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JFK sculpture of Jesus receives quick cover-up

Deborah Masters of Brooklyn is one of three artists to design a mural...

By Betsy Scheinbart

After the image of a nude Jesus on the wall at Kennedy Airport caused a stir last week, the artist painted a loincloth on the figure, something she said she had always intended to do.

Deborah Masters of Brooklyn is one of three artists to design a mural for the new Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport due to open next month.

Masters’s work, “New York Streets,” fills 28 panels, each about 8 by 10 feet. They depict life in the five boroughs and will greet passengers arriving from international flights. The mural is a relief sculpture, which Masters painted to add color to the clay.

As the mural’s panels were being installed last week, several of the construction workers voiced concern over a panel depicting a Crucifix with a nude image of Jesus.

One worker contacted the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. The group’s president, William Donohue, got in touch with JFK International Air Terminal LLC, the developer of Terminal 4, which, in turn, spoke to the artist.

Masters acknowledged her mistake and covered the figure with a loincloth, as she said she had planned to do all along, according to a news release issued by the JFK International Air Terminal LLC.

“We support the artist’s decision to revise her work in this way, and believe that all of the works of art contribute to Terminal 4 as a passenger-friendly, pleasant travel experience,” the developer said.

Donohue said he thought the issue had been resolved amicably.

“I don’t think this ever was designed to intentionally assault the sensibilities of Christians,” Donohue said of the artwork, “but whether you meant it or not is essentially irrelevant. What matters is people were offended.”

Donohue said the issue was resolved “by appealing to reason.” He said he respects artists’ First Amendment rights of expression and does not support Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s decency panel.

Earlier this month, Giuliani appointed 20 attorneys, artists, and other professionals to a new Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission, which is charged with advising the mayor on cultural activities.

The formation of the commission, commonly referred to as the decency panel, came after Giuliani’s staunch criticism earlier this year of the Brooklyn Museum of Art Exhibit “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” in which photographer Renee Cox depicts herself as a nude Jesus.

In 1999, Giuliani criticized the museum’s “Sensations” exhibit, which included a painting of the Virgin Mary with elephant dung representing her breast.

The 1.5-million-square-foot Terminal 4 is now undergoing a $1.2 billion renovation and will include an internal station for the new AirTrain light rail system and host 50 airlines. The AirTrain will connect all the airport terminals to Howard Beach by next year and to Jamaica by 2003.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

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