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March 27, 2000 05:13pm
New York Mayor Giuliani settles art suit for $5.8 million
Source: Reuters
by: Jeanne King

(NEW YORK, NY) -- Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's attempt to cut city funding to an Brooklyn museum for displaying a painting of the Virgin Mary that incorporated elephant dung has cost the city $5.8 million in a court settlement announced Monday.

In an agreement approved by a federal judge, New York City and the Brooklyn Museum of Art agreed to end all litigation in an episode that centered on free speech rights and Nigerian-born Chris Ofili's portrait ``Holy Virgin Mary'' incorporating elephant dung and pornographic photo cut-outs.

Monday's settlement read in part: ``All city funding previously allocated will continue and an additional $5.8 million in capital funding will be included in the mayor's upcoming executive budget.''

According to the settlement, the first payment of $1.7 million is due July 1, 2000 and the remaining $4.1 million next year.

The controversy inspired another work, ``Sanitation'' by well-known German artist Hans Haacke that suggested a comparison between Nazi attitudes toward art and those of Giuliani in his angry response to the ``Sensation'' show.

Haacke said his work, which went on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan last week, was about protecting free speech.

The Brooklyn Museum of Art, housed on city-owned premises, receives about $7.2 million a year from the city, about a third of its $23 million annual budget.

``Mayor Giuliani has done the right thing today to withdraw from an unsupportable position in a policy that is at war with First Amendment principles,'' said the museum's representative, Floyd Abrams, a noted attorney on First Amendment issues.

Counsel for Giuliani, who was expected to be deposed in the litigation April 4, was not immediately available to comment on the settlement.

The settlement approved by U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon stated that the city cannot withhold any money from the museum or deny or delay any future funding requests by the institution, which has the second-largest art collection in the United States.

Led by Giuliani, the city yanked funding from the museum the day before the ``Sensation'' exhibit opened Oct. 2 last year. The mayor, who described the work as ``sick'' and ''disgusting,'' objected to the exhibit being supported by taxpayer's money.

He also moved to evict the museum from city-owned premises it had occupied for more than a century and remove its board of trustees.

On Nov. 1, 1999, Judge Gershon ordered the city to restore money it cut off to the museum for displaying the controversial exhibit. In that ruling, Gershon rebuffed Giuliani, saying: ''There is no federal constitutional issue more grave than the effort by governmental officials to censor works of expression and to threaten the vitality of a major cultural institution.''

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