If Mayor Rudolph Giuliani follows through with his announcement last week and sets up a commission to impose a "decency standard" for city-funded museums, how would it affect Queens institutions?
"A decency commission would be kind of hard to envision in this city," said Dr. Alan Friedman, director of the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Park and chairman of the Cultural Institutions Group, an organization of New York's 33 museums and arts centers that are on city-owned land. "New Yorkers are pretty savvy, and they can decide what to see or not to see."
"I certainly think the mayor has the right to act as a critic," but setting up a decency committee is a different matter, Friedman added.
He stressed that the city Department of Cultural Affairs regularly reviews the Hall of Science and other facilities on city property to make sure they continue to offer broad-based programs and activities for New Yorkers. He said the department is in a much better position to evaluate the work of these institutions than a decency committee would be.
The mayor was angered over photo-artist Renee Cox's depiction of a nude, black woman as Jesus with her fellow black artists as disciples at the Last Supper, mimicking the style of Leonardo da Vinci's famous masterpiece, on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The work, "Yo Mama's Last Supper," is part of the show of 94 black photographers that opened last week at the Brooklyn Museum.
The woman depicted as Jesus is Cox herself.
Cox, born in Jamaica and raised as a Catholic in Scarsdale in Westchester County, said in print and broadcast interviews last week that she means her work as a protest against the Catholic hierarchy who, she says, kept silent during slavery in the United States and the Holocaust in Europe.
She contended it was quite hypocritical of Giuliani to talk about setting up a moral task force. The mayor, who is in divorce proceedings with his wife, Donna Hanover, has publicly acknowledged that he is "close friends" with another woman.
When reporters asked Giuliani last week who might be on the decency committee, the mayor answered "basically, decent people."
This is the second time Giuliani and the Brooklyn Museum have been embroiled in a battle over the museum's exhibits. In 1999, the mayor blasted the museum for its "Sensations" painting, which depicted a black Virgin Mary augmented with pieces of encrusted elephant dung. He tried to evict the museum, which is on city-owned land, but a federal court judge ruled in November 1999 that the mayor violated First Amendment free-expression rights when he cut city funding to the museum and started the eviction proceedings.
Friedman said Giuliani is ill-advised to go after an entire facility whenever he finds a particular exhibit offensive.
"I'm not happy with everything the mayor does - that doesn't mean I'm going to call for his impeachment every time he does something I don't like," Friedman said.
Gov. George Pataki has not sided with the mayor, a fellow Republican. While saying last week on WCBS radio that he was offended, too, by the latest display, he added, "I'm very reluctant about the government coming in and setting standards that have to apply."
Reach Qguide Editor David Glenn by e-mail at glenn@time
©2001 Community News Group
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