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CONTROVERSY REVISITS BROOKLYN ART MUSEUM

The Brooklyn Museum of Art -- the institution that set off a firestorm of protest with its inflammatory "Sensation" exhibit -- could be in the thick of controversy again.

An exhibit that opens there today showcases a color photo that portrays Christ at the Last Supper as a willowy, nude woman, her arms outstretched -- a work one Catholic group called "scurrilous."

Renee Cox's "Yo Mama's Last Supper" is anti-Catholic and offensive, said William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

"It's unfortunate that it was included in the selection," he said.

The photo is part of a 188-work show, "Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers," which the museum called one of the largest exhibitions ever assembled of current black photographers.

The exhibit offers varied images of the black experience, including scenes from everyday life and highly politicized events. It also includes a photo by Willie Middlebrook that depicts a topless woman on a crucifix.

Reaction to the Cox photo recalled the 1999 uproar over "Sensation," which featured a dung-splotched painting "The Holy Virgin Mary" that was composed of cutouts from pornographic magazines and lumps of elephant dung.

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to shutter the city-funded museum after "Sensation" opened, saying he was offended that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for "sick stuff." A federal judge found the city violated the First Amendment by cutting off the museum's cash flow.

Curator Barbara Millstein said of the mayor, "I don't think he's running for office this year, so I doubt there will be any problems."

But Giuliani had plenty of problems with the new exhibit.

At City Hall, Giuliani said he's appointing a task force "that can set decency standards for those institutions that are using your money, the taxpayers' money," including the city-subsidized Brooklyn Museum of Art.

"I think what they did is disgusting, it's outrageous," Giuliani said, adding that anti-Catholicism "is accepted in our city and in our society."

Millstein said adaptations of the Last Supper have been done before, and that she doesn't consider the Cox photo taboo.

"There are images of this scene with dogs at the Last Supper," she said.

Cox, who lives in SoHo, acknowledged that the inspiration behind the photo was to critique the Catholic Church "and the role women don't play in it," she said in a telephone interview.

The photograph is "about flipping the script, creating my own kind of kingdom, my own universe," Cox said.

Donohue described Cox as an "admitted anti-Catholic" who once photographed herself dressed in a nun's habit, with a nude woman kneeling in front of her.

Cox described her work as a critique, in part, of what she said was the Catholic Church's reticence in the face of U.S. slavery and the Holocaust.

Donohue called Cox's attempt to link the Catholic Church to slavery "a scurrilous lie" and said she has used Christian imagery before in an offensive way. "To vulgarize Christ in this manner is unconscionable," he said.

Cox dismissed her critics, saying they "get caught up in their own little mindset. As an artist, my role is to create a discourse . . . the Catholic Church should talk about.

"I don't think it's anti-Catholic at all. I grew up Catholic," Cox said. "Being a Catholic -- they are about business. Money. I don't believe in all the philosophy and how it's set up."

This time, Giuliani threatens to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose decisions he says are based on "showing decency and respect for religion."

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