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October 04, 1999 07:09pm
House Condemns Brooklyn Art Exhibit
Source: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) - The feud over the Brooklyn Museum of Art's provocative ``Sensation'' exhibit continued to attract Congress' attention Monday as the House approved a nonbinding resolution calling for federal funds to stop flowing to the institution.

Republicans argued that taxpayers should not have to pay for ``Catholic-bashing'' art some have deemed vulgar. Some Democrats countered that the GOP was trying to censor artistic expression.

The exhibit, which opened Saturday, features, among other things, a black Virgin Mary decorated with body parts and elephant dung.

``Should Americans that work 40, 50, 60 hours a week be forced to turn over a portion of their paycheck to something that offends so many?'' said Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., who sponsored the resolution.

The measure was approved on a voice vote; the Senate had passed a similar measure last Wednesday.

Republicans said they were not arguing that the work should not be shown, but that it should not receive tax dollars.

But Democrats said that was disingenuous. ``The issue before us is censorship. Make no mistake about it,'' Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., said.

Over the last three years, the Brooklyn Museum received $1.1 million in federal money. And while Monday's resolution sparked heated debate it was purely symbolic.

Republicans are attempting to attach legislation to federal spending bills to block funding to the museum but have been unsuccessful.

House Democrats also accused Republicans of pushing the resolution to rally support for New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the exhibit's most vocal critic and a likely candidate for the Senate.

``I know politics when I see it,'' Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said. ``This is all about who will be the next senator from the state of New York.''

Giuliani is trying to cut off city funding to the museum because of the institution's refusal to remove the exhibit's more controversial pieces. If Giuliani decides to run for the Senate his likely opponent will be first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mrs. Clinton has said while she personally finds the exhibit offensive she supports the museum's right to show it.

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, in a visit to upstate New York, threw his support behind Giuliani on Monday.

``I don't think we ought to be using public monies to denigrate religion,'' the Republican presidential front-runner said.

In New York City, Giuliani continued to hammer away at the museum, saying its directors had deceived him by describing the exhibit in a letter to an administration official, but failing to mention the inclusion of the controversial Virgin Mary painting.

``It was a very deceptive presentation,'' Giuliani said at a City Hall news conference. ``There's nothing that mentions feces and the private parts of women taken from pornographic magazines placed around the Virgin Mary.''

The April 6 letter - from Arnold Lehman, the museum's director, to Schuyler Chapin, the head of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs - does not mention the painting specifically.

It did warn, however, that some of the works are provocative, including Damien Hirst's installations of dissected animals and another piece that ``explores a complex and bizarre world of sexual identity, transmutation and commercialism.''

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