S E N S A T I O N

Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection

last update:

July 20th, 2000


Okay, we all heard about it, most of us have an opinion about it. It, of course, being the Brooklyn Museum of Art's recent "Sensation" exhibit. And now that it is over, we can look back on it.


September 18th, 1997-

The London Royal academy puts on the "Sensation" show. The show includes controversial artist Marcus Harvey, who created a portrait of Myra Hindley (a child serial-killer involved in the 'Moors murders') done with children's handprints, which is at one point vandalised. Other works that attract attention are "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With" (which is a tent-like structure with names embroidered into it, including various lovers, her brother, and the fetus that she aborted) by Tracey Emin, and anything by the Chapman Brothers. The Royal Academy uses this disclaimer for those interested in viewing the exhibit:

"There will be works of art on display in the Sensation exhibition which some people may find distasteful. Parents should exercise their judgement in bringing their children to the exhibition. One gallery will not be open to those under the age of 18."

LINK:

[Royal Academy Press release]


December 28th, 1997-

Having had over 300,000 visitors, the "Sensation" show comes to a close at the Royal Academy.


September 30th, 1998-

"Sensation" opens at the Hamburger Bahnhoff in Berlin.

LINKS:

[Hamburger Bahnhoff official site]

[Hamburger Bahnhoff Press Release](in German)

[review] (in Greek)


October 1998-

Cultural icon David Bowie states in his online journal on BowieNet that "the work by Chris Ofili and the others is probably the most important showing since the Armory Show at the opening of this century. It's definitely going to be as talked about."


December 1998-

Collector Charles Saatchi sells 128 pieces in his collection, including some works by artists showing in "Sensation" (Damien Hirst's "The Lovers" is one of the items sold). The auction fetches £1,626,560 (approx. $2,638,824).


December 1st, 1998-

Chris Ofili, 30, is the first painter in twelve years to win the Turner Prize, an award given to Contemporary British Artists. Ofili joked, "Oh man. Thank God! Where's my cheque?", in reference to the £20,000 (approx. $32,000) that comes with the award.


December 10th, 1998-

Ray Hutchins, a 66-year-old artist from Staffordshire, protests Chris Ofili's winning of the Turner Prize by placing a large heap of manure on the steps of the Tate Gallery in London along with a sign, reading "Modern Art is a Load of Bullshit". He also said that "A real artist who can paint should have won the Turner Prize." Hutchins states that while he disliked 1995 Turner Prize winner Damien Hirst's work, Ofili's work was the "last straw".


December 28th, 1998-

The Sensation show is so popular in Berlin that the museum extends the show to January 17th.


January 17th, 1999-

"Sensation" comes to a close at the Hamburger Bahnhoff in Berlin.


September 16th, 1999-

William Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, issues a statement about the impending "beastly" exhibit saying "I know of no other enterprise, profession or industry that allows as many frauds to be perpetrated on it than the artistic community. No wonder Hitler was accepted as an artist: all he had to do was proclaim himself to be one and that was enough for the creative-types to welcome him." The Catholic League calls for a boycott of the Brooklyn Museum from New Yorkers and writes letters to New York City Council asking that the museum have public funds pulled.


September 23rd, 1999-

Mayor Rudolf Guliani's first statement of opposition regarding the Sensation show. He declares it to be "insulting to Catholics". He also said that there "is nothing in the First Amendment that supports horrible and disgusting projects," and that "if you're going to use taxpayers' dollars, you have to be sensitive to the feelings of the public."

Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union comes forth, saying that "once the government, using public funds, punishes artists to suppress unpopular views, we are heading down a dangerous First Amendment road."

LINK:

[Controversial exhibit could cost Brooklyn Museum its city funding article @ Freedom Forum]


September 26th, 1999-

Catholic Cardinal John O' Connor tells his congregation at St. Patrick's Cathedral that he is "saddened by what appears to be an attack not only on our blessed mother ...but one must ask if it is not an attack on religion itself and in a special way on the Catholic Church." He also supports "city officials" in opposition to the exhibit.


September 27th, 1999-

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for the U.S. Senate against Guliani, states that, "I share the feeling that I know many New Yorkers have that there are parts of this exhibit that would be deeply offensive... I would not go to see this exhibit" but criticizes Mayor Guliani in saying that "it is not appropriate to penalize and punish an institution such as the Brooklyn Museum."

LINKS:

[Museum Exhibits Sparks Controversy, Ire article @ ABCNews.com]

[First lady disagrees with mayor over controversial painting article @ Freedom Forum]


September 28th, 1999-

The Museum's lawyer, Floyd Abrams, files a suit seeking a preliminary injunction against the city.

The Cultural Institutions Group, a New York association made up of 34 "museums, theaters, botanical gardens, zoological parks and historical societies" comes forth in support of the Brooklyn Museum.

LINK:

[Don't have a cow: New York's City Hall art critic goes too far editorial article @ Bergen Record]


September 29th, 1999-

Republican Senator Robert C. Smith proposes that in accordance with Senate Bill S. 1650 (the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, a bill about federal funding) that:

It is the sense of the Senate that the Conferees on H.R. 2466, the Department of Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, shall include language prohibiting funds from being used for the Brooklyn Museum of Art unless the Museum immediately cancels the exhibit 'Sensation,' which contains obscene and pornographic pictures, a picture of the Virgin Mary desecrated with animal feces, and other examples of religious bigotry.'

