Jewish World Review Sept. 30, 1999/20 Tishrei, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IS RUDY GIULIANI a mean-spirited demagogue who craves attention no matter how much discomfort he causes the citizens of New York City? Of course. Has he radically improved the living conditions of this city, even with draconian measures (some failed, like his no-jaywalking scheme) that are viewed as Mussolini-like by his detractors, especially living-in-the-past liberals? Yes, again. And is he an art reviewer, with the acumen to adequately critique deliberately shocking, and often quite arresting, pieces of work? No.
But he’s entirely within his bounds to bully the Brooklyn Museum for its planned British exhibit that includes a portrait of the Virgin Mary decorated with elephant dung. No matter what the Mayor’s opinions of the show at the museum—“sick stuff” is just one of them—and whether or not they prove him to be a stuffy and prickly prude (he is), he’s correct in threatening to rescind the city’s $7 million in subsidies to the public institution. In a Sept. 24 New York Times report, Giuliani said: “If somebody wants to do that privately and pay for that privately, well, that’s what the First Amendment is all about. I mean, you can be offended by it and upset by it, and you don’t have to go see it, if somebody else is paying for it. But to have the government subsidize something like that is outrageous.”
I’m looking forward to the exhibit, if it’s eventually staged. This sort of provocative art doesn’t offend me in the least, whether it’s a display of genius or just shock-value garbage in search of publicity.
But the Brooklyn Museum’s director, Arnold L. Lehman, is not on solid ground when he implies that his institution’s First Amendment rights are being violated. Taxpayer money shouldn’t be spent on the arts, just as it makes no sense to fund schools that are run by illiterate teachers.
If Lehman is intent on presenting exhibitions such as “Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection,” he should seek a private benefactor. Lord knows there are plenty of filthy-rich New Yorkers who approve of such artwork. Where are they with their movie-star and Wall Street money?
Continuing his righteous fit, Giuliani again stated his position to the Times last Friday: “Last time I checked, I’m the Mayor... People have an absolute right to express anything they want to express, but they do not have an absolute right to have that funded by the taxpayers.” On the same day, the Times got on its sky-high horse—I don’t see Arthur Sulzberger Jr. rushing in to get the Brooklyn Museum off the public dole—to denounce Giuliani’s actions, mostly, I believe, for political reasons.
But not nearly as ridiculous as the Times. First, the museums are not autonomous; your tax dollars are used to partially fund them. Second, as Slate’s usually loathsome Timothy Noah (see item below) said on Thursday, what would the Times’ opinion be if the controversy was over “a government-funded silk screen that said ALL NIGGERS MUST DIE or KIKES INVENTED THE HOLOCAUST.” Your guess is the same as mine.
Newsday’s paleolib Ellis Henican doesn’t understand in the least what the fuss is about. On Friday, all he could muster was this: “Thankfully, [City Council Speaker Peter] Vallone knows the difference between Cincinnati or Salt Lake City and New York. He knows that New York is not some hick town where the citizens need to be protected from disturbing images and ideas. We don’t rattle too easily here, and we pride ourselves on it.” Fine, Ellis, after you consult with Times Mirror’s Mark Willes about ponying up the annual subsidy the Brooklyn Museum needs, write another column.
On Monday, Times affirmative action op-ed regular Bob Herbert mustered up this week’s dose of moronic wisdom. Not even mentioning that Giuliani objects to the exhibit on fiscal grounds, Herbert writes: “Artistic freedom? Intellectual freedom? These are terms empty of meaning to some politicians. Mayor Giuliani appears to enjoy the chilling effect he has on artistic and intellectual enterprises. He likes to exhibit his raw, naked power... There is no larger principle.”
Finally, New York Post associate editor John Podhoretz published a typically ham-handed column last Friday that just confused the issue. While the Pod correctly pointed out the absurdity of the government financing projects that should be supported in the private sector, whether by wealthy benefactors or the artists themselves, he offers a very stupid opinion on art itself, which is beside the point.
“Whatever this disgusting pile of crap is,” Podhoretz wrote, “it’s not
art—that is, if you accept the classical definition of art as creative
work that causes you to see the world anew through the eyes of the
artist. If anything, it’s a form of emotional pornography, and
pornography is the opposite of art.” What an idiot. The quality of the
art is not the question at hand. In Podhoretz’s ideal world, the Beatles
or Nirvana would’ve never existed; Andy Warhol would have been
imprisoned (to say nothing of Al Goldstein); only Sinatra and Gershwin
would be allowed on jukeboxes; and David Mamet’s plays would be
outlawed. What a cross it is to bear being on the same side, at least
politically, as Podhoretz. I know Rupert Murdoch is busy as ever, but
sir, take a look at your foothold in New York, if only for a week, and
you’ll agree that the Pod is only causing the Post to be a
laughingstock, a newspaper that belongs in, say, Salt Lake