Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
6 October 1999 Issue

The Brooklyn Museum of Art Controversy
by [email protected]

On October 2, an exhibit opened at The Brooklyn Museum of Art which rekindled the debate about tax support for the arts. Scheduled to run through January 9, 2000, the exhibit titled "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection," originated at the Royal Academy of Art in London in late 1997.

These works by 40 different artists have something to offend practically everyone, and it seems that the title tells the story -- that this is meant to be sensational, to shock for shock's sake. The piece that seems to have caused the greatest controversy is artist Chris Ofili's image of a black Virgin Mary with a clump of elephant dung at her breast and cutouts from pornographic magazines in the background. New York Mayor Giuliani has responded to complaints from the religious community by saying this is some "sick stuff", and threatening to cut off city funds from the museum.

Animal Rights people have been offended by several pieces, most notably pieces by Damien Hirst, whose works are composed of animal parts such as sharks, cows, pigs, preserved in formaldehyde. One of his pieces, "This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed Home," features a dissected pig. Another work displays a cow, cut into segments.

On Monday, October 4, Animal Rights Online ran a piece in our Alert for Action mailing about this exhibit. In it we urged our readers to write the museum officials to protest, and Mayor Giuliani to thank him for expressing his outrage. We immediately received some negative feedback about our suggestions. After some consideration by our staff we decided that it would be prudent to view this exhibit from another perspective.

In a perfect world, where animals are treated with respect, this exhibit would be an outrage. But we don't live in a perfect world. Nine billion animals are killed every year in our country alone for food. That is an outrage.

From one of our readers..... "I am extremely distressed at the position being taken by animal activists with reference to the art show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I hope you will publish my dissenting opinion. The animal displays are very important and *helpful* to the animal rights movement. Those animals, who either died or would have been slaughtered anyway, are demonstrating to the public the connection between the live animal and the food on their plate. Their deaths have had a far better purpose than they would have under ordinary circumstances. One man commented to the press that it would be a long time before he could think about eating a steak again! This is bad?"

And from another reader..."I saw a replica of the dissected pig artwork yesterday. I almost wept with joy. It is so blatantly a pro animal piece. (Billions of)... animals die every year because "meat" (never called "pig" or "cow") is sold in little plastic packages. We rarely confront the reality of what is being consumed. The artwork in question is an "in your face" portrayal of what happened when "This Little Piggy Went to Market." The hundreds of thousands of people who see the exhibit will be confronted with this and hopefully have a squeamish memory of it next time they go to buy their packages of "bacon" at the supermarket."

Animal Rights Online agrees with the sentiments expressed in these letters. We shouldn't be thanking New York Mayor Giuliani, who runs a terrible city animal shelter and is currently under heavy criticism from animal activists for the hideous way in which his police force deals with dogs they catch (two Rottweilers recently died when they were locked in a police car trunk on a 90 degree day). The New York Times reported that the mayor's criticism of the exhibit actually helped to draw in more people to see it.

Is it to be lamented that shortsighted art gallery officials are risking decreases in city, state and federal funding for the arts, and perhaps even censorship? Or should we be thanking them for exposing us to the horrors of our society?

Go on to Add a Little Respect In Treatment of Pet by Phil Arkow -- Courier Post
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