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Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK

World: Americas

Shock art show opens

New Yorkers see Chris Ofili's Virgin Mary for themselves

An art exhibition which has provoked a legal battle between the mayor of New York and one of its best-known museums opened on Saturday.

BBC News' Mishal Husain: "New Yorkers are divided over exhibition"
Crowds of protesters, including religious and animal rights activists, jeered as vistors queued to pay $9.75 for their first view of the now infamous Sensation collection of works by British artists.

The exhibition, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, features several works that are deliberately designed to shock.

They include a painting of the Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili decorated with elephant dung, and a bisected dead pig floating in a liquid solution.

Marcus Harvey's portrait of British child murderer Myra Hindley, created using children's handprints, has also attracted criticism.

Visitors to the exhibition described it as "provocative" and "a little bit shocking" - one viewer said some of the pieces made her feel "slightly queasy".

[ image: Museum supporter: Actress Susan Sarandon]
Museum supporter: Actress Susan Sarandon
New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani says the exhibition is sick and has threatened to cut off $7m of public funding to the museum if it goes ahead.

He said: "I believe that the use of public funds to have a portrait of a paedophile glorified is disgusting."

The museum has responded by suing the mayor and accusing him of failing to respect free speech.

Demonstrations for both sides of the argument have been held outside the museum, which appears determined to press on with the exhibition.

Protester Robert Lederman, wearing a T-shirt reading "Giuliani police state", was arrested after he refused a police request to move.

BBC's Jane Hughes previews Sensation
Representatives from the conservative Catholic League and from animal rights groups also picketed the museum.

A group of artists, writers and entertainers placed a full-page advert in Friday's New York Times supporting Sensation.

The advert, whose signatories included Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, and Kurt Vonnegut, said: "Government should not be allowed to make its support of the arts subject to the personal aesthetic or religious views of public officials."

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