"Mayor Calls New York Art Exhibit Anti-Catholic"
By Grant McCool
NEW YORK (Reuters, Feb. 16, 2001) - Mayor Rudolph Giuliani battled
on Thursday with a New York museum that he tried to close in 1999 over
a Virgin Mary portrait he found offensive, this time denouncing as
"disgusting" and anti-Catholic a photo exhibit portraying Jesus Christ as a naked woman.
The publicly funded Brooklyn Museum of Art on Friday is set to open "Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers." The exhibit includes "Yo Mama's Last Supper," which depicts Christ as a nude black woman and shows her facing forward, standing with her arms wide open and 12 black men disciples sitting or standing on either side of her.
Giuliani, who is Roman Catholic, described the exhibit "as the latest
indication of anti-Catholicism in the
Brooklyn museum," and he objected to taxpayer's money being used for such an exhibit.
The mayor said he had asked the city's counsel to explore legal action
despite his failure in 1999 to end the
museum's lease and cut its city funding over a portrait entitled "Holy Virgin Mary" that incorporated elephant
dung and pornographic pictures.
Giuliani told reporters at his daily news briefing that the photo
was "disgusting and outrageous, and if it were
done against another group there would be an outcry in this city that would demand that they take the
photograph down, but anti-Catholicism is just accepted prejudice, it is allowed in the city and in our society."
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said it was sending a letter of protest to the museum over the five-panel photo by New York photographer Renee Cox, whose work has been described by critics as overtly feminist.
"The museum didn't have to choose this as representative of Renee Cox's work," Catholic League President Bill Donohue said.
Donohue said remarks by a museum curator that dogs had been included
in other depictions of Christ's final
meal with his disciples before his crucifixion "points up the insensitivity to Christians in this country."
Curator Barbara Millstein was quoted by the Daily News on Thursday as saying "there are images of this scene with dogs in the Last Supper," and she did not believe the Cox photo should be considered taboo.
A museum spokeswoman declined to comment on specific works contained
in the exhibit, which also includes a
photograph by Willie Middlebrook of a topless woman on the cross.
But a statement by museum director Arnold Lehman introducing the
works by 94 photographers said, in part:
"While many of these works are beautiful and easy to enjoy, others may be controversial and difficult for us as
The museum had its city funding yanked in October 1999 over its "Sensation"
exhibit of young British artists,
which included "Holy Virgin Mary" by Nigerian-born Chris Ofili.
Giuliani, who described that work as "sick" and "disgusting," objected
to the "Sensation" exhibit being
supported by taxpayers' money. The Brooklyn Museum of Art, housed on city-owned premises, receives about
$7.2 million a year from the city, about a third of its $23 million annual budget.
The city and the museum went to court over the funding dispute. Under
a March 2000 settlement, the city was
ordered to continue giving previously allocated money to the museum and an additional $5.8 million in capital
Copyright 2001 Reuters Limited.