When Mayor Giuliani declared in February he would form a commission to monitor whether works in city-subsidized museums were "decent," the art world could have been excused for thinking such a panel was simply the mayor's reaction to the latest exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum which he found offensive, and that the idea would fizzle.
Giuliani has compiled a list of some 20 names of people to be on the panel, and said on his weekly radio show on WABC last Friday that he would soon formally announce the commission and its charge.
He used a portion of his air time to defend the idea against critics who say such a panel would tread on freedom of expression. If artists want to offend a religion or a race, "they have a right to do that," Giuliani said, "but can they require us to put hard-earned taxpayers' money into it?" A decency panel, he said, "is as much a part of First Amendment freedom of speech as anything else."
He said that the city charter already sets up a Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee, which reviews how city-funded institutions operate, and may be charged with other duties as deemed appropriate by the mayor. "The mayor is me," Giuliani stressed, adding that a decency panel would simply augment the already functioning advisory committee.
"A decency commission would be kind of hard to envision in this city," Dr. Alan Friedman, director of the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park - and chairman of the Cultural Institutions Group, an organization of New York's 33 museums and arts centers located on city owned land - said when Giuliani first suggested the panel in February. Friedman said the city's Department of Cultural Affairs already regularly reviews the Hall of Science and the other facilities to make sure they continue offering broad-based programs and activities for New Yorkers.
Friedman said last week that he and the rest of the Cultural Institutions Group were waiting for the mayor's formal announcement of the panel before making any further comments on it.
The mayor was first angered when the Brooklyn Museum exhibited in 1999 "Sensations," which included a painting of a black Virgin Mary with pieces of encrusted elephant dung. He tried to cut city funding to the museum and evict it from the city-owned land, but a federal court judge ruled in November 1999 that this would be in violation of First Amendment free-expression rights.
The Brooklyn Museum again got under the mayor's skin earlier this year, when it displayed "Yo Mama's Last Supper" as part of a show of 94 black photographers. Renee Cox's piece mimicked Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, depicting her fellow artists as the disciples and herself, nude, as Jesus. This prompted the mayor to suggest the decency commission.
When reporters asked him in February who would be on the panel, Giuliani said, "Decent people."
Reach Qguide Editor David Glenn by e-mail at glenn@time
©2001 Community News Group
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