Students plan lawsuit after city closes art show

NEW YORK –Some Brooklyn College graduate students are contemplating legal action aftercity officials closed down their graduation art show last month because severalworks of art were deemed not ”family friendly.”

Theexhibit, titled ”Plan B,” was part of a final thesis project for the18 masters of fine art students, but the show was open for only one day at itsoriginal location, a World War II memorial in Brooklyn. Officials from thecity’s Department of Parks and Recreation shut the show down May 4 becausesome of the featured works, including a veiled sculpture of a hand holding apenis, were considered unsuitable for families, according to anarticlein The New York Times.

Marni Kotak,one of the student artists, said some other students were working in the galleryMay 4 when city parks department officials came in, asked them to leave and thenchanged the locks on the doors to the gallery. Kotak said that after theconfrontation, the artists were not allowed access to their work for five days,and during this time Brooklyn College sent movers to pack up the exhibit.

A number of pieces were damaged during moving, including onestudent’s 7-by-8-by-10 foot wooden house, part of which was later founddismantled outside by a loading dock, according toPlan C(ensored), a blog the studentscreated.

”I don’t think any of us had any idea our workwould be so badly damaged,” Kotak said. ”Our stuff was in trashbags…. It was just totally an abomination.”

Kotak said thestudents plan to file a lawsuit against Brooklyn College, the parks departmentand the City of New York. Although they have not filed suit yet, Kotak said theyhave enlisted former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel torepresent them.

Warner Johnston, spokesman for the city parksdepartment, declined to comment on a potential lawsuit.

Johnston saidthe city decided to close the exhibit because of a verbal agreement made withBrooklyn College six years ago that all student art displayed at the warmemorial would remain ”suitable for families and children.”

”The show had some art that was questionable whether or not itwas suitable for families and children, and the borough commissioner made thedecision to close the exhibit so he could discuss the content with thecollege,” Johnston said. ”And the college made the decision of itsown volition to move the artwork to their own space.”

LatoyaNelson, assistant director of public relations at Brooklyn College, declinedcomment and referred questions to Colleen Roche, who works for the publicrelations firm Linden, Alschuler & Kaplan, Inc. Roche, who also was a presssecretary for former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani, is serving as thecollege’s spokeswoman on the issue.

Roche said the college didnot decide on its own to move the artwork, but did so because the city rescindedits permit to display artwork at the memorial. In a press release, Roche saidthe art was removed ”under supervision of the artdepartment.”

Roche declined to comment specifically about whoin the art department oversaw the moving process. She said the students were notallowed to move their own work because the college had to actquickly.

”There was a matter of some urgency in getting it [theartwork] out of the space, and the college decided that this would be the mostefficient way to move it,” Roche said.

Roche and Johnston alsodeclined to comment about whether the city or the college informed studentsabout their ”family friendly” verbal agreement. Both Kotak andfellow student artist Carla Aspenberg said none of the students knew about theagreement between the school and the city until after the show was closed.

Kotak said that so far officials have not given the students astraightforward explanation as to why the show was shutdown.

”All I heard was that it had something to do with sexualcontent, but I’m not sure what the story is anymore,” she said.”And what art doesn’t have sexual content? I guess not all art does,but this was a graduate student art show, was it really supposed to bePG-13?”

Kotak said that on May 24, the students were able toopen a new show, now called ”Plan BPrevails,” at a venue donated by a local developer. This show will rununtil June 16. She said that for this show, some students left their work in itsdamaged state, and others created new art in protest.

”I thinkthat a lot of people felt that they didn’t want to participate in any actthat would minimize, I guess, the violation of our rights to freedom ofexpression and our rights to our own property, which the parks department andBrooklyn College perpetrated,” Kotaksaid.