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Tuesday, 28 September, 1999, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Hillary steps into dung art row
The exhibition opens in Brooklyn on Saturday
Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili's painting the Holy Virgin Mary is becoming a political hot potato in New York - with Hillary Clinton attacking mayor Rudolph Giuliani's threat to withdraw funding from the gallery exhibiting it.

Mr Guiliani has threatened to withdraw the Brooklyn Museum of Art's annual $7m grant from the city over the Sensation exhibition, which has already appeared in London and Berlin.

He took particular offence to Mr Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, which depicts Mary with dark skin, African features and flowing robes. It also features elephant dung and cut-outs from pornographic magazines.

Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail
Now Mrs Clinton - who, like Mr Giuliani, is widely expected to stand for the US Senate in New York - has defended the museum.

"It's not appropriate to penalise and punish an institution such as the Brooklyn Museum," she said.

But she added that she "would not go to see" The Holy Virgin Mary and said she shared "the feeling that I know many New Yorkers have that there are parts of this exhibit that would be deeply offensive".

Mr Giuliani - who is Roman Catholic - hit back, accusing Bill Clinton's wife of supporting the use of public money "to attack and bash the Catholic religion".

Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary
It had been reported the museum had agreed to take The Holy Virgin Mary out of Sensation as part of a deal with Mr Giuliani, but the museum has insisted the exhibition - which also contains controversial works from Damien Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman and other young British artists - will open on Saturday as planned.

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

The artist at the centre of the row, Chris Ofili, is refusing interviews. He won the Turner Prize, the UK's biggest and most prestigious prize for contemporary artists, last year. All of the pieces of work he entered contained elephant dung.

New York Observer art critic Jeffrey Hogrefe said: "They wanted to get some publicity and they got it. I think it was pretty calculated."

The BBC's David Sillito: "This exhibition is meant to shock"
See also:

01 Dec 98 | Entertainment
Chris Ofili profile
23 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Sensation sparks New York storm
02 Dec 98 | Entertainment
Elephant dung artist scoops award
24 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Hirst in NY art row
03 Jun 99 | Entertainment
True confessions and coming clean
28 Sep 99 | Americas
Hillary steps out of Bill's shadow
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