- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

There must have been an institutional sigh of relief at the Brooklyn Museum of "Art" when word came in that New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had seen the museum's outrage de jour a photographic rendition of the Last Supper with a naked lady as Jesus Christ and exploded.

Characterizing the photograph as the latest example of a "pattern of anti-Catholicism at the Brooklyn Museum," Mr. Giuliani announced the creation of a commission to set "decency standards" for the Brooklyn Museum and other city institutions that lean on the taxpayer to operate. "I do not believe that it is right for public money to be used to desecrate religion, to attack people's ethnicity," Mr. Giuliani said. Bravo.

With Mr. Giuliani's reaction, media coverage for a ho-hum photography show at the under-attended Brooklyn Museum was assured. And when city officials responded to the mayor with an absurdly tremulous hysteria Mr. Giuliani's proposal "sounds like Berlin in 1939," cried Bronx borough president and mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer it could be said that the media circus was back.

Remember the Brooklyn Museum's 1999 "Sensation" exhibit? Well, scoot over "Dung Virgin" here comes "Yo Mama's Last Supper," another publicity stunt disguised as an art exhibit. Snapped in 1996, this large, five-panel photograph by Renee Cox features 12 Rastafarian disciples centered around Ms. Cox, who not only stands in for Jesus Christ, but also stands in the nude. While "Yo Mama," to borrow some of Mr. Giuliani's adjectives, is rather "disgusting" and "anti-Catholic," it is also cruelest cut of all exceedingly banal, a bankrupt effort to shock that fails.

Maybe that's why "Yo Mama" hung furor-free for five months during an arts festival in the Oratorio di San Ludovico, a tiny 16th-century church in Venice, Italy. Sure, as a curator told the New York Daily News, "Europeans tend to be more open-minded," but did anyone even notice it?

"Yo Mama" has been exhibited at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in upper-encrusted Ridgefield, Conn., also to little reaction. "We were prepared for a fuss, to be frank," the museum's director, Harry Philbrick, told the New York Times, "and none came."

Who, pray tell, would come to fuss? Most Americans forget Europeans have become so "open-minded" as to be effectively intimidated when it comes to making moral, let alone aesthetic, judgments. While Mr. Giuliani is to be applauded for proposing a set of standards to keep "Yo Mama" and her kin off the walls of taxpayer-funded institutions, it is a narrow interpretation of morality that would frown only upon taxpayer-funded desecrations of religion, while smiling on privately funded desecrations. "To complain about the source of the dollars is to cheapen a moral position," Robert Bork wrote in "Slouching Towards Gomorrah" when considering the NEA funding furor over depraved works by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. "The photographs would be just as offensive if their display were financed by a scatterbrained billionaire," he continued. "We seem too timid to state that Mapplethorpe's and Serrano's pictures should not be shown in public, whoever pays for them. We are going to have to overcome that timidity if our culture is not to decline still further."

While Ms. Cox is firmly entrenched in the same-old, same-old anti-tradition of "Piss Christ" and "Dung Virgin," a culture that has, as New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell notes this week, witnessed the evolution of the fictional psychopath Hannibal Lecter "from singular character to archetype to stereotype" over the last decade is certainly in decline. Sounds like too much open-mindedness or timidity or both.

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