New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani has promised to block all city funding of the Brooklyn Museum of Art -- more than $500,000 a month in operating support as well as a $20-million capital expansion -- if the museum opens "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection" on Oct. 2.
We can't let him do it. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (212) 788-9600, or write Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, City Hall, New York, N.Y. 10007.
The Mayor objected in particular to Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary, a folksy pop portrait of a madonna with African features, accessorized by a large clump of elephant dung preserved in resin. Giuliani also singled out Damien Hirst's notorious sculptures of dead and dissected animals floating in tanks of formaldehyde.
"Sick," "foul" and "outrageous" said the Republican former prosecutor after viewing the show's catalogue, no doubt supplied by the New York Times, which ran the story on the front page of today's paper -- above the fold.
"If you are a government-subsidized enterprise, then you can't do things that desecrate the most deeply held views of people in society," said Giuliani, whose police department has shot and killed an alarmingly large number of unarmed African-American New Yorkers innocently going about their daily business.
Increasingly, Giuliani's presence in New York is as a kind of public-morals ayatollah. He tells people where to cross the street. He bans hot-dog vendors from midtown sidewalks. He sells off public gardens in poor neighborhoods to private developers.
Now, he wants to tell New Yorkers what they can look at in an art museum.
Here at artnet.com, we say that if the mayor doesn't like the First Amendment, he should run for office in Singapore. There they beat people for chewing gum.
We can't help thinking that this particular "sensation" has some hidden agendas. Giuliani is running for higher office and is ardently courting conservative voters. Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman is striving to breathe some life into a grand but moribund art institution. And Charles Saatchi, well, nobody is a greater master of hype. The current value of the works in "Sensation" -- some 90 pieces by 42 artists, all owned by the London adman who helped elect Maggie Thatcher as British Prime Minister -- is probably at least ten times what he paid for them.
As for the artists, they're just trying to be original. That's what artists have always done, and that's why we pay attention to their art. Chris Ofili told the Times that Holy Virgin Mary was "simply a hip-hop version" of the Old Master madonnas in the National Gallery.
Dinos and Jake Chapman, Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Marc Quinn, among other artists, make art that looks puerile, sociopathic and offensive. But if it reflects poorly on them and us, then it reflects worse on the people who buy it. "Sensation's" ultimate message is one directed at a ruling elite mired in greedy, dishonest social policy.
We've taken the liberty of reproducing some of the most scabrous works in "Sensation," using images from the catalogue of the 1997 show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London (available in artnet.com's bookstore for $23.95). We thought you ought to be able to see exactly what all the fuss is about. Take a look. We guarantee it won't hurt you.