PART V: Modern art and freedom of expression

Henry C K Liu

PART 1: Ruthless Empire Builders
PART 2: A Monetary Coup d'etat
PART 3: The Year of Contradictions
PART 4: Modern art and Socialism

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and two other serious collectors created the Museum of Modern Art in response to the Metropolitan Museum's lack of enthusiasm for the work of modern artists they collected. When her third child and second son Nelson, in whom she had cultivated a life-long love for modern art, graduated from college in 1930 at age 22, he was appointed chairman of the Junior Advisory Committee of the museum and began to take an active role in its affairs. The Junior Advisory Committee under Nelson Rockefeller soon became aware of public criticism of the Modern's near-exclusive focus on modern European artists. In fact, the opening exhibit of the Museum of Modern Art consisted entirely of European artists. It was one thing to face the fact that US culture had yet to flower while pre-modern art was being created in Europe and other ancient cultures, but the Untied States had come of age in the modern era and American artists now deserved their place in the sun. The Junior Advisory Committee criticized the museum's trustees for neglecting the works of American artists and, in response, the trustees authorized the committee to organize a show, "Murals by Painters and Photographers", of works of American muralists who were beginning to be productive under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the New Deal of president Franklin D Roosevelt. The artists were commissioned in 1932 and, when the advance showing unveiled their works, the trustees and young Nelson were shocked. Many of the murals adopted the radical political tone of the time, with most leaning sharply to the left.

Included in the exhibit was a work by Hugo Gellert (1892-1985), a Hungarian immigrant who came to the US in 1906 at age 14, titled Us Fellas Gotta Stick Together - Al Capone. It depicts Henry Ford, president Herbert Hoover, J P Morgan, and John D Rockefeller Sr sitting with none other than Al Capone, the celebrated Chicago gangster. The statement made through this work of art, that capitalism is a crime and the most successful capitalists are criminals, sent young art-loving Nelson into a state of panic. Such a charge, in the atmosphere of the Depression, when large numbers of hard-working people had suddenly lost their jobs and life savings, struck a popular response not only from the radical left but also from the conservative right, which had always viewed members of the Eastern money trust as little better than criminals in their unethical machination over the nation's money through the establishment of a privately owned central bank.

Gellert had provided the cover illustration for the first issue of a new magazine, The Liberator (February 1918), which featured John Reed's report on the Russian Revolution. By 1930, Gellert was a well-known artist with a passionate commitment to leftist political agitation, which he professed as inseparable from art. Gellert's activities contributed significantly to the political tone of American art of the 1930s. He played a key role in organizing the Artists Committee for Action and the Artists Union, two pivotal institutions that greatly contributed to the instigation and perpetuation of the federally funded WPA art programs. He served on the editorial committee of Art Front, official publication of the Artists Union. A Gellert drawing adorned the masthead of the premier issue, with a Stuart Davis drawing on the cover. Gellert helped organize the American Artists Congress of February 1936, where he was the keynote speaker. He spoke at the second American Artists Congress in December 1937 as well. Also in late 1937, Gellert became involved with the Artists Coordination Committee for the National Exhibition of Contemporary American Art at the 1939 New York World's Fair. At the same time, Gellert oversaw the formation of a labor union to protect the rights of muralists and their assistants as the World's Fair was being planned. Gellert painted a spectacular mural imbued with the technological optimism pervasive in 1930s Modernism for the Communications Building at the Fair, which unfortunately, along with two other murals in New York City painted during the 1920s and 1930s, have since been demolished along with the buildings that housed them.

Gellert had been invited to Moscow by the USSR State Publishing House to design book jackets for Russian editions of Theodore Dreiser's books. Upon his return to New York in 1928, he painted a mural in the Workers Party Cafeteria on Union Square. Deeply influenced by Russian Modernism of the 1920s, it was one of the first Modernist murals in the United States, just predating the North American commissions of Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949). Orozco painted a mural at the New School for Social Research in New York, celebrating fraternity, world revolution, labor, the arts and sciences and the struggle against slavery, and a group of frescos for the Baker Library at Dartmouth College (1932-34), where Nelson Rockefeller was an alumnus.

In November 1928, shortly after the Workers Party Cafeteria mural's unveiling, The New Yorker declared: "The Gellert murals are the only ones on this continent except those of Rivera in Mexico City that are really contemporary." About 2.4 meters high, Gellert's mural covered one entire wall, 24 meters long, and a facing wall nine meters long. The long wall included a frieze of monumental, brightly colored, sculpturally rendered, industrial workers standing before precisionist factories and mine structures. The mural was destroyed when the building was demolished in 1954.

In 1932, Gellert captured headlines in New York with a mural study that he submitted to the invited Museum of Modern Art's "Murals by Painters and Photographers" exhibition. Gellert's painting Us Fellas Gotta Stick Together - Al Capone (Collection of The Wolfsonian, Miami Beach, Florida), along with Ben Shahn's famous The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti (Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) and a painting by William Gropper (1897-1977), was rejected for the exhibition. Gropper's painting, The Lawmakers, once hanging in the White House, is now part of the Clinton Presidential Library collection in Arkansas. It was a gift to president Bill Clinton in 1994. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) now lists more than 30 of Gropper's etchings and lithographs in its permanent collection.

Gellert painted Us Fellas during a time when the Rockefeller family was being criticized for commissioning no work by American artists for the Rockefeller Center project. The right-wing extremists had always attacked the Rockefellers for being internationalists. The extreme right had gone as far as accusing J P Morgan of being a US agent of the globalist Bank of England and the Rothschilds. "Globalization" was a dirty word throughout much of US history when the nation was the victim. In February 1932, The Art Digest reported: "The rumor that the murals for Radio City, the Rockefeller project in the heart of New York, were to be commissioned to Rivera, [Jose Maria] Sert and other foreign artists [Frank Brangwyn] has stirred up a tempest." The British painter Brangwyn worked under William Morris; his subsequent travels provided inspiration for his paintings. He was strongly influenced by the art nouveau movement, and is best known for his large murals. In an article published in New Masses, Gellert himself explained the backlash effect: "Upon the heels of this upheaval, the Museum of Modern Art, of which Mrs John D Rockefeller Jr is treasurer, invited [domestic] artists to participate in an exhibition of mural decorations."

Gellert's Us Fellas was clearly meant to offend and provoke the Rockefellers. The situation threatened to become embarrassing for the museum when a number of other artists in the exhibition declared that they would withdraw their works if the offending paintings by Gellert, Gropper and Shahn were not hung. Wishing to avoid a scandal, the museum quickly conceded and agreed to include the three works in the exhibition (but not to reproduce them in the catalogue). However, the press nonetheless played up the story. The day before the exhibition opened, the New York Daily World Telegram announced: "Insurgent art stirs up storm among society. Murals for Modern Museum rejected as offensive, then accepted. Linked Hoover to Al Capone."

One would think that Gellert would then be assigned to the ranks of untouchables by the Rockefellers. Indeed, Helen Appleton Read, a critic for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, observed:
It suffices to say that the panels sent in by Gellert, Shahn and Gropper had no place in an exhibition purporting to discover material with which to enrich the walls of modern buildings.
But shortly after the "Murals by Painters and Photographers" show closed, Gellert was contacted by Eugene Schoen, an interior designer hired by the Rockefeller Center Corp, informing him that Wallace K Harrison, a relative and close friend of Nelson Rockefeller, a liberal from Massachusetts and one of the younger architects of Rockefeller Center, had seen Gellert's cafeteria mural and wanted Gellert to paint a mural for the Center Theater, a small cinema within the Rockefeller Center complex. The mural was later destroyed when the movie theater was demolished to make room for an office building.

In 1953, Paul Robeson was guest speaker at the 40th anniversary observation of Gellert's career. Gellert appeared as himself in Warren Beatty's 1982 film Reds as a "witness" to historic events. On October 3, 1985, he spoke at the Masses exhibition at Whitney Museum, New York, and two months later, on December 6, he died at home in Freehold, New Jersey.

Trouble at Rockefeller Center

Nelson and the entire Rockefeller family genuinely believed they were true lovers of art and freedom, and they worked hard to project a public image of tolerance to which they tried to live up in their personal lives. They were drawn to the idea of "art for art's sake" as a philosophy embedded with a high sense of freedom. Yet freedom to be abstract was less objectionable than freedom to confront with realism. The Rockefellers had made extraordinary efforts to display their art collections to the public, in keeping with their commitment to public service, rather than locking it away in private collections as selfish acquirers. Yet despite Nelson's love for art and his support of freedom of expression in art, he could not reconcile himself to the aggressively hostile ideological messages displayed by some of these murals. While Nelson firmly believed that artists had an inviolable right to express their political views, his commitment to the sanctity of private property argued that artists should not abuse their privilege by attacking the very system that allowed them to exercise their right of free expression with funding of displays of their art to the world. Yet freedom is indivisible. Denial of the freedom to attack the sacred amounts to support for the profane. The breaking of taboos is the very basis of freedom. Fearful of negative publicity to their carefully cultivated liberal image from any attempt to cancel the exhibit, the museum, under pressure from the solidarity of many artists in the show, displayed the offensive murals as inconspicuously as possible without further incident.

