NEW YORK, Feb. 16 -- 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 Friday 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 was muted compared with 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. There was no word from Giuliani Wednesday. His chief spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, didn't return a phone call.
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." She 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. The five-panel "Yo Mama" is near the end of the exhibit and in a smaller room with a few other works. The discreet placement was intentional. "We have it in here so people can look at it if they want, or not look at it if they don't," Millstein said. Critics have described Cox's work as overtly feminist. An exhibit in Boston last month featured her posterlike photos of a black Wonder Woman, which one reviewer found "hilarious." But 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 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 its 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.
"Catholics had no interest in the abolition of slavery," she said. "When you do the history, Catholics in this country were 40 percent of the slave owners. How do you talk about 'God is great, God is good' and all of that?"