LINK:

[How Saatchi Orchestrated Brooklyn Museum Frenzy New York Observer article archived @ Nettime.org]


September 30th, 1999-

Mayor Guliani alleges that Charles Saatchi and exhibit sponsor Christie's Auction House are actually engaged in a conspiracy to sell the works for higher value by means of shock.

In an event that echoes the one on December 10th, 1998, Scott LoBaido, an artist from Staten Island, is arrested for throwing horse manure at the museum. He calls Chris Ofili's work "Catholic bashing", and says that he threw the manure at the museum because he was "expressing himself creatively".

The City of New York files an ejectment action (in response to the Museum's suit from September 28th) in the Kings County Supreme Court.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Brooklyn Animal Defense League issue a statement calling for a protest outside of the museum to promote vegetarianism on October 2. Their involvement is brought on by the works (they specifically cite "This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed Home" and "1,000 Years") of Damien Hirst. PETA President Ingrid Newkirk stated that "this has nothing to do with freedom of speech or expression-it's about ethics... Hirst's work is the product of animal suffering, and it is no one's place to contribute to the death of sentient beings for frivolous reasons-even if it is called 'art.'"

As a precautionary measure, the museum places Ofili's "Holy Virgin Mary" behind protective glass.

LINK:

[City, Religious Groups Locked in Battle With Museum Over "Blasphemous" Art article @ American Atheists web site]


October 1st, 1999-

The City of New York witholds its monthly $497,554 payment to the Museum, to which the Museum adds in damages to its September 28th suit (singling out Mayor Guliani).

A writing group called PEN American Center puts an ad in the New York Times "Defending Artistic Freedom in New York". One of its signers, Mary Boone, is a New York gallery curator who was arrested on September 29th for "illegal distribution of ammunition" through the Tom Sachs show at the Fifth Avenue Gallery. Another of the signers is Andres Serrano, creator of the now-famous "Piss Christ," which was the subject of similar debates in 1989.

LINKS:

[Pen American Center petition signature list]

[First Amendment Poll @ Freedom Forum]


October 2, 1999-

"Sensation" opens at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The Catholic League comes back into the picture by handing out vomit bags at the opening and singing hymns and saying rosaries outside of the museum.

David Bowie unveils a "virtual art tour" of the exhibit on his website, www.davidbowie.com, complete with artist profiles and audio commentary.

LINK:

[Sensation section of Brooklyn Museum's web site]


October 3rd, 1999-

White House Press Correspondent Joe Lockhart tells the media that President Clinton supports his wife's position regarding the exhibit.

Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush supports Guliani while visiting upstate New York, saying "I don't think we ought to be using public monies to denigrate religion."

The House of Representatives passes a nonbinding resolution to end funding for the Brooklyn Museum of Art.


October 8th, 1999-

Brooklyn Museum of Art Director Arnold Lehman speaks in federal court.

LINKS:

[Statement on Freedom of Expression in U.S. Case article @ Canadian Museums Association]

[BMA, Guliani File Counter Suits as Sensation Opens article @ Arts Wire]

[Rudy's Brooklyn Rampage article @ Village Voice]


October 20th, 1999-

The Tate Gallery in London opens its annual show for the short-list contenders for the Turner Prize. Among them is Tracey Emin, a controversial artist whose work is also being shown in "Sensation".

A judge dismissed the disorderly conduct case of Scott Lobaido.

LINKS:

[editorial @ Reason Online]

[review @ World Socialist Web Site]

[Staten Island Artist Off the Hook in Brooklyn Museum Case article @ NY1.com]


October 23rd, 1999-

Two men are arrested for pillow-fighting in the Tate Gallery, using parts of "My Bed", a piece by Tracey Emin.


November, 1999-

The National Gallery in Australia decides that it will not go along with showing the "Sensation" exhibit, saying that the events in New York have "obscured discussion of the artistic merit of the works of art."

LINKS:

[Myths Color Sensation Exhibit article @ Catholic Legaue's web site]

[Firestorm of Protest Greets Beastly Art Exhibit article @ Catholic League's web site]


November 1st, 1999-

Judge Nina Gershon orders the City not only the restore the funding that was denied to the Museum, but also to refrain from continuing its ejectment action. She also stated that "the City has now admitted the obvious; it has acknowledged that its purpose is directly related, not just to the content of the exhibit, but to particular viewpoints expressed."

LINKS:

[Guliani, Enemy of Art essay]

[Brooklyn Museum's Funding is Restored article @ Law News Network]


November 23rd, 1999-

Steve McQueen wins the 1999 Turner Prize.


December 16, 1999-

Dennis Heiner, a 72-year-old man, is arrested for "criminal mischief" after he smeared white paint (which he had snuck into the museum) on Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary. He did it because he found the work insulting to Christians, and his wife also encouraged him. The paint was removed shortly thereafter.


January 9, 2000-

"Sensation" comes to a close at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.


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