The controversy surrounding the Modern's American-mural exhibition set the stage for a clash of ideological values that would once again place the young Nelson Rockefeller in an uncomfortable position of having to choose between freedom of expression through art, and the censorship of art that expressed ideologies that opposed those of his class. While the 1932 mural exhibition was being put together, Nelson was also put in charge of commissioning an artist to paint a mural in the lobby of the RCA Building under construction in Rockefeller Center, which today is the GE Building after General Electric transformed itself from an industrial corporation into a financial conglomerate and acquired RCA.

In 1929, Nelson's father, John D Rockefeller Jr, began construction of the Rockefeller Center, a monument to good urban design, to provide jobs in the midst of the Great Depression and to instill renewed confidence in the collapsed economy and battered capitalism. The project was intended to represent all that was good about capitalism at a time when the modern capitalist system faced its greatest crisis. It was also intended to reflect the achievements of the American way of life while standing as a symbol of the future possibilities of big-business capitalism. The task of decorating the lobby of this mecca of capitalist progress fell to Mexican artist Diego Rivera, after the terms of the commission had been rejected by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, who was one of Nelson's favorite artists despite being a communist.

In November 1930, Rivera arrived in San Francisco to paint a mural for the Stock Exchange. This was followed by a witty fresco for the California School of Fine Art showing the painter and his team at work: right at the center of the composition is Rivera's enormous backside. He went to New York in November 1931 for a retrospective exhibition at MOMA. This was the museum's 14th exhibition and only its second one-man show - the first had been devoted to Matisse. It broke all previous attendance records and transformed Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, into major celebrities symbolizing the populist spirit of the epoch. His next stop was Detroit, where he had been invited to provide murals for the inner courtyard of the Detroit Museum. The reception given to the murals when they were officially unveiled in March 1933 was stormy, but Rivera and his supporters prevailed. The painter then moved back to New York to carry out a yet more prestigious commission - a mural for the RCA Building, focal point of the new Rockefeller Center.

The decision to commission Rivera carried a known risk. Unlike Picasso, whose commitment to communism was abstract, Rivera was an avowed communist and was known to be inclined to fill his murals with realist political imagery, not cubist abstraction. He was, however, an extremely popular artist and was a favorite of Nelson's mother, Abby, who was also a good friend of Rivera's communist comrade and artist wife, Kahlo, briefly a lover of Leon Trotsky when the exiled revolutionary was a guest at Rivera's home in Mexico. With the reluctant consent of John D Rockefeller Jr, Rivera was offered a generous commission of US$21,000 (equivalent of $5 million today) and given a theme for the mural. The commission was not simply to decorate the walls of the lobby of a major corporate headquarters building, but to serve a propaganda function in the tradition of Michelangelo's fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. While Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling was dedicated to the glory of God, Rivera's mural in the RCA building was intended to glorify capitalism. Rockefeller Jr wrote a letter to Rivera: "The philosophical or spiritual quality should dominate ... We want the paintings to make people pause and think and to turn their minds inward and upward ... Our theme is NEW FRONTIERS ..." Rivera was given the cumbersome title "Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future," and he began work in March of 1933, the year Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. To Rivera, a new and better future pointed to communism. To Rockefeller, capital and labor were natural symbiotic partners, not enemies, if only capital would act with benevolence and labor with dependability, capitalism would lead mankind to unbound destiny. This was a view that led to the Ludlow Massacre of 1913.

The year 1913 was the one during which modern art was introduced to the United States through the Armory Show, the same year that central banking was instituted in the US to legitimize the private control of money, and the same year of the Paterson Strike Pageant to support workers' rights. It was also the year of the Ludlow Massacre. On September 17, 1913, workers in the mines of the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Co (CF&I) went on strike. The strike call read: "All mineworkers are hereby notified that a strike of all the coal miners and coke-oven workers in Colorado will begin on Tuesday, September 23, 1913 ... We are striking for improved conditions, better wages, and union recognition. We are sure to win." What came to be known as the Ludlow Massacre occurred on Monday, April 20, 1914. More than 3,000 kilometers separated the Rockefeller headquarters in New York from southern Colorado, where one of history's most dramatic confrontations between capital and labor took place. The face-off raged for 14 hours, during which the miners' tent colony was pelted with machine-gun fire and ultimately torched by the state militia. A number of people were killed, among them two women and 11 children who suffocated in a pit they had dug under their tent to protect themselves from gunfire. The deaths were blamed on John D Rockefeller Jr, Abby's husband and Nelson's father. For years after, the Rockefellers would struggle to redress the tragic event, and strengthen the Rockefeller social conscience and activism in the process.

The following record of communication provides a glimpse of the ideological conflict behind the incident:

Rockefeller Jr to CF&I vice president Lamont Bowers after the beginning of the strike, October 1913: "We feel that what you have done is right and fair and that the position you have taken in regard to [opposing] the unionizing of the mines is in the interest of the employees of the company. Whatever the outcome, we will stand by you to the end."

Lamont Bowers to Rockefeller, October 21: "Our net earnings would have been the largest in the history of the company by $200,000 [$100 million today] but for the increase in wages paid the employees during the last few months. With everything running so smoothly and with an excellent outlook for 1914, it is mighty discouraging to have this vicious gang come into our state and not only destroy our profit but eat into that which has heretofore been saved."

Federal mediator Ethelbert Stewart commented on the situation that same month: "Theoretically, perhaps, the case of having nothing to do in this world but work ought to have made these men of many tongues as happy and contented as the managers claim ... To have a house assigned you to live in ... to have a store furnished you by your employer where you are to buy of him such foodstuffs as he has, at a price he fixes ... to have churches, schools ... and public halls free for you to use for any purpose except to discuss politics, religion, trade unionism or industrial conditions; in other words, to have everything handed down to you from the top; to be ... prohibited from having any thought, voice or care in anything in life but work, and to be assisted in this by gunmen whose function it was, principally, to see that you did not talk labor conditions with another man who might accidentally know your language - this was the contented, happy, prosperous condition out of which this strike grew ... That men have rebelled grows out of the fact that they are men."

Stewart unwittingly proclaimed a socialist vision, except for the unmentioned siphoning off of surplus value - return on capital, or profit to shareholders, from the blood and sweat of workers.

Rockefeller to Lamont Bowers, December 8, 1913: "You are fighting a good fight, which is not only in the interest of your own company but of other companies of Colorado and of the business interests of the entire country and of the laboring classes quite as much. I feel hopeful the worst is over and that the situation will improve daily. Take care of yourself, and as soon as it is possible, get a little let-up and rest."

Rockefeller, the benevolent capitalist, defended the "open shop" before a congressional committee on April 6, 1914: "These men have not expressed any dissatisfaction with their conditions. The records show that the conditions have been admirable ... A strike has been imposed upon the company from the outside ... There is just one thing that can be done to settle this strike, and that is to unionize the camps, and our interest in labor is so profound and we believe so sincerely that that interest demands that the camps shall be open camps, that we expect to stand by the officers at any cost."

Question: "And you will do that if it costs all your property and kills all your employees?"

Rockefeller: "It is a great principle."

New York Times' account of the massacre on April 21, 1914: "The Ludlow camp is a mass of charred debris, and buried beneath it is a story of horror imparalleled [sic] in the history of industrial warfare. In the holes which had been dug for their protection against the rifles' fire the women and children died like trapped rats when the flames swept over them. One pit, uncovered [the day after the massacre] disclosed the bodies of 10 children and two women."

Rockefeller to Lamont Bowers, April 21: "Telegram received ... We profoundly regret this further outbreak of lawlessness with accompanying loss of life."

Socialist writer Upton Sinclair's open letter to Rockefeller, April 28: "I intend to indict you for murder before the people of this country. The charges will be pressed, and I think the verdict will be 'Guilty'. I cannot believe that a man who dares to lead a service in a Christian church can be cognizant and therefore guilty of the crimes that have been committed under your authority. We ask nothing but a friendly talk with you. We ask that in the name of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who are this minute suffering the most dreadful wrongs, directly because of the authority which you personally have given."

Rockefeller's version of the events, June 10, 1914: "There was no Ludlow massacre. The engagement started as a desperate fight for life by two small squads of militia against the entire tent colony ... There were no women or children shot by the authorities of the state or representatives of the operators ... While this loss of life is profoundly to be regretted, it is unjust in the extreme to lay it at the door of the defenders of law and property, who were in no slightest way responsible for it."

