Today’s news:

Jesus! Brooklyn Museum stands up to Catholics over ants-on-cross piece

The Brooklyn Paper

The Brooklyn Museum has not as yet backed down to pressure from the Catholic Church to remove a “sacrilegious” artwork featuring ants crawling on a crucifix from an upcoming exhibit, the museum’s embattled boss said on Wednesday.

Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold Lehman defended the inclusion of late artist David Wojnarowicz’s grainy video, “A Fire in My Belly,” as one of the 105 pieces in the show — even though the same piece had been banned when the exhibition was shown in Washington, D.C. early this year.

“We decided to reconstitute it as originally planned by the curators,” Lehman told the Associated Press. “We haven’t changed the exhibition in any way.”

And a museum source said that Lehman would not alter that decision, despite a letter from Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese that said that the 12-second scene of ants crawling on the Catholic icon would be “offensive to many people of faith.”

DiMarzio called upon the museum’s Board of Directors this week to banish the video from the exhibit.

In doing so, DiMarzio was echoing Congressional Republicans and conservative pundits, who pressured the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery last year to remove the Wojnarowicz video, arguing that it was offensive.

In that case, the Smithsonian capitulated.

But when the Brooklyn Museum announced that it would include the controversial work, art lovers were overjoyed.

“Thank the lord that you live in Brooklyn!” heralded The Brooklyn Paper on Wednesday. “Don’t miss [the exhibit] — and don’t forget to gloat over your DC friends.”

The controversy over the Wojnarowicz piece threatens to overshadow the other 104 artworks in the show, “Hide/ Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” which explores gender and sexuality in contemporary American art. It opens next Friday.

Diocese spokesman Rev. Kieran Harrington commended the museum for its “exploration of despair and suffering” in past exhibits, but also criticized curators for editing the Wojnarowicz video from 12 minutes to four minutes in order to emphasize the parts that the church found objectionable.

“Certainly, the gravity of the work would seem to demand a full viewing of the artists depiction of alienation and suffering,” said Harrington. “So if the gravity of the piece is not what merited inclusion and one can only speculate why the curators would choose to include a sacrilegious clip.”

This isn’t the first time that the Museum has run afoul of god-fearing art critics.

In 1999, then-Mayor Giuliani threatened to cut the Brooklyn Museum’s funding after the museum included a painting of the Virgin Mary dotted with elephant dung and images of genitalia as part of the “Sensation” exhibit of modern British art.

This time, city leaders are standing behind the Brooklyn Museum and rebuking the diocese.

“Men and women fight and die for liberty and freedom — this is censorship!” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Brooklyn Heights) in a strong rebuke to the Diocese.

And Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio tweeted, “I support their programming and their right to mount controversial exhibits.”

“Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 638-5000], opens on Nov. 18. Museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. For info, visit

Reach reporter Aaron Short at or by calling (718) 260-2547.

Pin It
Print this story Permalink

Reader Feedback

Fr. Kelly from Gerritsen Beach says:
The Brooklyn Museum needs money...they are just going back to the same well where they got the painting of Jesus with elephant dung (and lots of porno images cut out of magazines - but the papers didn't want to focus on that because then they couldn't print a picture of the painting.) This is desperate stuff. The Museum probably notified the Catholic League in advance to try and get some pre-opening publicity.
Nov. 10, 2011, 3:26 pm
Fr. Kelly from Gerritsen Beach says:
The Brooklyn Museum needs money...they are just going back to the same well where they got the painting of Jesus with elephant dung (and lots of porno images cut out of magazines - but the papers didn't want to focus on that because then they couldn't print a picture of the painting.) This is desperate stuff. The Museum probably notified the Catholic League in advance to try and get some pre-opening publicity.
Nov. 10, 2011, 3:26 pm
Homey from Crooklyn says:
Gee, such bravery and artistic integrity ! Will they also be putting up the Danish cartoon of Muhammed?
Uh, right, didn't think so. Maybe not so brave and not so much integrity...
Nov. 10, 2011, 5:07 pm
Michael from Brooklyn says:
I don't see why they shouldn't be allowed to show this, or Why they would want to abbridge the exhibit in any way.

