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Queens artist supports decency panel ‘1,000%’

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Now that Mayor Giuliani has made his "decency commission" official - complete with the naming of 20 members - the inevitable cries of censorship have grown louder.

But one Queens artist in particular is not only not complaining, she's one of the appointees.

Constance Del Vecchio-Maltese, wife of the Republican state senator from Glendale, was tapped by Giuliani to be on the commission. The portrait artist - whose latest published work is "Voyage of Discovery," a collection of renderings of ancient explorers using modern-day people as models - believes the decency panel is a good thing.

"I made it be known that I agreed 1000 percent with the mayor," she told Qguide. "I do think there is a large difference between public funds being used for art, and private."

She stressed that any artist should be free to display any kind of work at all - if it's privately funded. Once tax money is involved, she said, it has to be considered whether any large group of people will be offended.

Giuliani declared he would set up the panel after the Brooklyn Museum of Art displayed "Yo Mama's Last Supper" as art of an exhibit of the work of black photographers. The particular piece mimicked Leonardo de Vinci's masterpiece, portraying the contemporary artist's colleagues as the disciples and herself, nude, as Jesus.

Last year Giuliani was incensed with the "Sensations" exhibit - also at the Brooklyn Museum - that depicted, among other pieces, an image of a black Virgin Mary with encrusted globs of elephant dung. Giuliani tried to cut funding for the museum and evict it from the city-owned land, but he lost in court.

Maltese said that when tax money is used to fund artwork, "there is a point beyond which [the artist] shouldn't go." Asked what that point is or who should determine it, Maltese said, "That's the problem." But she said it all boiled down to a "matter of common sense."

She added she thought it was unfortunate that so much ire has been directed to the Brooklyn Museum, because "they do some wonderful things." But she said that the artists in the "Sensations" case and the "Last Supper" controversy have been used by the museum's curator. "He knew full well the publicity this would bring to the Brooklyn Museum," she said.

Maltese said that the nudity in "Yo Mama's Last Supper" was not offensive per se - "I have paintings of naked women in my studio," she said - it was artist Renee Cox's "in-your-face" intention. Cox was "venting her own bias" toward Catholicism, Maltese said.

It remains unclear what the decency panel constitutionally will be able to actually do. That's why the members will be meeting among each other and with artists in the next few weeks. "We're opening a dialogue," Maltese said.

Reach Qguide Editor David Glenn by e-mail at glenn@timesledger.com, or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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