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When he's not reviving the Cold War with China, President George W. Bush has time to exercise his esthetic muscles. He recently asked the El Paso Museum of Art to lend the White House a painting by the late artist Tom Lea called Rio Grande (1954) for the Oval Office. According to the museum, the president and First Lady Laura Bush both knew the American landscape artist and admired his work -- Bush even quoted Tom Lea during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. The Bushes have also borrowed a second painting from Adair Margot Gallery in Austin. Sisters, by border artist Manuel Accosta (who was murdered ten years ago), shows two dresses hanging eerily in mid air. It is a particular favorite of Laura Bush, said Margot, and is slated for her dressing room.

It's official. New York City now has its very own "decency panel." Lame duck New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- who lives in Gracie Mansion with his estranged wife Donna Hanover while carrying on an open relationship with his girlfriend Judy Nathan -- has revived a moribund city panel, the 23-member Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission, with a set of new members. From this group a decency subcommittee will be formed, chaired by former Nixon administration lawyer Leonard Garment, and charged with establishing "community standards" for city-funded museums.

Conservative radio talk-show host Curtis Sliwa, 47 (one of the younger commission members), said he did not know much about art but thought he was up for the important job. "I know the difference between a Michelob and a Michelangelo," he said at the press conference. "I think I can be as fair as anyone in making those determinations."

The list includes only three artists: Chinese brush artist Diana Kan, portrait painter John Howard Sanden and Constance Del Vecchio-Maltese, wife of Republican state senator Serphin Maltese. The Daily News reported that many members have close ties to City Hall: Giuliani's divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, campaign donors Bud Konheim (CEO of Nicole Miller and a member of the New York City arts commission) and Mary Ann Mattone, Metropolitan Transportation Authority boardmember Alan Friedberg, NYC Commission on Human Rights chair Marta Varela, and its three ex-officio members, deputy mayor Tony Coles, parks commissioner Henry Stern and cultural affairs commissioner Schuyler Chapin.

The group has religious men: Imam Izak-El Pasha of Masjid Malcom Shabazz, Rabbi She Hecht of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education and Bishop Roderick Caesar of Bethel Gospel Tabernacle. Other members include journalist Martin Bergman, '60s liberal lawyer and former Village Voice publisher Bartle Bull, CUNY trustee Alfred B. Curtis Jr., NYU prof and Hudson Institute president Herbert London, CUNY trustee Kay Pesile and lawyer Lester Wallman (described as a member of the National Arts Club).

The chairman of the commission is Pantone CEO Lawrence Herbert. Daniel Connolly, who led the mayor's attack on the "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999, is serving as the panel's executive director. Observers note that the entire undertaking may prove to be pointless, since Giuliani has only nine months left in office and is likely to be succeeded by a Democrat. Messages on the matter may be left for Giuliani at City Hall (212) 788-9600.

In another story spurred by an indecent Virgin Mary, the Albuquerque Journal reports that Archbishop Michael Sheehan called for Our Lady by Alma Lopez to be removed from the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. The collage work features the Virgin Mary in a floral bikini flanked by a bare-breasted angel, and is included in an exhibition of digitally altered art called "Cyber Arte." The Archbishop said, "No one would dream of putting Martin Luther King in speedos and desecrating his memory by putting him in some outlandish outfit. I wouldn't want anyone to do that. But somehow it seems open season on Catholic symbols." He also added that the painting made Mary look like a "Tart," and asked for an apology from the museum.

The Louvre has moved the world's most famous painting -- Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Mona Lisa -- from its regular spot in the Salle des Etats to the neighboring Salle Rosa to make way for a $3.5-million renovation of the space. Six million tourists a year tramp through the crowded gallery, where the painting is on view under. "It's a train station in there," said Louvre curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Now, architect Lorenzo Piqueras plans to split the gallery in two, with one half devoted solely to Mona Lisa and the second space dedicated to Veronese's Marriage of Cana and other Venetian paintings. The renovation, slated to open in 2003, is sponsored by the Japanese television company NTV, which is also funding the $1.5-million restoration of the Louvre gallery housing the Venus de Milo, and underwrote the restoration of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

Pompidou Center director Jean-Jacques Aillagon says he will project a giant image of one of the Bamiyan Buddha statues of Afghanistan on the side of the Paris art complex for two months to protest Taliban "fanaticism" and "the brutal display of the hate of differences." The 90-foot-tall image, taken from a 19th-century engraving, will be up for two months.

Stephen S. Prokopoff, 71, peripatetic museum director known for his "artist's eye," died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on Mar. 28 in Iowa City. Prokopoff headed ICA in Philadelphia (1967-71), the MCA in Chicago ('71-77), the Boston ICA ('77-82), the Krannert Art Museum in Illinois ('82-92) and the University of Iowa Museum of Art, where his 1996 exhibition of work by Henry Darger brought widespread attention to the outsider artist.