 9, features works using pickled cow parts, human blood and a melding of live maggots and a cow's head.

But it is Chris Ofili's ``Holy Virgin Mary,'' stained with elephant dung and pasted with cutouts from pornographic magazines, that has enraged Giuliani and some Roman Catholic groups that accuse Ofili and the museum of Catholic-bashing.

The work has been placed behind a plexiglass shield to protect it from attack or vandalism.

A group of artists, writers, entertainers and others took out a full-page ad in Friday's New York Times deploring Giuliani's bid to suspend the museum's funding and evict it.

``Government should not be allowed to make its support of the arts subject to the personal aesthetic or religious views of public officials,'' said the ad, whose signatories included Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates and Kurt Vonnegut.

Opinion polls showed New Yorkers and citizens nationwide supported the museum's right to display the art. In a Daily News/NY 1 cable news poll, support for the museum ran across all racial and religious lines. Only white Catholics supported Giuliani over the museum, by 49 percent to 38 percent.

A poll by the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center found Americans backed the museum's right to display the exhibit by 57 percent to 39 percent. Fifty-nine percent said the government should not be able to ban the show even though public funds help support the museum.

Reviewing the show Friday, The New York Times said the exhibit was "much less entertaining and far less significant" than the brouhaha over it.

While it said "the best work" among the 90 paintings, sculptures and installations "does what all good art should do: it makes you think," it called the show uneven, saying that "nothing really ties all the works ... together conceptually."

Internet users will be able to take a virtual tour of the show, conducted by rock star David Bowie, who is one of the exhibit's sponsors, on http://www.davidbowie.com Saturday.

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