Exhibit controversy makes coffee-table book a hot item
September 28, 1999
(CNN) -- New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has threatened to pull city funds from the Brooklyn Museum of Art if it opens the show "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection" as scheduled on Saturday. But each new story about the battle seems to make an eight-pound coffee-table book fly off bookstore shelves all the faster.
The sales staff at Harry N. Abrams book publishing is rushing to keep copies of "Young British Art: The Saatchi Decade" available in area bookstores as various media continue to report the loud debate between Giuliani and the museum's board of directors.
The book isn't a catalog of the exhibit, but an overview of some 800 works included in the Saatchi Collection from which the show is drawn. The collection is named for Charles Saatchi, patron and supporter of artists whose work was brought together in a "Sensation" exhibit at London's Royal Academy in 1997, and now -- if plans hold -- at the Brooklyn Museum this weekend.
Friday, the Abrams sales staff piled 690 pounds of the books into hired cars and delivered them to more than 20 stores in New York City, an Abrams spokeswoman says. Two booksellers -- Ingram Books and Baker & Taylor -- sold out of their stock of the $125 book and reordered, she says.
A battle over one work in the exhibit -- "The Holy Virgin Mary" by Chris Ofili of Manchester, England -- has been raging with particular heat for several days and has come to serve as a kind of icon for this latest skirmish in the American art-and-public-funding debate. The piece, from 1996, is an expressionist work depicting the mother of Jesus as a black woman. The artist uses paper collage, oils, glitter, polyester resin, map pins and elephant dung on linen.
With this piece serving as a representative flash point, the exhibit and Giuliani's anger at its use of public funds has drawn in Hillary Rodham Clinton -- expected to vie with the mayor for a U.S. Senate seat from New York. Gracie Mansion has threatened to pull $7 million in city funds from the Brooklyn Museum, if the exhibit goes on as planned.
Giuliani has called some of the art in the exhibit "sick stuff." For her part, Clinton has said the museum should lose no public funding because of the exhibit, but she's added that she understands objections to it and wouldn't see it herself. Museum officials say they'll open the show on schedule.
Abrams officials describe the 608-page "Young British Art" as providing the only in-depth survey of the Saatchi Collection. The exhibit itself comprises some 200 of the collection's works.
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