To Rockefeller, the deaths were caused by lawlessness, nothing else.

Rockefeller's testimony before the United States Commission on Industrial Relations, January 26, 1915: "I should hope that I could never reach the point where I would not be constantly progressing to something higher, better - both with reference to my own acts and ... to the general situation in the company. My hope is that I am progressing. It is my desire to."

Question: "You are, like the Church says, 'growing in grace'?"

Rockefeller: "I hope so. I hope the growth is in that direction."

Rockefeller speaking to the miners on September 20, 1915: "We are all partners in a way. Capital can't get along without you men, and you men can't get along without capital. When anybody comes along and tells you that capital and labor can't get along together, that man is your worst enemy. We are getting along friendly enough here in this mine right now, and there is no reason why you men cannot get along with the managers of my company when I am back in New York."

United Mine Workers' leader John Lawson commented on Rockefeller's visit to Colorado in September: "I believe Mr Rockefeller is sincere ... I believe he is honestly trying to improve conditions among the men in the mines. His efforts probably will result in some betterments which I hope may prove to be permanent. However, Mr Rockefeller has missed the fundamental trouble in the coal camps. Democracy has never existed among the men who toil under the ground - the coal companies have stamped it out. Now, Mr Rockefeller is not restoring democracy; he is trying to substitute paternalism for it."

Thus, 15 years later, Rockefeller looked for expression of his NEW FRONTIER through Rivera, a free-spirited artist, exuberant, provocative and an avowed communist. The Rockefellers had by then become the very embodiment of liberal capitalism, and a family obsessed with virtue and restraint and a heavy measure of religious guilt over wealth, derived not so much from the controversial manner in which such wealth had been accumulated, but by the very accumulation itself, which might have subconsciously positioned them to select Rivera as an cleansing act of self flagellation. Indeed, Diego Rivera and the Rockefellers could not have been more different. And yet, for a brief moment in the midst of the turbulent 1930s, they shared the spotlight in a bizarre and very public drama. Their improbable association would soon unravel, bringing about one of the biggest art scandals of the 20th century, with freedom of expression as the victim. The "battle of Rockefeller Center", as Rivera liked to call it, left both parties bruised - and the lobby of the RCA Building devoid of a memorial to the dialectic relationship between capitalism and socialism.

Unlike Rockefeller Jr, who was born to great wealth in the most prosperous city in the United States, Diego Rivera was born in 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico, into a family of modest means. From a very early age, Rivera showed a talent for art and drawing, unlike Rockefeller Jr, who grew up in a household of conservative restraint and whose only relationship to art was through obligatory collecting. At the age of 21, Rivera won a scholarship to study in Europe in 1907 and spent the next 14 years there, mostly in Spain, where he was influenced by the paintings of El Greco and Francisco de Goya, and later in France, where he, already an accomplished artist, became involved with the avant-garde, including Paul Cezanne, Picasso and Piet Mondrian, and experimented with his own Cubist style. At one time, he shared a studio with Amedeo Modigliani, who painted some striking portraits of him. He also made contact with the Russian avant-garde, and was even known to have two beautiful Russian mistresses.

But abstract art did not satisfy Rivera's political passion. Drawn by the social movements unleashed by the Mexican Revolution, Rivera decided to go back to his homeland in 1921. There, he developed a unique style that combined the influence of European art with Mexico's indigenous pre-Columbian iconography. In his populist murals, he used vibrant colors and simple scenes of the plight of the working class throughout Mexican history to convey his Marxist ideals. In 1922, his revolutionary convictions led him to join the Mexican Communist Party while Rockefeller Jr evolved gradually from conservative into liberal Republicanism. During a visit to the Soviet Union in 1927, Rivera painted a collection of sketches that would be purchased by an avid American collector of modern art, Abby Rockefeller. Part of Rivera's appeal to American collectors was his celebration of indigenous culture, which non-native North Americans had rejected in favor of aping British taste despite their political opposition to British tyranny.

Abby's interest in the communist Mexican painter was not surprising. By the early 1930s, Rivera had become one of the best-known and most influential artists in the world, and its most famous muralist. His politics were not controversial as radicalism was much in vogue and communism was the preoccupation of the intellectual elite and anti-communism had not yet found shelter behind the disingenuous mask of anti-Soviet patriotism. In 1931, MOMA organized an extensive retrospective of his work. A year later, notwithstanding his ambivalence toward the United States, Rivera traveled to the US to work on several commissions. He was accompanied by his wife, Frida Kahlo, herself an accomplished painter. The culmination of the trip was to be a large mural for the centerpiece of the most talked-about architectural project in the country, the new Rockefeller Center.

Rivera's visit to the US unfolded against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the intense social and political forces it had unleashed. As an outspoken leftist, the Mexican painter tapped into growing concerns over the upsurge in radicalism and the growth of the Communist Party.

Fascinated by Rivera's passionate art, Abby and her son Nelson Rockefeller had persuaded the management of Rockefeller Center to commission him to paint a gigantic mural in the grand lobby of the RCA Building. John D Rockefeller Jr reluctantly agreed to give the commission to Rivera, though only as a business compromise. "As for Rivera, although I do not personally care for much of his work; he seems to have become very popular just now and will probably be a good drawing card," he commented. It was an age when radicalism was good marketing and fit into the Rockefellers' image of themselves as enlightened capitalists.

Inspired by the very lofty theme of the mural, "Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future", Rivera worked feverishly to present his vision of a socialist future. The panel would feature two opposing views of society, with capitalism representing the past on one side and socialism representing the future on the other. Sketches for the project had been approved and the overall thrust of the piece seemed to have the backing of both Abby and Nelson, who paid Rivera frequent visits.

As Rivera's mural progressed, images of war, airplanes, gas masks, soldiers with bayonets, and death-rays surfaced gradually, reflecting the reality of a world on the edge of oncoming war between fascism and social democracy. There was a section depicting the May Day celebration in Moscow that Abby Rockefeller called "the finest part of the mural yet". The mural also included society ladies drinking gin and, above them, cells of tuberculosis, syphilis and gonorrhea. This was not controversial as the senior Rockefeller was known to be intolerant of alcohol.

On April 24, 1933, the New York World Telegram, after an interview with a media-naive Rivera, ran a story with the headline "Rivera paints scenes of communist activity and John D Jr foots the bill". As hostile public attention was drawn to Rivera's emerging mural, he continued work, painting a scene in which a soldier, a worker, and a black farmer all held hands with Vladimir Lenin. Both Nelson and his mother had earlier declared how much they loved the mural in progress, but the addition of Lenin seemed to have gone too far, on top of press attacks about Rockefeller-financed communist propaganda. After a visit in May of 1933, the 25-year-old Nelson wrote to Rivera: "While I was in No 1 Building at Rockefeller Center yesterday viewing the progress of your thrilling mural, I noticed that in the most recent portion of the painting you had included a portrait of Lenin. The piece is beautifully painted but it seems to me that his portrait appearing in this mural might very seriously offend a great many people. If it were in a private house it would be one thing, but this mural is in a public building and the situation is therefore quite different. As much as I dislike to do so, I am afraid we must ask you to substitute the face of some unknown man where Lenin's face now appears."

Insisting that the figure of Lenin had appeared in his approved original sketches, Rivera refused to budge. He argued that his ideological intent had been clear from the start, and suggested rhetorically that he rather have his work destroyed than compromised.

Sensitive to right-wing accusations that Rockefeller liberalism was sympathetic to communism, if not outright communistic, the Rockefellers felt forced to go with the tide of mainstream anti-communist public sentiment. Rivera was ordered to stop work, paid his fee in full and told to leave the building. Within hours after Rivera was ushered from his unfinished mural in the RCA Building by private guards of Rockefeller Center, 300 protesters gathered outside the building with signs reading "Save Rivera's Art". The episode was front-page news the following day, and some who objected to Rockefeller's censorship of Rivera's art likened the incident to the Nazi book-burning then raging all over Germany.

On the other hand, the National Association of Manufacturers congratulated the young Nelson, calling his efforts courageous and patriotic, and General Motors canceled Rivera's commission for a mural in one of its Chicago buildings in a show of capitalist solidarity. In February of 1934, after almost a year under cover, the unfinished mural was chipped from the wall and destroyed. Rivera, calling the destruction of the mural "an act of cultural vandalism", had not expected that a true art lover would respond to the painter's rhetorical bluff of rather having the mural destroyed than changed, but that was exactly was the young Nelson Rockefeller did, and he justified the destruction by claiming to honor Rivera's artistic integrity. On the other hand, John D Rockefeller Jr, professing no love for modern art, explained to his more conservative father that "the picture was obscene and, in the judgment of Rockefeller Center, an offense to good taste ... It was for this reason primarily that Rockefeller Center decided to destroy it." The grandson destroyed a masterpiece to protect its artistic integrity while the son did it to protect good taste.

