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Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 1999 /24 Tishrei, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Hate art --
THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM, for whatever reason, has not seen lines of patrons curling around the block for many, many years. So when museum director Arnold Lehman was in London recently, his eyeballs glowed with dollar signs when he saw folks queuing up for a chance to view the "Sensation" exhibit.

The City of New York is now alleging that Lehman and "Sensation's" owner, Charles Saatchi, conspired to boost the price of Saatchi's collection (Saatchi, who owns the entire collection, held an auction of some items after the London exhibit). But leaving aside the pecuniary motives that may underlie the decision to show this "art" at the Brooklyn Museum, you really have to wonder: How can they take us for such fools?

Wrapping themselves in the First Amendment, they ingenuously claim that this rubbish is art and condemn those who are shocked, even as they giggle behind their hands at our red faces. Truly, this exhibit -- aspects of which would offend nearly everyone, but particularly Catholics -- is an assault.

There is a decomposing animal's head being eaten by real flies, a shark in a tank of formaldehyde and, most disgusting, a picture of the Virgin Mary with elephant dung and pornographic images all over it.

The Christians need an anti-defamation league. It is wearying to say this over and over again, but here goes: The Brooklyn Museum would never, ever exhibit a picture of any liberal icon -- not Justice Harry Blackmun, not Anita Hill, not even Jesse Jackson -- covered in elephant dung. Nor would they ostentatiously offend homosexuals, Native Americans ... well, you know the list.

Chris Ofili's picture of "The Holy Virgin Mary" is a calculated stick in the eye to American Christians, who have not only had their sacred symbols profaned in the most vile fashion but have had to pay for it through their tax dollars. To its credit, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis has denounced the Brooklyn Museum.

We've been down this road before. There was "Piss Christ," also a recipient of government funding, the Mapplethorpe excrescence and the lady who smeared herself in chocolate. Your government is funding, as art, things you wouldn't even permit your children to say.

Listening to their justifications, one concludes that it isn't just their "art" that can make you sick. When Katie Couric of the Today Show asked Arnold Lehman why he was suing the city of New York, he said: "Well, it's very simple. Museums, libraries, universities, theaters, you know, all stand for free expression of ideas, just the way you do. And when you try to stymie that free expression, when you try to use coercion to stop people from showing important works of art that have been seen all over the world, because they offend one person -- or even many people's sensibilities -- that's trampling on the First Amendment."

"Important works of art"? Oh please. This is not art, it is cultural warfare. As for offending the sensibilities of just "one man" (Lehman was referring to the Hon. Rudy Giuliani, may he live to be 120), on the contrary, this exhibit offends nearly everyone who has passed the age when they find recreational burping hilarious.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has shown her usual poor political judgment by plunging into this controversy on the museum's side, but she spoke for the liberal establishment. Every news outlet has painted this story in the same colors: silly old bluenoses unable to handle something a little risque.

"Giuliani Declares War on a Picture" read one headline. Bill Blakemore filed an egregiously tendentious story on World News Tonight (and you doubt that the press is biased?) claiming that the exhibit is "being taken very seriously by leading art critics," who call the show "powerful ... a healthy jolt to your awareness of things." (Implicit message: If you don't think it's art, that's just because you're a dummy who lives in Boise.) And even if it is offensive, Blakemore allowed, "should government have any control over it?"

That, of course, is not the question. There appear to be a lot of haters out there. The First Amendment forbids us to silence them -- but it does not require us to subsidize them. Rather than suing the city of New York for attempting, somehow, to stop this insult, Lehman and his allies (which include many of the museum directors in New York City) should instead be apologizing.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate