I'm here at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York for the opening of "Sensation," the show with the elephant-dunged Madonna and the cut up cows. But animal poop, animals in pieces and politicians, pro and con, aren't the half of it. A pair of quasi-child pornographers are on the loose, too, and nobody, other than the folks giving them money, seems to notice.
But to get to the show, I have to get through the crowd. Rina Deych, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is standing out on the sidewalk. She's wearing a black T-shirt with "Meat is Murder" hand-painted in red. "I'm all for free speech," she declares, "but I draw the line at cruelty. Animals are a work of art by themselves."
A little farther down Eastern Parkway is Daryl Morgan. He's holding aloft an icon, the medievally beautiful Black Madonna of Czestochowa. "I'm here to defend the Blessed Mother," he says simply. Then there's Robert Lederman, who has art of his own. Enraged by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's decision to suspend city funding for the museum, he holds aloft two signs: "Giuli-anus" features a caricature of the mayor with a piece of plastic novelty poop glued on to his forehead; "Fooliani" depicts him as a one-man insane clown posse.
At the exhibit, one of the first pieces I see is "The Holy Virgin Mary" by Chris Ofili. The elephant dung angle, it turns out, has been overplayed. Only one turd is actually on the portrait--although there are two more at the base, one labeled "Virgin" and the other "Mary." But it's clear that Ofili has a thing for excrement, without regard to race or religion; another of his works on display features the names of such black superstars as James Brown and Diana Ross, neatly scripted on turds of their own.
But what is offensive about the Mary piece are the little cut-outs of women's behinds plastered all over the canvas. From a distance, they look like butterflies, but up close, you realize that it's the photographed female form, spread out and close-upped, Larry Flynt-style.
As for the cut up critters, it's obvious that Damien Hirst, the creator, is a sicko who revels in the mistreatment of animals--segmenting cows into a dozen pieces, for example. And the title of the sheep-in-formaldehyde exhibit is a hard-hearted joke: "Away from the Flock."
But the real outrage is the work of Jake and Dinos Chapman. Their artistic oeuvre is naked girls. They have taken department-store mannequins of little girls, festooned them with penises, and then added vaginas and anuses--the kind you might expect to see on a blow-up sex doll--in random places over their faces and bodies. The wall cards attempt to explain all this away with folderol about the perils of genetic engineering, but these two artists were surely creepy before they ever heard of DNA.
Indeed, the sci-fi stuff is just a cover for pandering to pedophiles, as the museum well knows. The caption for "Tragic Anatomies" asks the following: "What would the world be like if we were freed of all sexual inhibition? Do we falsely deny the existence of sexuality in children?"
Why haven't the media reported on that? Is it because they've been focused on the feces? Maybe, but I think there's another reason. The critics and commentators don't want the real raw truth about this exhibit to get out, because they know that even they can't publicly defend Hustler-type photos or kiddie porn. Moreover, now that Giuliani's likely opponent in next year's U.S. Senate race, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has declared herself against his effort to yank the museum's funding, pressies don't want to undercut her by describing precisely what she wants to keep paying for. So they discuss the dung briefly and then move on to safer discussions of the 1st Amendment.
It's not an honest approach, but it might be successful in the real objective: to fend off the defunding Philistines. But in the meantime, on the street outside are the better artists, putting on their raucously honest performances on behalf of their contradictory causes. Rina Deych, Daryl Morgan and Richard Lederman are true pillars of non-exploitational free expression--and they're not demanding a dime from the taxpayers.