Magazine article The Christian Century

Sensational Art

Magazine article The Christian Century

Sensational Art

Article excerpt

THE EXHIBIT AT the Brooklyn Art Museum that has caused a furor in New York and generated reams of material for editorial pages is titled "Sensation." That title offers a good clue about the commercial interests behind the show. The museum was hoping to earn a media stir with the exhibit, which includes animal parts preserved in formaldehyde, images of penises alongside schoolgirl faces, and a collage of the Virgin Mary decorated with elephant dung and clippings from porn magazines. When New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani denounced the exhibit as "sick stuff' he was--besides venting his sentiments and positioning himself in next year's Senate race--providing the museum with just the publicity it was seeking.

Some commentators have said that the controversy over the exhibit demonstrates that art is still a powerful and significant force. That's doubtful. Art can (if it works at it) cause a sensation, but that does not mean that the particular works of art (or art in general) are communicating to us in powerful ways. On the contrary, the sensationalism may be a sign that art is powerful only as a form of spectacle. Rather than being valued for the way it reveals reality and explores truth (the traditional role of art), art in our post-Christian age tends to be seen as a momentary diversion, most interesting when it's an occasion for moral outrage or political posturing. The creators of "Sensation" seem to have absorbed this lesson all too well. …

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