Diego Rivera also painted a nude portrait of socialite C Z Guest before she was married, to hang, however briefly, over the bar in the Hotel Reforma in Mexico City. Most women of society of the 1940s would have been scandalized by the painter's request, not to mention its subsequent public unveiling. Not so for the former Lucy Cochrane, a free-spirited girl from a Boston Brahmin family. No one saw anything obscene in Rivera's painting of the socialite in the nude, unlike the face of socialist Lenin. Miss Cochrane went respectably on to marry Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, a Phipps heir of steel fame, when she was 27. She was said to have lived her life to the fullest as a prominent socialite and an arbiter of good taste in society.

Years later, Rivera said of his rhetorical reply to Nelson: "Therefore, I wrote, never expecting that a presumably cultured man like Rockefeller would act upon my words so literally and so savagely, rather than mutilate the conception, I should prefer the physical destruction of the conception in its entirety, but preserving, at least, its integrity."

The Rockefeller Center management team, which had never felt comfortable about Rivera's involvement, reacted swiftly to terminate Rivera's contract. Soon after, mass demonstrations and a deluge of protest letters from all quarters were blaming the Rockefellers for censorship of artistic expression. Before the destruction began, Nelson Rockefeller, an inexperience 26-year-old, did his best to skirt the touchy situation. He had not been directly responsible for the management's decision to terminate Rivera and did not have the authority to reverse it. While the art world vilified the decision, Nelson tried to find a compromise solution to have the mural moved to the Museum of Modern Art.

But it was all in vain. On the night of February 20, 1934, the mural was hammered off the walls, following orders from the Center's management. Rivera, who had by then returned to Mexico, responded by painting a replica of the mural at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. But his career as an international muralist was destroyed by this incident. Still, for the next 25 years Rivera would continue to create a body of work that would establish him as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. He died of heart failure in 1957.

Almost 25 years after the fact, Diego Rivera wrote his own version of the controversy over the Rockefeller Center mural:
When Nelson Rockefeller decided to decorate the main floor of his new RCA Building in Radio City with murals, he also decided to get the best artists for the job. His choices were Picasso, Matisse, and myself. But he set about securing our services in the worst possible way. Through the architect of the building, Raymond Hood, he asked us to submit sample murals. Now, there are few indignities that can be thrown in the face of an established painter greater than to offer him a commission on terms which imply any doubts as to his abilities. But the invitations went further, they specified how the sample murals were to be done. Picasso flatly refused. As for Matisse, he politely but firmly replied that the specifications did not accord with his style of painting. I answered Hood that I was frankly baffled by this unorthodox way of dealing with me and could only say no.

Having thus quickly lost Picasso and Matisse, Rockefeller determined that at the very least he would have me. In May 1932, he entered into the negotiations directly, since, on many matters, Hood and I could not see eye to eye. Hood's idea of a mural was typically American: a mural was a mere accessory, an ornament. He could not understand that its function was to extend the dimensions of the architecture. Hood wanted me to work in a funereal black, white and gray rather than in color, and on canvas rather than in fresco. Our differences piled up when I heard that two inferior painters, Frank Brangwyn and Jose María Sert, had been given the walls previously offered to Picasso and Matisse, walls that flanked the one offered me. Amid this difference and tension, Rockefeller moved with the calm of the practiced politician. He refused to be ruffled. By the fall of the year, he had persuaded Hood to let me work in fresco and in color, and we had agreed on the terms. For the sum of $21,000 for myself and my assistants, I was to cover slightly more than 1,000 square feet [93 square meters] of wall. The theme offered me was an exciting one: "Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future". After the complicated preliminaries, I entered into my assignment with enthusiasm. By the beginning of November, I had completed my preliminary sketches, submitted them, and received prompt and unqualified approval from Rockefeller. In March of 1933, Frida and I arrived in New York from Detroit, greeted by the icy blasts of the New York winter.

I set to work immediately. My wall, standing high above the elevators which faced the main entrance of the building, had already been prepared by my assistants, the scaffold erected, the full-scale sketches traced and stenciled on the wet surface, the colors ground. I painted rapidly and easily. Everything was going smoothly - perhaps too smoothly. Rockefeller had not yet seen me or my work, but in the beginning of April, he wrote me that he had seen a photograph of the fresco in one of the newspapers and was enthusiastic about what I was doing. He hoped that I would be finished by the first of May, when the building was to be officially opened to the public.

The center of my mural showed a worker at the controls of a large machine. In front of him, emerging from space, was a large hand holding a globe on which the dynamics of chemistry and biology, the recombination of atoms, and the division of a cell, were represented schematically. Two elongated ellipses crossed and met in the figure of the worker, one showing the wonders of the telescope and its revelation of bodies in space; the other showing the microscope and its discoveries - cells, germs, bacteria, and delicate tissues. Above the germinating soil at the bottom, I projected two visions of civilization. On the left of the crossed ellipses, I showed a night-club scene of the debauched rich, a battlefield with men in the holocaust of war, and unemployed workers in a demonstration being clubbed by the police. On the right, I painted corresponding scenes of life in a socialist country: a May Day demonstration of marching, singing workers; an athletic stadium filled with girls exercising their bodies; and a figure of Lenin, symbolically clasping the hands of a black American and a white Russian soldier and workers, as allies of the future.

A newspaper reporter for a New York afternoon paper came to interview me about my work, then nearing completion. He was particularly struck by this last scene and asked me for an explanation. I said that, as long as the Soviet Union was in existence, Nazi fascism could never be sure of its survival. Therefore, the Soviet Union must expect to be attacked by this reactionary enemy. If the United States wished to preserve its democratic forms, it would ally itself with Russia against fascism. Since Lenin was the pre-eminent founder of the Soviet Union and also the first and most altruistic theorist of modern communism, I used him as the center of the inevitable alliance between the Russian and the American. In doing this, I said, I was quite aware that I was going against public opinion.

Having heard me out, the reporter, smiling politely, remarked that, apart from being a remarkable painter, I was also an excellent humorist.

The following day the reporter's story appeared in his paper, the World Telegram. It told what should have surprised nobody, least of all Nelson Rockefeller, who was fully acquainted not only with my past and my political ideas but with my actual plans and sketches: that I was painting a revolutionary mural. However, the story suggested that I had boxed my patron, Rockefeller, which was, of course, not true. Thus the storm broke. I, who had become inured to storms, only painted on with greater speed. The first of May had passed, and I was nearly finished when I received a letter from Nelson Rockefeller requesting me to paint out the face of Lenin and substitute the face of an unknown man. Reasonable. However, one change might lead to demands for others. And hadn't every artist the right to use whatever models he wished in his painting?

I gave the problem the most careful consideration. My assistants were all for a flat denial of the requests and threatened to strike if I yielded. The reply I sent Rockefeller, two days after receiving his letter was, however, conciliatory in tone. To explain my refusal to paint out the head of Lenin, I pointed out that a figure of Lenin had appeared in my earliest sketches submitted to Raymond Hood. If anyone now objected to the appearance of this dead great man in my mural, such a person would, very likely, object to my entire concept. "Therefore," I wrote, never expecting that a presumably cultured man like Rockefeller would act upon my words so literally and so savagely, "rather than mutilate the conception, I should prefer the physical destruction of the conception in its entirety, but preserving, at least, its integrity."

I suggested as a compromise that I replace the contrasting nightclub scene in the left half of the mural with the figure of Abraham Lincoln (symbolizing the reunification of the American states and the abolition of slavery), surrounded by John Brown, Nat Turner, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, or with a scientific figure like Cyrus McCormick, whose reaping machine had contributed to the victory of the Union forces by facilitating the harvesting of wheat in the fields depleted of men.

As I awaited Rockefeller's response, the hours ticked by in silence. I was seized by a premonition that no further word would come, but that something terrible, instead, was about to happen. I summoned a photographer to take pictures of the almost finished mural, but the guards who had been ordered to admit no photographers, barred him. At last, one of my assistants, Lucienne Bloch, smuggled in a Leica, concealed in her bosom. Mounting the scaffold, she surreptitiously snapped as many pictures as she could without getting caught.

On the day in the second week in May when Rockefeller finally made his move, the private police force of Radio City, reinforced the week before, was doubled. My assistants and I, aware that we were watched, that forces were being deployed as if for a military operation, worked on, pretending to ourselves that nothing was happening, or nothing as bad as we feared. But at dinnertime, when our numbers were at their smallest, three files of men surrounded my scaffold. Behind them appeared a representative of the firm of Todd, Robertson and Todd, managing agents for John D Rockefeller Jr. Like a victorious commander, he asked me to come down for a parley. My assistants present at this dark moment, Ben Shahn, Hideo Noda, Lou Block, Lucienne Bloch, Sanchez Flores, and Arthur Niedendorff, looked at me helplessly. Helplessly, I let myself be ushered into the working shack, the telephone of which had been cut off, acknowledged the order to stop work, and received my check.

