February 16, 2001 04:30pm
Nude Female Jesus Photo Stirs Chaos
by: Verena Dobnik
(NEW YORK, NY) -- Mayor Rudolph Giuliani began assembling a task force to monitor ``decency'' in tax-sponsored art exhibits Friday, as a museum opened a show including a photograph depicting Jesus as a naked woman.
``If you want to display viciousness, hatred, ignorance, and you want to display anti-Catholicism, racism or anti-Semitism, then you go find a private museum that wants to pay for this or a private sponsor that wants to pay for this,'' the mayor said in a radio interview Friday morning.
``But you cannot use taxpayers' dollars!''
Giuliani also threatened to go to federal court to challenge taxpayer support of art he says defiles ``decency and respect for religion.''
The mayor's ire was prompted by Renee Cox's photograph ``Yo Mama's Last Supper,'' one of 188 works in a new show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Cox, who posed nude for a Last Supper image, is surrounded by 12 black apostles in the five-panel image.
Cox, a Jamaican-born artist who was raised Catholic, has said the image highlights legitimate criticisms of the church, including its refusal to ordain women as priests.
The work is ``beautiful!'' said Tammy Hindle, who viewed the exhibit, including the work of 94 contemporary black photographers. ``She's celebrating the part of God that is woman.''
Everton McIntyre, a Pentecostal Christian and a middle school art teacher, disagreed.
``The Lord's Supper means a lot to me. And her being nude bothers me. Jesus was never nude,'' he said.
Museum director Arnold Lehman did not respond directly to the mayor, but said in a statement that the work serves an important purpose.
``Throughout history, the artist's responsibility has been to make us think,'' he said. ``The best artists walk blindfolded on a high wire every time they go to work. We owe them no less than our unwavering commitment.''
The same museum was at the center of a similar debate in 1999 when an exhibit including a dung-decorated painting of the Virgin Mary sparked a heated six-month legal battle.
The mayor froze the museum's annual $7.2 million city subsidy - about a third of its annual budget - then sued in state court to evict the museum.
The museum filed a countersuit in federal court, where a judge ruled that the city had violated the First Amendment and restored the funding.