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What Limits to Freedom? Freedom of Expression and the Brooklyn Museum’s “Sensation” Exhibit

by Melissa Davis

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Prof. K.D. Smith Humanities 205 16 May 2009


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Davis 1 Melissa Davis Professor Smith Humanities 205 16 May 2009 name and page number in top right corner What Limits to Freedom? Freedom of Expression and the Brooklyn Museum’s “Sensation” Exhibit For over a century public galleries in Western democracies have been forums not only for displaying works by “old Masters” but also for presenting art that is new, as well as ideas that are sometimes radical and controversial. In the United States that tradition has been under wide attack in the past generation. Various political and first line of all religious leaders have criticized exhibits of works of art that they claim paragraphs indented offend against notions of public decency, and have crusaded against providing public funding for the creation or display of such works. The largest such controversy of the past generation was sparked by the display of a painting entitled “The Holy Virgin Mary,” by the British text left justified and ragged right artist Chris Ofili at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. Though the image appears inoffensive at a distance, the artist has affixed to the painting cutouts of body parts from magazines, and has incorporated clumps of elephant dung into the piece, both below the main body of the work as if supporting it and as part of the collage. The text double-spaced throughout


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Davis 2 resulting uproar led both to a widely publicized court case and to an ongoing campaign to support “decency” in artistic expression. Should such art be banned? Should it be exhibited at public expense? In the course of the Ofili...

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