Other men, meanwhile, removed my scaffold and replaced it with smaller ones, from which they affixed canvas frames covering the entire wall. Other men closed off the entrance with thick curtaining. As I left the building, I heard airplanes roaring overhead. Mounted policemen patrolled the streets. And then one of the very scenes I had depicted in my mural materialized before my eyes. A demonstration of workers began to form; the policemen charged, the workers dispersed; and the back of a seven-year-old girl, whose little legs could not carry her to safety in time, was injured by the blow of a club.

One last thing remained. In February of 1934, after I had returned to Mexico, my Radio City mural was smashed to pieces from the wall. Thus was a great victory won over a portrait of Lenin; thus was free expression honored in America.

One result of the fracas was the cancellation of my General Motors assignment, and I was cut off from commissions to paint in the United States for a long time. Rockefeller, wishing to avoid further bad publicity or the nuisance of a court action, had paid me my entire fee. Out of the $21,000, however, $6,300 went to Mrs Paine as her agent's commission; about $8,000 covered the cost of materials and the wages of assistants; and I was left with somewhat less than $7,000. Considering the loss of present and future commissions, I was advised by my attorney to sue Rockefeller for $250,000 for damages and indemnification. However, I did not sue; a legal action would have tended to nullify my position.

Rockefeller's action in covering the mural - with canvas frames and later with strips of sheath paper - became a cause celebre. Sides were drawn. A group of conservative artists calling themselves the Advance American Art Commission exploited the occasion to condemn the hiring of foreign painters in the United States. In contrast to these chauvinistic second-raters, who would have substituted a national-origin standard for that of artistic excellence, and who applauded Rockefeller's act of vandalism, another group of artists, writers, and intellectuals, including Walter Pach, George Biddle, Bruce Bliven, Robert L Cantwell, Lewis Gannett, Rockwell Kent, H L Mencken, Lewis Mumford, Waldo Pierce, and Boardman Robinson, besought Rockefeller to reconsider what he had done. It was largely because of such protests that Rockefeller waited nearly a year before he destroyed my mural. Two days after it had been covered over, Raymond Hood announced that it would receive "very careful handling". At the worst, two possibilities were suggested as its fate: that it might temporarily be screened with a canvas mural; or that it might be removed, plaster and all, for preservation elsewhere.

Oddly enough, communist leaders such as Robert Minor, Sidney Bloomfield, and my old friend Joe Freeman, editor of the New Masses, denounced the work as "reactionary" and "counterrevolutionary" and condemned me for having betrayed the masses by painting in capitalistic buildings!

In the spring of 1933, I aired my views over a small radio station in New York. "The case of Diego Rivera is a small matter. I want to explain more clearly the principles involved. Let us take, as an example, an American millionaire who buys the Sistine Chapel, which contains the work of Michelangelo ... Would that millionaire have the right to destroy the Sistine Chapel?

"Let us suppose that another millionaire should buy the unpublished manuscripts in which a scientist like [Albert] Einstein had left the key to his mathematical theories. Would that millionaire have the right to burn those manuscripts? ... In human creation there is something which belongs to humanity at large, and ... no individual owner has the right to destroy it or keep solely for his own enjoyment."

- From My Art, My Life: An Autobiography by Diego Rivera (with Gladys March), New York: Citadel Press, 1960. Republished by Dover Publications Inc in 1991
For their part, the Rockefellers were left to deal with the effects of a tainted reputation as arts patrons and as defenders of freedom of expression. The division within the family was revealed by the affair. Abby was mortified and later insisted that she had not wanted the mural destroyed, while her husband, John D Jr, was much more brusque, calling the picture obscene. With the destruction of Rivera's mural, Nelson Rockefeller became in the public eye a censor who destroyed art with political ideas not in line with his own.

Contradiction of Ideals

These two incidents, the American-mural controversy and the Rivera-mural controversy, illustrated the contradiction between the ideals of liberal capitalism and the idea of freedom of expression through art. As an art lover, Nelson Rockefeller understood that art is not simply beauty, but also ideological expression. The art that was created in Rockefeller Center had to be an art that was either sanitized of unwelcome political ideology or an art that was in line with the ideology of the capitalist system. The modern art in the Rockefeller collection represents the politically sanitized art appreciated and encouraged by values held by the collector. Rivera used his art to convey a contemporary political ideology hostile to capitalism. In a public space in Rockefeller Center, art was used by Rockefeller to present to the public a specific ideology, namely, that of liberal capitalism.

While Nelson Rockefeller's wealth enabled him to collect and promote modern art, his class interest forced him to choose between the role of connoisseur and the role of censor. His efforts to sanitize the unwanted socio-political content of art were not unique. Patrons all through the ages sponsored art to glorify their own image and the values they aspired to. Nelson Rockefeller was in a unique position to encourage politically sanitized art through his promotion of non-objective art. His influence as an art collector was far-reaching and his involvement with MOMA and, later, the Museum of Primitive Art placed him in a position in which he could promote the ideology of his class through his interpretation of art. While Nelson Rockefeller believed that political art had a place in museums, he was in a position to influence what place the museum gave to unwelcome political art for display to the public. Through active curatorial involvement and financial support, Nelson Rockefeller was able to extend his influence on a substantial segment of the art world. Works bought and collected by a Rockefeller gained instant commercial value since the Rockefellers processed awesome power as definitive art market makers. Abstract art was a much more sympathetic movement with which to promote art for art's sake. Would a Cubist image of Lenin have bothered anyone? With MOMA abducting Modernism by sanitizing its assault on the value system of bourgeois society, the working class was deprived of an art movement that would have helped its members to understand the dysfunctionality of capitalism.

Art is the collective memory of an epoch. The art of a generation exists to keep the spirit of the generation alive. In this respect, art plays a significant role in constructing the cultural identity of an epoch. Although art censorship is not unique to any civilization, as authorities all through the ages practiced it, censorship presents a special problem for liberal capitalism because capitalism in the age of liberal democracy claims to be a champion of freedom of expression.

It is within the prerogative of capitalist ideology to refuse to honor Lenin, but that provincial attitude conflicts with the myth of capitalist freedom of expression. Nelson Rockefeller's selective retreat from his commitment to freedom of expression was based not so much on personal intolerance as on his need to appease popular opinion for the purpose of fulfilling his political ambition.

The Rise and Fall of Nelson Rockefeller

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller inherited both a vast family fortune and a politically problematic family image that he had to live down in order to achieve his political ambitions in a democracy. From a very young age, he had expressed the desire to be president, rationalizing that with his great wealth, political leadership was the only goal worth pursuing. But political leadership in a democracy is dependent on popular support, not a natural for the Rockefeller legacy. The second of five brothers, Nelson was the energetic, outgoing leader within his own family. Personally, he had the charisma of effective leadership, but his wealth had become a political burden, not so much from distrust on the part of the voting public but from the hostility of the conservative nominating Republican Party functionaries who consider a liberal millionaire to be the most dangerous beast in politics.

The third generation of Rockefellers - "the Brothers" - grew up in storyland splendor and self-imposed isolation. In an effort to redeem the family name, John Jr had created numerous and distinct philanthropies. Nelson and his brothers grew up in the family home on West 54th Street in New York, which was so filled with art that his parents bought the townhouse next door just to house their collection. Eventually the Rockefellers gave the property to the Museum of Modern Art when they moved into a fabulous estate further north. Nelson attended the Rockefeller-funded progressive Lincoln School of Teachers College at Columbia University, but dyslexia hindered his schooling and prevented him from attending Princeton. With the help of tutors, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth in 1930. Shortly thereafter, he married Mary Todhunter Clark, known as Tod, whose calm reserve seemed to balance his boundless enthusiasms. After an around-the-world honeymoon, the couple settled in New York and Nelson went to work in the family enterprise. Nelson proved so successful in renting out space in the newly constructed Rockefeller Center in a depressed market that his father made him president of the Center. He earned negative publicity in the art world after he was blamed for the destruction of Rivera's murals; otherwise, however, Nelson won high praise for his energetic executive abilities.

Mark O Hatfield, with the Senate Historical Office, in Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993 (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1997), provided detail biographical information on Nelson Rockefeller's political career. Nelson became a director of the Creole Petroleum Co, a Rockefeller subsidiary in Venezuela. He learned Spanish and began a life-long interest in Latin-American affairs. Art was also his life-long passion, and during the Depression he served as treasurer of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1939, at age 31, he became the museum's president, encountering such intense infighting that he boasted, "I learned my politics at the Museum of Modern Art." He had wanted to be an architect and was a close friend and admirer of Wallace K Harrison, the architect for many Rockefeller projects. In 1940, president Franklin D Roosevelt appointed the 32-year-old Rockefeller to the new post of coordinator of the Office of Inter-American Affairs, in a shrewd move designed to mute the Rockefeller family's support of Wendell Willkie for president that year.

