Giuliani faces backlash over Brit Art exhibition

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The Independent Online
MANY OF New York's world-renowned arts institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, have weighed in behind the Brooklyn Museum of Art in its dispute with the city authorities over the "Sensation" exhibition of works by young British artists.

The support, which might be considered as belated and less than full- hearted, came as the Brooklyn Museum of Art stood by its right to host the exhibition in the face of furious opposition from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who described some of the exhibits as "sick" and "disgusting".

The museum's board voted late on Tuesday to file a lawsuit against Mayor Giuliani. The suit seeks an injunction against the mayor, who has threatened to freeze funding to the museum and even to evict it from its Brooklyn home if it goes ahead with the exhibition, which opened on Saturday.

The dispute centres on a portrait of the Virgin Mary by Nigerian-born artist Chris Ofili that features a blob of elephant dung as well as pornographic pictures of female body parts. Catholic officials in New York have denounced the work as an insult to the church's faithful.

Many think Mr Giuliani is staking out ground ahead of his expected race with First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for a US Senate seat in New York next year. Mrs Clinton has criticised the mayor for attempting to penalise the museum for staging the exhibition, which is made up of works owned by the British art collector Charles Saatchi.

Twenty four New York City art institutions sent a letter to the mayor saying he was setting a "dangerous precedent" by trying to halt the exhibition. Freezing funds to the museum would have a "chilling effect on all cultural institutions' ability to exercise professional judgement and take risks inherent in experimentation", the letter said. Among the signatories were the directors of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many belong to an umbrella organisation called the Cultural Institutions Group. It was noteworthy, however, that 25 of the group's members declined to sign the letter.

Deputy Mayor Joseph Lhota confirmed that a cheque for $500,000 (pounds 313,000) that would normally be paid to the museum on Friday will not be issued. The museum, which has an annual budget of $23m, depends on the city for about $7m a year.

Ofili's London agent, Glenn Scott Wright called the mayor's intervention "totalitarian and fascist, a reprisal of the Nazi regime's censorship of the contemporary art of its time, which it labelled `degenerate art'."

The Brooklyn museum's lawyer, Floyd Abrams, said the mayor was in violation of freedom of expression rights enshrined in the Constitution.