At the last commenter, the Danish cartoons are not relevant to this show as they are not American portraits.

I honestly can't even really understand why Catholics feel offended. Perhaps they should just turn the other cheek if they do.
Nov. 10, 2011, 7:51 pm
Eddie from Brooklyn Heights says:
Any one who things ants walking over a religious symbol is art is out of their minds. All religious symbols are sacred and should not be deserated. If you disagree then, ants on a hangman noose or swastika would be art in any situation.
Nov. 10, 2011, 8:33 pm
anaabdul from cobble hill says:
Idol worship. Go ahead Brooklyn museum.
Nov. 11, 2011, 6:24 am
Joe Blow from Bay Ridge says:
You can say that it is not in good taste, but that doesn't mean that it should not be exhibited. If you don't like it, don't go see the exhibit. No religious beliefs or symbols should be exempt from criticism, or ridicule. I also think the Bklyn Museum should follow up this show with a retrospective on the Mohammed cartoons. The more we expose rigid belief systems to critical examination, the better.
Nov. 11, 2011, 10:09 am
Bay Ridger from Bay Ridge says:
There is a fine line between good taste and this type of "art". I'm against censorship but at the same time reserve the right to state - if I see it - that this "art" may be a piece of garbage. It's for each individual to decide.
Nov. 11, 2011, 10:11 am
joe f from prospect heights says:
does the brooklyn museum operate as a private business or does it receive public funds? if they benefit from public $ then this part of the exhibit should not be included. I'm not Christian but can easily understand why many would object to this display and find it offensive. As other comments have pointed out, the editorial staff of the BP would probably feel quite diff't if this was a display featuring mohammed and not jesus. i can only imagine the flood of death threats and protests that would ensue and all these so-called art lovers would be clamoring to censor any mention of mohammed. bunch of hypocrites.
Nov. 12, 2011, 2:37 pm
Carolyn from Midwest says:
The article and the criticisms don't bother to read any artist's commentary on the piece. The scene is very much in the tradition of Renaissance art which emphasizes the humiliation of Christ by the mindless and venal actions of humanity. Wojnarowicz was a sincere Catholic who was outraged by the willful inaction of the Church in the face of the AIDS epidemic, where the needy were rejected because they were believed to be sexual sinners--a vacating of the Church's self-appointed role in the world. The ants represent those who walk past or even over Christ in the world when they walk on or past the sick and the needy. It's a metaphor, for Pete's sake. That's what art does. Those who look at the components over the meaning are willfully blind and just looking for a way to silence a message they don't like.
Nov. 12, 2011, 5:05 pm
Pierce Hardwood from Werrace says:
Wheres the muslim outrage?
Nov. 13, 2011, 1:40 am
Michael from Brooklyn says:
@ Joe f
The government does not support any organized religion, so there is no reason they could not fund this. The museum is allowed to judge what they consider worth showing or not based on artistic merit and rellevance.

Your notion about displaying images of Mohomed is just speculative. It doesn't relate to this show, and you don't know how anyone would respond. Furthermore, the Danish cartoons are not fine art, they are just comics from a newspaper. And, as I mentioned before, they are from Denmark, and therefore do not belong in a show of American portraits.
Nov. 13, 2011, 8:41 am
Joe from Brooklyn Heights says:
I suppose that it will be OK if they put an exhibit of the flag splattered in elephant dung or a picture of the World Trade Center going down mixed with porno flicks in the mix would be OK too.....right?
Nov. 13, 2011, 9:58 am
Michael from Brooklyn says:
@ Joe

Yes it would be.
Nov. 13, 2011, 12:51 pm
Larry Linn from Los Angeles says:
G*d created the ants, did not he...or she? What is the problem?
Nov. 13, 2011, 6:05 pm
REALITY from Brooklyn says:
I just finished my painting with
the crucifix, the star of david, and a statue
of Mohammed covered in ants.
I think that would complete the work.
No, they'd be too scared to put it up
Nov. 20, 2011, 8:49 am
LarryLinn from Little Tokyo says:
G*d created the ants, did he..or she?
Nov. 27, 2011, 8:03 pm

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.