The Republican Party tapped Willkie, a lawyer and utilities executive, to run against third-term incumbent FDR in 1940, even though Willkie was a former Democrat. As president of the Commonwealth and Southern system representing private power companies, Willkie opposed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which built and operated dams along the Tennessee River as part of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration and sold electricity to an area covering seven states with 2 million people at a rate that threatened the profitability of private power companies. The TVA was considered by progressives a successful model for a new economic order of state capitalism that could emerge all over the nation. Willkie's opposition on behalf of private interests prevented the spread of the idea to other parts of the country. Willkie also campaigned against the New Deal generally and the FDR administration's lack of military preparedness. During the election, Roosevelt preempted the military-preparedness issue by expanding military contracts. Willkie then reversed his approach and accused FDR of warmongering. FDR received 27 million votes to Wilkie's impressive 22 million, but in the Electoral College, Roosevelt buried Willkie 449-82. A month later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The bureaucracy already put in place by the New Deal enabled the United States to mobilize for total war quickly and effectively, which then turned naturally into the postwar military-industrial complex that Dwight D Eisenhower warned the American people about.

After failing to unseat Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election, Willkie became one of FDR's most unlikely allies. To the chagrin of many in his adopted party, Willkie called for greater national support for some of Roosevelt's controversial initiatives, such as the Lend-Lease Act, and embarked on a new campaign to awaken the United States from its isolationist slumber. On July 23, 1941, he urged unlimited aid to Britain in its struggle against Nazi Germany. That same year he traveled to Britain and the Middle East as FDR's personal representative and, after Pearl Harbor, visited the USSR and China in 1942 in the same capacity.

In 1943, Willkie wrote One World, a plea for international peacekeeping after the war. Highly popular, the book sold millions of copies and helped to prevent the US from falling back into its prewar isolationist tradition. Also in 1943, together with Eleanor Roosevelt and other Americans concerned about the mounting threats to peace and democracy, Wilkie helped to establish Freedom House. In 1944, Willkie once again sought the Republican presidential nomination, but his liberal progressive views gained little support this time because of the rightward shift of Republican Party politics. Willkie did not support the eventual 1944 Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey, who lost to Harry Truman. After surviving several heart attacks, Willkie finally succumbed, dying on October 8, 1944, at age 52.

Although Nelson Rockefeller's brothers served in uniform, he held civilian posts throughout World War II, becoming assistant secretary of state for American republics affairs in 1944. He played a key role in hemispheric policy at the United Nations Conference held in San Francisco, developing consensus for regional pacts (such as the Rio Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) within the UN framework. He was instrumental in bringing the United Nations to New York, asking his father to buy the UN headquarters site on the East River for $6 million and donated it to the world organization. Although Roosevelt tried to lure Rockefeller into the Democratic Party, he remained loyal to his family's Republican ties. After Roosevelt's death, Truman showed less appreciation for Rockefeller's abilities. In August 1945, Truman fired the billionaire Rockefeller in order to settle a policy dispute within the State Department.

Rockefeller returned to government during the administration of president Dwight D Eisenhower, where he chaired a committee on government organization, became under secretary of the new Department of Health, Education and Welfare, served as special assistant to the president for Cold War strategy, and headed the secret "Forty Committee", a group of high government officials who were charged with overseeing the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine operations. He was slated for a high-level post in the Department of Defense until fiscally conservative secretary of the treasury George Humphrey vetoed Rockefeller as a "spender".

Rockefeller then returned to New York to seek the highest elective office in his home state with a long-range plan to establish his own political base for an eventual run on the presidency. In 1958, Nelson challenged the popular and prestigious Democrat governor Averell Harriman, in what the press dubbed the "battle of the millionaires". Rockefeller campaigned as a man of the people, appearing in shirtsleeves and eating his way through the ethnic foods of New York neighborhoods. "Rocky" was his political nickname. After a massive campaign, bankrolled with his legendary fortune, Rockefeller won the election handily. The New York Times noted the historical significance: "The election of Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller has given the final stamp of public approval to a name that once was among the most hated and feared in America."

His family philanthropy had supported practically every progressive cause around the world for more than a century, from education to population issues, from medicine to physics and the social sciences.

His victory in New York over an incumbent heavyweight Democrat in a year when Republicans lost badly elsewhere made him an overnight contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1960. Liberal Republicans who had reservations about the extremist political past of vice president Richard Nixon rallied to Rockefeller. Democrats such as senator John F Kennedy considered him the most formidable opposition candidate that the Republicans might nominate. Personally progressive, if Nelson Rockefeller had been a Democrat, he might well have out-Kennedyed the Kennedys in symbolizing a new age in US politics. Rockefeller advisers were reluctant to risk their candidate's future in national politics by having him enter party primaries where his chances of winning were far from certain. As a result, Rockefeller's popular appeal was not enough to overcome Nixon's lead among party loyalists in securing the nomination. Instead, Rockefeller used his political clout to summon Nixon to his Fifth Avenue apartment and dictate terms for a more liberal party platform for the 1960 campaign. Arizona senator Barry Goldwater denounced this event as "the Munich of the Republican Party", in the beginning of a long estrangement between Rockefeller liberals and the Goldwater extremists. Nixon's loss to Kennedy was partly blamed on Rockefeller liberalism for not letting the voters have a clear choice.

Nixon's razor-thin loss in a less-than-honest election in 1960 made Rockefeller the centrist frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 1964. There was a growing consensus that the Republican nomination process that favored conservative candidates needed to change so that a centrist candidate could bring a Republican victory in the next presidential election. But between the two elections, Rockefeller stunned the nation by divorcing his wife of 32 years and marrying a younger woman, Margaretta Fitler Murphy, better known as "Happy". She was the recently divorced wife of an executive in the Rockefeller Medical Institute. The birth of their son, Nelson Jr, on the eve of the Republican primary in California reminded voters of the remarriage at a time when a divorced candidate was generally considered unelectable, which contributed to Rockefeller's loss to Goldwater for the Republican nomination. The divorce was viewed as proof of Rockefeller's lack of self-discipline needed to run a nation facing serious challenges. At the party's convention in San Francisco, Goldwater delegates loudly booed Rockefeller in full view of national television and prevented him from speaking. To them, he embodied the hated "Eastern liberal establishment". Disgusted, Rockefeller sat out the election, an act that further branded him as a spoiler in the eyes of party loyalists.

Unsuccessful in his presidential bids, Rockefeller went on to achieve an impressive record as governor of New York. He was a master builder, overseeing a massive highway-construction program, the creation of the top-quality state university system, the establishment of a clean water authority and the erection of a vast new complex of state office buildings in Albany. He gave strong state support to the development of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts led by his older brother, John D III, and the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan led by his youngest bother, David, in the latter's position as chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank. Although New Yorkers joked about their governor's "edifice complex", they elected him to four consecutive terms. To pay for his many grand projects without raising taxes, Rockefeller consulted prominent municipal-bond specialist John Mitchell (later to be the disgraced attorney general in the Nixon administration), who advised the creation of quasi-independent agencies that could issue bonds that were morally obligated but not legally guaranteed by the state. The State University Construction Fund provided the financing of a public higher-education system that rivaled the best in the nation, putting an end to New York's dismal history of dependence on elite private universities. Other agencies built roads, utilities, public housing and hospitals. As a result, control of a large part of the budget and of state operations shifted from the legislature to the governor. To bring able executives from the private sector into relatively low-paying government posts, Rockefeller made personal financial contributions to the heads of these independent agencies, thereby elevating the effectiveness of state government and also reinforcing their loyalty to the governor personally.

In perpetual motion, governor Rockefeller tackled one project after another. He waded into political campaigns with similar gusto, shaking hands and giving his famous greeting: "Hiya, fella!" No one compared that greeting to the "us fellas" stigma of Al Capone fame. He laced his speeches with superlatives and platitudes and so often repeated the phrase "the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God" that reporters shortened it to create the acronym BOMFOG. Although he campaigned as a man of the people, he lived in a different world. When aides proposed a plan for the state to take over state-employee contributions to Social Security, in order to increase their take-home pay, Rockefeller asked, "What is take-home pay?"

