What a sensation was made about the Sensation exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The focus of Mayor Giuliani's outcry was the piece "The Holy Virgin Mary" by Chris Ofili. Funny, he didn't give attention to some of the other outrageous works including the pubescent female mannequins studded with erect penises, vaginas, and anuses, fused together in various postures of sexual coupling, or the portrait of a child molester and murder made from what appears like child hand prints or bisected animals in plexiglass tanks full of formaldehyde. Would it ever have made headlines with a different title, like "Afro-lady"? I don't think so. I guess targeting religion gets a little too personal. Giuliani said, "You don't have the right to
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It forced a new movement in art in which the meaning was much more important than the accurate description of reality. Most of the two dimensional art of the Byzantine were mosaics. Artists used egg tempera, combining gold to create brilliant backgrounds to highlight the forms. A lot of the medieval paintings were ugly with a strong spirit of devotion evoking religious sentiment. They were angular, flat, simple, used golds and browns, and the Virgin always wore a blue robe. Medieval painters were more interested in exploring the meaning of their subject than in painting naturalistic images. You could definitely say that description fits The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili perfectly.
This is deliberately provocative and intends to jolt viewers into an expanded frame of reference, and perhaps even toward illumination. In this sense, it relates to the medieval aesthetic of ugliness in which visual dissonance and distortion were used in art to urge the viewer to move beyond the superficial material plane to a higher level of spiritual contemplation. The Virgin is no stranger to controversy. Because we know so little about the historical woman Mary and nothing of her appearance, opponents of religious art in the early Christian church argued that any image of Mary' bore no relation to reality, but instead resembled a pagan idol. A writer at the court of Charlemagne attacked the adoration of imagery by