'Sensations' draws criticism
By MARIBEL MOREY
The Brooklyn Museum of Art's controversial exhibit "Sensations" created heated debate on issues of free speech, government funding and the definition of art.
The exhibit features, among other works, a painting of the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung and surrounded with cutouts from pornographic magazines. The 1996 painting, "The Holy Virgin Mary," is the work of London artist Chris Ofili.
After two weeks of battle between the museum and New York City mayor Rudolph Guiliani, a Federal judge began hearings Friday to determine whether the mayor could withdraw museum funding in protest of the artwork he deemed offensive.
The city already cancelled its October payment to the museum. Catholic groups also protested the painting.
Taxpayers should not be forced to support something they do not think is art, said Notre Dame government professor Donald Kommers.
"Art manifests with the degradation of society, but it is very different in this case. It's a blatant insult," Kommers said. "Artistic creations, art like literature and good music, are an important part of American culture. The only way an enlightened culture is going to reach a large audience is through government support, but I don't think this is art."
Martin Saiz, assistant professor of government, disagreed.
"Some things are inappropriate, but I think it should be terribly obvious. If there is a piece that hurts specific groups of people, then it is inappropriate, but I have seen much worse. I saw the work and it's pretty clear that it's art," Saiz said. "As a Catholic, I'm not particularly offended. I am confident in my faith and it is that confidence that won't be shaken by someone else's interpretation."
Some are concerned that Giuliani's own religious affiliation or political aspirations are interfering in the debate. Giuliani may be a candidate for next year's Senate race in New York.
"It's a political group looking for an issue," said Charles Loving, director of the Snite Museum of Art. "It is the fundamental issue of free speech that would attract national attention [for Giuliani.]"
The New York Times contributed to this report.
All News Stories for Tuesday, October 12, 1999