Rockefeller never openly opposed the war in Vietnam, explaining that he did not want to offend president Lyndon Johnson and risk cuts in federal aid to New York. In 1968, Johnson tried to persuade Rockefeller to run for president. "He told me he could not sleep at night if Nixon was president, and he wasn't all that sure about Hubert [Humphrey] either," Rockefeller later revealed. Rockefeller announced his candidacy, but Nixon's powerful campaign apparatus of party loyalists rolled over him. When Humphrey became the Democratic nominee, he invited Rockefeller to run as his vice president. "I turned him down," Rockefeller said. "Franklin Roosevelt wanted me to be a Democrat [back in the 1940s]. It was too late." On foreign policy, Rockefeller was a fervent hawk. He was a supporter of Edward Teller in the latter's quest to develop a hydrogen bomb. Teller lamented that the Soviet Union was prepared for a possible war with an extensive civil-defense infrastructure, while the United States was not. Teller's influence on politicians in the 1950s, particularly Nelson Rockefeller, led to many of the idiotic civil-defense procedures, including useless fallout shelters. Teller believed that a nuclear war, as calamitous as it would be, could be won, condemning a whole generation to useless duck-and-cover drills and to squander their money on useless shelters in their basements. The rich, however, were able to build fancy country homes far away from urban targets that would qualify for tax deduction as nuclear-war shelters, which in all likelihood the owner would be hard pressed to reach in the event of a surprise attack.

Despite an inability to hide his personal disdain for Richard Nixon, Rockefeller campaigned for Nixon in both 1968 and 1972. He refused to oppose publicly Nixon's tough stands in Vietnam and Cambodia while quietly seeking an exit through detente, a policy shaped by national security adviser Henry Kissinger, who originally had served as Rockefeller's foreign policy adviser. Nixon appointed Rockefeller to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to oversee Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) activities. Meanwhile, Rockefeller's own politics were shifting toward the right, partly to make peace with conservative Republicans who had vilified him, and partly in response to the so-called "conservative backlash" of the late 1960s. Rockefeller's tough "law and order" stand on drugs and his mishandling of the Attica prison riot in 1971 further diminished his liberal image. The governor refused demands of rioting prisoners at the state penitentiary that he negotiate with them in person and instead sent in state troops, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of many inmates and their captives. An outraged press turned on Rockefeller after Attica.

Rockefeller's timing was flawed. His liberal views on social issues and domestic policy, including civil rights, were out of step with the shift to the right in the Republican Party since the late 1950s. In 1968, the year of his third and last try, the so-called "Rockefeller Republican", liberal in domestic policy and hawkish in foreign affairs, was facing extinction. Rockefeller himself had not been immune to the impact of his party's transformation. Re-elected to the New York governorship three times (1962, 1966 and 1970), he too gradually moved to the right. His ill-fated decision to suppress the Attica prison riot in 1971 made him the target of bitter criticism from the liberal left and the media. He became a champion of "law and order", staging a crackdown on "welfare chiselers" and introducing extremely harsh drug laws that called for lengthy prison sentences for petty crimes. Some of these measures, along with the widespread patronage and budgetary excesses that dominated New York politics during the Rockefeller tenure, overshadowed the accomplishments of his 15 years in office. Without gaining support from the right wing, he weakened support from his own constituent on the liberal left.

At the Republican convention in 1972, Rockefeller nominated Nixon. After the election, as Nixon sank into the Watergate scandal, Rockefeller steadfastly resisted attacking him in hope of saving Nixon's foreign policy of detente and opening to China. When vice president Spiro Agnew resigned in October 1973, Rockefeller let it be known that he would not turn down a vice-presidential nomination, as he had done in 1960 and 1968. But Nixon, believing that choosing Rockefeller would offend his Republican conservative base, instead selected the more centrist Gerald Ford. That December, Rockefeller resigned after 14 years as governor of New York to give his long-serving lieutenant-governor, Malcolm Wilson, a chance to run for the office as the incumbent. Rockefeller then devoted his attention to the newly created Commission on Critical Choices for America, which many expected he would use as a policy vehicle to run for the presidency in 1976.

Rockefeller was firmly convinced that Nixon would never resign, but events proved different. In August 1974, when Gerald Ford assumed the presidency and prepared to appoint his own vice president, Rockefeller and George Bush headed his list of candidates. Bush, a former Texas congressman and chairman of the Republican National Committee, was the safer, more comfortable choice. But Ford believed in a balanced ticket (in 1968 Ford had urged Nixon to select New York City's liberal Republican mayor John Lindsay as his running mate). Weighing the assets and deficits, Ford acknowledged that Rockefeller was still anathema to many conservatives in both parties. Still, the new president believed that the New Yorker was well qualified to be president, would add executive expertise to the administration, and would broaden the ticket's electoral appeal if they ran as a team in 1976. Also, by selecting as strong a man as Rockefeller, Ford would demonstrate his own self-confidence as president.

Robert Hartmann, one of Ford's closest aides, asked Rockefeller why he had accepted the vice presidency now after turning it down before. "It was entirely a question of there being a constitutional crisis and a crisis of confidence on the part of the American people," Rockefeller replied. "I felt there was a duty incumbent on any American who could do anything that would contribute to a restoration of confidence in the democratic process and in the integrity of government." Rockefeller also reasoned that, while Ford as a former member of Congress understood the "congressional-legislative side" of the issues, he as governor had mastered the "executive-administrative side" and that together they could make an effective team. Although fully aware of the limitations of his office, and recognizing that he was "just not built for standby equipment", Rockefeller had accepted because Ford promised to make him a "partner" in his presidency.

The media applauded the selection. After berating Nixon for picking Ford, reporters praised Ford's appointment of "a man of national stature". The New York Times called it a "masterly political act", and Newsweek congratulated Ford for adding a "dollop of high style" to his "homespun presidency". Time observed that Ford felt secure enough to name a dynamic personality as vice president. Ford basked in his accomplishment. In November, when reporters asked him what he considered the top achievements of his first hundred days as president, Ford replied: "Number one, nominating Nelson Rockefeller."

Yet nomination was only half the process, for the 25th Amendment to the Constitution required confirmation by both houses of Congress. Democrats and some conservative Republicans relished the prospect of opening the books on the private finances of one of the nation's greatest family fortunes. Even president Ford expressed fascination with the details as they emerged. "Can you imagine," he said privately, "Nelson lost $30 million in one year and it didn't make any difference." After the shocks of Watergate and the revelations that Agnew had taken kickbacks, it was reassuring to have a vice president too rich to be bought.

Rockefeller's confirmation hearings dragged on for months, and House and Senate leaders talked of delaying his confirmation until the new Congress convened in January. "You just can't do that to the country," president Ford complained to House speaker Carl Albert and Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield. "You can't do it to Nelson Rockefeller, and you can't do it to me. It's in the national interest that you confirm Rockefeller, and I'm asking you to move as soon as possible." The Senate finally acted on December 10, and the House on December 19. That evening, Rockefeller took the oath in the Senate chamber.

The secretary of the Senate found it amusing to give Rockefeller the standard orientation, signing him up for health insurance and other benefits he did not need. Ironically, Rockefeller was also the first vice president eligible to occupy the new vice-presidential mansion - formerly the residence of the chief of naval operations - on Massachusetts Avenue donated by Rockefeller to the nation. "Congress has finally determined to give the vice president a home in Washington," Ford told Rockefeller. "It's up on Admiral's Hill, and you'll have to live in it." Rockefeller grimaced but nodded in agreement. He already had a home in Washington that he purchased during World War II, a colonial-era farmhouse situated on 11 hectares of land, one of the most expensive properties in the District of Columbia. Rockefeller spent only a single night in the vice-presidential mansion, but he stimulated some publicity by installing a mink-covered bed designed by surrealist Max Ernst that was valued at $35,000. Press criticism later resulted in the bed being lent to a museum. Years after, when Happy Rockefeller visited George and Barbara Bush at the vice-presidential mansion, she offered to return the bed to the mansion. Barbara Bush insisted that Mrs Rockefeller was always welcome to spend the night and did not need to bring her own bed.

Gerald Ford told the nation that he wanted his vice president to be "a full partner", especially in domestic policy. "Nelson, I think, has a particular and maybe peculiar capability of balancing the pros and cons in many social programs, and I think he has a reputation and the leadership capability," Ford explained. "I want him to be very active in the Domestic Council, even to the extent of being chairman of the Domestic Council." But during the months while Rockefeller's nomination stalled in Congress, Ford's new White House staff under chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld established its control of the executive branch and had no intention of sharing power with the vice president and his staff. One Rockefeller aide lamented that the "first four-month shakedown was critical and he wasn't involved. That was when the relationship evolved and we were on Capitol Hill fighting for confirmation."

