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Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 1999/ 28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Eggs, art and rotten commerce -- WHEN AN INTERNET pornographer advertised eight models as egg producers, he wasn't talking about chicken farming. When a London art dealer organized a show that included a painting with elephant dung, he wasn't advertising fertilizer.

Egg donors, like art donors, can be greedy and corrupt. No chicken and egg conundrum here in an age in which "Calvinism'' refers to tight jeans.

Reports the New York Times: "... a longtime fashion photographer has begun offering up models as egg donors to the highest bidders, auctioning their own via the Internet to would-be parents willing to pay up to $150,000 in hopes of having a beautiful child.''

It was a shocking story, insofar as anything is any longer shocking, even for those who expect the worst in the ethics of infertility and art. It was likely only a hoax to direct dollars to a soft-core porn site where visitors must pay $24.95 to find out more about the women. Since the story ran, the pornographer has averaged a million hits (this is a lot) from those curious to know more about the donors. He closed his other porn sites and put all his eggs into one gross basket.

Whether someone ever buys any of these eggs -- are they cheaper by the dozen? -- the story is reflective of our times. The commerce in female eggs, like the ancient and sordid commerce in women themselves, flourishes.

When researching a story in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, I ran across an article describing how fertility clinics advertise in the Daily Princetonian for eggs that have the promise of becoming "smart, attractive, and athletic offspring.'' Some couples, in fact, want only Princeton eggs. (Take that, Harvard and Yale.) Clinics offer young healthy women from $3,500 up to $35,000 to raid the hen house. One couple called for an "athletic blond, small to medium build.''

Naturally, the pornographic butter-and-egg man describes himself as an "artist,'' a specialist in beauty. In that guise he is a man for our season. Art has become as corrupt a commodity as designer genes.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York continues his legal fight to withdraw public funds from the Brooklyn Museum for its show "Sensation.'' He will appeal a court decision that accuses him of mangling the First Amendment.

"This is all about dollar signs,'' he says. "It's actually about a desecration of the First Amendment, as much as it is a desecration of religion, to use the First Amendment as a shield in order to take money out of the taxpayers' pockets in order to put that money into the pockets of multimillionaires (who trade in art.)''

He's right. The public is free to look at any art it wants to and pay for it, but it shouldn't be required to pay for a vulgar and blasphemous art object that places animal dung on an image of a Madonna. The mayor's suspicions of a corrupt collusion of museum officials with its donors seems right on the money.

The Brooklyn Museum, according to court proceedings, now stands exposed as having an incestuous relationship with many of its "benefactors'' who will profit from the artists in the show. They include Charles Saatchi, art dealer, who owns the art in the show and who invested $160,000 on behalf in it. David Bowie, the rock star and friend of Saatchi pledged $75,000 to the museum, recorded the audio tour of it -- for free -- and got the rights -- also free -- to show the art on his for-profit Web site. Mr. Bowie's site collects $5.95 per month per viewer and averages 2 million hits a month. It attracted 7.5 million hits in the first three weeks after it put up the "Sensation'' catalog.

Christie's, the auction house which donated $50,000 to the show and will auction other works by the artists, distributed Christie tote bags to the beautiful people at the rich and glittery opening of "Sensation.'' Each bag included a certificate for a catalog for Christie's November auction of contemporary artists. Many are artists in the show.

Arnold Lehman, director of the Brooklyn Museum, says that commercial considerations never entered into his conversations with the donors who stood to benefit financially from the show. They were selflessly motivated by their enthusiasm for art.

Sure they were, and I've got a bridge for sale that will take you to Brooklyn. Such art donors, like expensive egg donors, enjoy the enthusiasm that comes with big bucks. A thing of money is a joy forever, Keats should have said. There's more than one way to create a sensation.


11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate