Position on Brooklyn Museum Flap

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wants to cut off the Brooklyn Museum's city financing for exhibiting controversial art at their "Sensations" show which opened on October 2nd. He could have condemned the exhibition, condemned the art, encouraged people to protest or sign petitions or boycott the museum-- all of which would have been fine. But instead, he's trying to close the place down.

This is not good for America. Assuming no laws are being broken, government must never be allowed to dictate what art we can or cannot see. That's a violation of our First Amendment rights. Worse yet, it's an attempt to restrict our freedoms that only opens the door to similar attempts in other areas. And it's just a short step away from forcing us to look over our shoulders and second guess everything we do in order to avoid government disapproval or persecution.

Anyone who's been around art long enough can look carefully at the offending pieces in this show and see that the artists put a great deal of time, effort, emotion, skill, and thoughtfulness (some might say thoughtlessness) into creating them. It's not like they went out to the dime store, bought markers, and graffiti-ized buildings or took ten minutes to type up hate letters in broken English on their computers. Regardless of how vile, sacrilegious, controversial, or offensive people might believe this art is, there is no arguing the fact that they are highly competent pieces of work. And that's why an important collector bought them and that's why major museums show them.

Let's not forget what critics once said about Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" or that the word "Impressionism" was first used as a negative in a hostile journalistic review. And let's never ever forget what happens when government controls culture and the arts to the point where burning and killing that which offends becomes the order of the day.

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Articles © Alan Bamberger 1999. All rights reserved.