Judge bars New York's mayor from cutting funds to Sensation museum

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The Independent Online
THE BROOKLYN Museum of Art stands to get back the millions of dollars in public money that were withdrawn when the British avant-garde art exhibition, Sensation, fell foul of the mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani. A judge, Nina Gershon, ruled that the museum had a good chance of winning a lawsuit based on the constitutional right to free expression and granted the museum a temporary injunction against the city's block on the subsidy.

She barred the mayor, or any city officials, from "taking steps to inflict any punishment, retaliation, discrimination or sanction" against the museum. The museum is suing the city of New York, claiming its rights under the first amendment of the constitution had been violated by Mr Giuliani's decision to freeze its $7.2m (pounds 4.5m) subsidy, which amounts to one-third of its annual budget.

The fracas began in September, when Mr Giuliani called the exhibition of work by young British artists "sick", "sacrilegious" and unworthy of public money. He was responding to an outcry that had focused on one of the works: a portrait of the Virgin Mary decorated with elephant dung. When the museum refused to cancel the show, the city withheld the October payment of nearly $500,000 and applied to the courts to have the museum evicted from the municipally owned site it has occupied for a century.

Lawyers for the museum argued in a retaliatory lawsuit that the city was trying to punish the museum for "exercising its constitutional rights". Lawyers for the city retorted that the museum had breached the terms of its lease, which stipulated that exhibitions should have an educational function. The quarrel grew into an impassioned dispute that ran the gamut from accusations of base politicking to high-flown arguments about the nature of art.