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Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 22:55 GMT
New art scandal in New York

Away from the Flock by Damien Hirst was part of last year's Sensation exhibition
The art world in New York city has been plunged into another controversy, which is turning into a high society family feud.

Members of the Whitney family are taking opposing sides over an upcoming exhibit at the museum that bears their name - the Whitney Museum of American Art.

It is a wholly legitimate and powerful artwork

Flora Miller Biddle
A former president of the museum, Flora Miller Biddle, a granddaughter of museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, is defending the exhibition of a piece of artwork in the Whitney Biennial against the wishes of other family members.

Rubbish bins

The work, entitled Sanitation, by German-born artist Hans Haacke, is due to go on show on 23 March.

It is made up of a row rubbish bins, recordings of marching feet and quoted remarks by New York' s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani about a controversial exhibit last year at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The words appear in a Gothic typescript commonly associated with Nazi-era Germany.

Last October, Mayor Giuliani criticised Brooklyn Museum for showing a painting by the British artist Chris Ofili of the Madonna decorated with elephant dung, saying it was offensive to Roman Catholics.

It formed part of the controversial British art show Sensation, also featuring artist Damien Hirst.

The mayor tried to revoke the museum's public funding but was overruled by a federal judge.

Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili
The work by Chris Ofili that so offended Mayor Giuliani
Mrs Biddle endorsed the work, which is being interpreted as linking Mayor Giuliani to Nazism, as "a wholly legitimate and powerful artwork", by an internationally known artist.

She called it "regrettable that so many have chosen to lash out at an artist who has consistently been a voice of social conscience, and who has been especially critical of the vestiges of Nazism in Europe."

'Demeaning holocaust victims'

Other family members, led by a daughter-in-law of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, objected to the work, saying it was demeaning to victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

The Whitney Museum is free to associate itself with trash

Marilou Whitney
Marilou Whitney said she would resign from the museum's fund-raising committee, cut the institution out of her will and divert $1m she'd planned to give it this year to the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, in Cody, Wyoming.

According to newspaper reports in the US, she said the Whitney museum was "free to associate itself with trash," but she did not want people to mistakenly assume she approved of it.

In a statement, Whitney Museum director Maxwell Anderson said, "I regret any discomfort we may cause supporters of the museum." He added that he hoped no one would be prompted to resign over the matter.

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03 Oct 99 | Americas
Shock art show opens
30 Sep 99 | Americas
US Senate joins art row
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