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Another art exhibit riles New York mayor

art display
The 'Sanitation' display makes a political statement  

March 21, 2000
Web posted at: 10:24 p.m. EST (0324 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is upset by the world of art again, this time over a display that makes a political statement.

"Sanitation" by German-born artist Hans Haacke (HAHK-uh) was seen for the first time Tuesday as part of a press preview for the Whitney Museum's Biennial 2000 show.

The installation is described as a sharp rebuke of would-be censors of art and free speech. Last year, Giuliani's wrath was provoked by a controversial show, "Sensation," at the Brooklyn Museum. That show, which made a religious statement, featured a painting of the Virgin Mary made in part with elephant dung.

VideoCNN's Deborah Feyerick looks at the controversial work. (March 21)
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The mayor's remarks and his attempt to cut off funding for the Brooklyn Museum -- an effort that failed in court -- inspired Haacke. The artist is using some of Giuliani's quotes in "Sanitation."

"We will do everything we can to remove funding for the Brooklyn Museum until the director comes to his senses," Giuliani said during last year's controversy.

Here's what "Sanitation" looks like:

In a square, gray room, six anti-art quotes from political figures are posted on a wall, three on each side of mounted American flags.

Three quotes are from Giuliani, with one each from former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson and North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms. The quotes are in the Gothic-style typeface once favored by Hitler's Third Reich.

On the floor is a framed excerpt of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. And standing upright are a dozen garbage cans with speakers emitting military marching sounds.

There are no pictures of Hitler, none of Giuliani and no Nazi symbols or images of the Holocaust.

Giuliani says Haacke's work is "an entirely inappropriate way to describe the Holocaust"  

So why is the mayor upset?

"It's an entirely inappropriate way to describe the Holocaust and to try to compare situations to Nazism that have no basis in comparison to it," Giuliani said. "I think it dishonors the memory of the people who lost their lives during the Holocaust."

However, the mayor said he is not personally offended by Haacke's work -- which he has not seen. And because the Whitney is run by private funds, the city government has little leverage regarding it.

However, at least one Whitney heir agrees with Giuliani. Marylou Whitney, a daughter-in-law of museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, has redirected a planned $1 million donation to a different museum in Cody, Wyoming.

But two other Whitney heirs who are active museum trustees -- Flora Miller Biddle, the founding Whitney's granddaughter, and Fiona Donovan, her great-granddaughter -- back the exhibit and Haacke's work.

Art critic Robin Cembalest said of Haacke's work: "I see it as being more political rhetoric than a simplistic parallel between Giuliani and Hitler."

In an interview with CNN, Haacke said, "This is something that is very grave for all of us if free speech in this city is no longer guaranteed, and the mayor threatens artists and cultural institutions."

Haacke said he wants museum visitors "to think about the First Amendment and the threats to the First Amendment we are seeing."

Haacke is one of 97 artists chosen to display work in the biennial Whitney exhibit, which is intended to showcase emerging and established contemporary artists. The exhibition opens to the public Thursday and runs through June 4.

"This will be a show that challenges you. This is part of what art is meant to do," Whitney director Maxwell Anderson told CNN.

Whether it invokes images of the Holocaust or raises issues of free speech, the controversy surrounding the work is bound to boost ticket sales.

Whitney heiress says funds will stop
March 13, 2000
Shock for shock's sake?
October 4, 1999
Supporters of embattled museum rally against New York mayor
October 1, 1999
Exhibit controversy makes coffee-table book a hot item
September 28, 1999

Whitney Museum of American Art
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani

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