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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK

World: Americas

US Senate joins art row

The exhibition opens in Brooklyn on Saturday

The United States Senate has taken sides in the row over a controversial exhibition of British art at a New York gallery.

Senators agreed unanimously on Wednesday to a nonbinding measure calling for the withholding of federal funds from the Brooklyn Museum of Art unless it cancels the "Sensation" exhibit.

Independent Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire said the museum had received $500,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts in the last three years.

[ image: Sliced cow in formaldehyde: But is it art ?]
Sliced cow in formaldehyde: But is it art ?
"People can do what they want to do and they can draw what they want to draw," he said, "but the government doesn't have to fund this garbage."

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has threatened to cut off the city's $7.2 million subsidy to the museum if it opens the exhibition as planned on Saturday.

The museum is seeking a court order to prevent the removal of the subsidy.

Mr Giuliani has branded the "Sensation" show of contemporary British art an attack on Roman Catholicism and says it is "sick and offensive".

He is particularly outraged by a portrait of the Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili which is partly composed of elephant dung.

[ image: Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary]
Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary
On Wednesday, New York's biggest museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim, said his threats will do "lasting damage" to the city's cultural reputation.

And the leaders of two dozen cultural institutions in the city have signed a letter protesting at the funding cut.

The directors of the Brooklyn Museum of Art say the mayor's tactics breach the First Amendment to the US Constitution - depriving them of their right to free expression.

And they say the exhibition will open as planned.

Rudy vs Hilary

The controversy has also drawn in First Lady Hillary Clinton, who is thinking of running for one of New York's two Senate seats.

[ image: Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail]
Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail
A Democrat, she sides with the museum against Mr Giuliani, a Republican who is also a Roman Catholic.

Mrs Clinton said that while she would personally boycott the show, the museum should not be condemned for staging it.

Mr Giuliani hit back, accusing the first lady of supporting the use of public money "to attack and bash the Catholic religion".

The New York Civil Liberties Union is planning a rally to back the exhibition, while conservative Republicans are planning one against it.

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