New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently attacked the Brooklyn Museum of Art for its display of “Sensation,” an exhibit that has caused a stir because of a piece that portrays the Virgin Mary partially covered in dung.
But the mayor shows poor judgment when he assumes politics should censor freedom of expression.
The Brooklyn Museum and the mayor’s office have filed lawsuits over the exhibition, which opened Saturday. The museum claims that Giuliani is violating its First Amendment rights, while the mayor contends the city shouldn’t fund offensive art.
If Giuliani were to enter the New York Public Library, he would find countless examples of literature that one could consider offensive. And if he doesn’t want to be offended, he doesn’t have to read those books. The same goes for the “Sensation” display at the Brooklyn Museum – if you don’t like it, don’t go.
Recent polls have shown a clear majority of New Yorkers disagree with the mayor over the right of the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s “Sensation” exhibit.
Whatever political agenda Giuliani may have, it is important to remember the larger issue. Freedom of expression should never be censored. If the mayor deems this work offensive and censors it from public viewing, what will be censored next? Who will decide what is offensive? This is the underlying problem with trying to make opinions into policy. And one must remember that historically, nearly every major art movement – impressionism, for example – was censored. What is considered offensive today maybe tomorrow’s masterpiece.
The mayor needs to stay out of the business of censorship. Ultimately, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the people of New York should have the right to decide what art is appropriate – leave the politics out of art.