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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 08:28 GMT

World: Americas

Judge sides with NYC museum

Chris Ofili's picture of the Madonna offended Mayor Giuliani

A federal judge has ordered New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to restore millions of dollars in funding to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, cut off in a dispute over a controversial British exhibition.

US District Judge Nina Gershon granted the museum's request for a preliminary injunction against New York City on Monday.

She said that the museum "has established irreparable harm and a likelihood of success on its First Amendment claim."

The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of expression.

[ image: Sensation's shark in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst]
Sensation's shark in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst
The art war broke out on 22 September, when Mayor Giuliani described the Sensation exhibition of works by young British artists as "sick" and sacrilegious.

A portrait by Chris Ofili of the Virgin Mary adorned with elephant dung was offensive to Roman Catholics, he said.

After the museum refused to cancel the show, the city withheld a $497,554 payment for October, then sued in state court to evict the museum from a city-owned site it has leased for more than 100 years.

Ms Gershon's order bars Mr Giuliani and city officials from "taking steps to inflict any punishment, retaliation, discrimination or sanction" against the museum.

Neither museum or city officials had any immediate comment.

Freedom of expression

The museum sued the city, claiming its First Amendment rights had been violated by the decision to freeze a $7.2 million subsidy - about a third of its annual budget. It sought the injunction to restore funds until the legal dispute could be settled.

Museum supporters have likened the city's reaction to a book burning and accused Mr Giuliani - the likely Republican nominee for US Senate next year - of pandering to conservative voters.

City attorneys argued the museum broke its contract with the city, thereby creating grounds for eviction. Its lease requires the museum to educate schoolchildren and the public.

City officials allege the museum board of directors, British collector Charles Saatchi and sponsor, Christie's auction house, are trying to cash in on work by modern artists whose sole aim is to shock.

The show also includes mannequins with genitals as facial features, a glass tank featuring a fake cow's head and 20,000 maggots and farm animals bisected and displayed in formaldehyde.

The exhibit has drawn large crowds.

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