Rockefeller envisaged taking charge of domestic policies the same way that Henry Kissinger ran foreign policy in the Nixon administration. Gerald Ford seemed to acquiesce, but Rumsfeld (now secretary of defense in the George W Bush administration) objected on principle to the vice president preempting the president. When Rockefeller tried to implement Ford's promise that domestic policymakers would report to the president via the vice president, Rumsfeld intervened with various operational objections. Rockefeller shifted gears and had one of his trusted assistants, James Cannon, appointed chief of the Domestic Council. Rumsfeld responded by cutting the council's budget to the bone. Rockefeller then moved to develop his own policies independent of the Domestic Council. Tapping Edward Teller, who had worked for Rockefeller's Commission on Critical Choices, he proposed a $100 billion Energy Independence Authority. Although Ford endorsed the energy plan, the president's economic and environmental advisers lined up solidly against it. The weak domestic council was one of the reasons Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter.

Usually, Ford and Rockefeller met once a week. Ford noted that Rockefeller "would sit down, stir his coffee with the stem of his horn-rimmed glasses and fidget in his chair as he leaped from one subject to another". Nothing, Ford observed, was too small or too grandiose for Rockefeller's imagination. Beyond the substantive issues, the two men also spent much time talking over national politics. Yet Ford and his staff shut Rockefeller out of key policy debates. In October 1975, when Ford proposed large cuts in federal taxes and spending, the vice president complained, "This is the most important move the president has made, and I wasn't even consulted." Someone asked what he did as vice president, and Rockefeller replied: "I go to funerals. I go to earthquakes." Rockefeller had disliked the vice-presidential seal, with its drooping wings and single arrow in its claw. He had a new seal designed with the eagle's wings outspread and multiple arrows in its clutch. Rockefeller told one of his aides, "See that goddamn seal? That's the most important thing I've done all year."

In the autumn of 1975, president Ford determined to run for election and appointed Howard "Bo" Callaway of Georgia as his campaign manager. Ford did not consult Rockefeller until the day he announced the choice. Callaway immediately began spreading the word that Rockefeller was too old, and too liberal, and too much of a detriment to the ticket. Some administration officials believed that Rumsfeld wanted the vice-presidential nomination for himself and hoped that this humiliation would encourage Rockefeller to remove himself from contention. President Ford was given opinion polls that showed 25% of all Republicans would not vote for him if Rockefeller remained on the ticket. Ford's advisers complained that Rockefeller was not a "team player", and that he had been a "commuting" vice president, flying weekly to New York, where his wife and sons had remained. Still, Rockefeller hung on doggedly, patching up his difference with Barry Goldwater and making public appearances in the South - to prove, as he said, that he did not have horns. After one rally in South Carolina, a Republican leader conceded that the vice president had changed some minds from "hell no" to "no".

When it became clear that former California governor Ronald Reagan would challenge Ford for the Republican nomination, Ford reluctantly resolved to jettison the liberal Rockefeller. Putting the situation to him, Ford insisted that he was just telling him the facts, not what to do. Rockefeller, however, had been in politics long enough to know that he was being asked to leave gracefully. He announced that he would not be a candidate for vice president the following year. Although he publicly insisted that he jumped without having been shoved, privately he told friends, "I didn't take myself off the ticket, you know - he asked me to do it."

Rockefeller's withdrawal, along with Ford's clumsy firing of defense secretary James Schlesinger, replacing him with Rumsfeld, became known as the "Halloween Massacre". It resulted in a plunge in Ford's popularity and polls that showed Reagan leading him for the Republican nomination. Southern Republicans largely deserted the president for Reagan, causing Rockefeller to comment that he had made a mistake in withdrawing when he did. "I should have said in that letter ... when Bo Callaway delivered to you the Southern delegates, then I'm off the ticket." Ford responded, "You didn't make the mistake. We made the mistake." Dumping Rockefeller embarrassed Ford as much as it did Rockefeller. "It was the biggest political mistake of my life," Ford confessed. "And it was one of the few cowardly things I did in my life."

Despite being dropped, Rockefeller still wanted to be a major player. Before the Republican convention in 1976, he even proposed taking over as White House chief of staff, to help boost morale and public confidence. At the convention, Rockefeller delivered the large New York state delegation to Ford, participated in the choice of senator Robert Dole as Ford's running mate, and placed Dole's name in nomination. He campaigned hard for the Republican ticket in the fall. At one stop in Birmingham, New York, hecklers provoked the vice president into making an obscene gesture back at them. Photographs of the vice president "giving the finger" were widely reprinted as a symbolic act of signing out of politics. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Jimmy Carter made a trip to New York to solicit support for his campaign. Among the "fat cats" meeting with Carter was David Rockefeller.

The art of censorship
Political censorship was not the only focus. During Nelson Rockefeller's first term as governor, Andy Warhol (1928-87) had been commissioned in 1964 to create a piece for the facade of the New York State pavilion at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadow, New York. The work, Thirteen Most Wanted Men, was a mural-size composite of enlarged police mugshots, mainly of young and handsome accused felons. Almost immediately after the work was installed on the pavilion, however, World's Fair officials had the piece painted over and destroyed. Fair officials said that Warhol had been disappointed with his work and wanted to replace it. Others said that governor Rockefeller had found the mugshots not in keeping with the fair's "Olympics of progress" theme. What no one dared mention, including the homosexual artist, was the implicit homoeroticism of the work behind the double entendre of the word "wanted".

In 1933, Paul Cadmus was hired by the PWAP (the Public Works Art Program, a forerunner to the better-known WPA projects) to produce paintings that dealt with American themes. Cadmus produced The Fleet's In!, a painting that depicts drunken sailors on shore leave carousing in New York's Riverside Park with a group of women - some of whom may be men in drag - and at least one flamboyantly effeminate man. When The Fleet's In! appeared in 1934 in an exhibition of federally financed work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, naval officials were outraged, and the painting was immediately pulled from the show. Cadmus expressed surprise at the response, and disavowed any scandalous intent; but the painting was not returned to public view until 1981.

Once out of sight, however, The Fleet's In! became sensationally visible. It was reproduced in newspapers and magazines across the country. Consequently, Cadmus became an art star who got considerable mileage out of inviting and evading questions about the homoerotic tenor of his work. Five years later, in 1939, Cadmus was hesitantly commissioned, under the auspices of the Treasury Section of Fine Arts, to execute a mural for the Parcel Post Building in Richmond, Virginia. His subject - Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain John Smith - seemed relatively safe. However, when a design of the mural was publicly exhibited at Vassar College, controversy erupted. The fact that one of Pocahontas's breasts was fully exposed met with little concern or unease, but a male warrior's bared buttocks in the center of the mural provoked an outcry of protest, as did the rendering of another warrior with an animal pelt dangling between his legs. Given the way Cadmus had positioned the fox skin, it bore a remarkable resemblance to male genitalia. Government officials ordered Cadmus to paint out the fox's snout, which resembled a penis.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89) built a reputation on the explicitly gay content of his work, which came under aggressive attack during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it became a rallying cry in the era's "culture wars". When the Corcoran Gallery abruptly canceled a Mapplethorpe show in 1989, the story was widely reported in the media as a scandal, and the artist became a household name. In early 1989, a retrospective of Mapplethorpe's work was organized by the University of Pennsylvania's Institute of Contemporary Art, which had received $30,000 for the show from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The retrospective, "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment", included 150 of Mapplethorpe's images: formal portraiture, flowers, children, and carefully posed, sexually explicit, erotic scenes, some of which were sadomasochistic. The exhibit was scheduled to tour seven cities throughout the United States. As the show traveled, there were widely disparate responses to the same material. For example, in Philadelphia and Chicago, early in the tour, the show went largely unremarked and generally received positive reviews. In Chicago, the show attracted record-breaking crowds at the city's Museum of Contemporary Art. By the summer of 1989, however, with the show heading to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, outrage over Mapplethorpe's work and the use of federal money to fund the exhibit grew to a fever pitch. Although most of the controversy focused on the gay sexual content of several of the photographs, many conservative leaders and critics also purported to find Mapplethorpe's portraits of black men racist and branded the nude studies of young children (both male and female) child pornography.

The outrage over Mapplethorpe's work was fueled mainly by such conservative politicians as Jesse Helms, Dick Armey and Alfonse D'Amato. Conservative cultural critic Richard Grenier, writing in the Washington Times, labeled Mapplethorpe "the great catamite", a corrupt form of "Ganymede", the young cupbearer to Zeus in Greek mythology. The term was used in the Renaissance and the 18th century as a derogatory designation of a boy kept by a man for sexual purposes. The critic fantasized about dousing the body of the photographer with kerosene and burning it.

But it was conservative Catholic columnist Patrick Buchanan who launched the most sustained attack, through a series of virulent syndicated newspaper columns. Declaring a cultural war, Buchanan detected a struggle for the soul of America in the battle over the arts. Ultimately, a letter signed by more than 100 congressmen was sent to the chair of the NEA denouncing the use of federal money to fund the Mapplethorpe exhibit as well as other federally funded and so-called "obscene" work, such as Andres Serrano's photograph Piss Christ, which depicts a crucifix submerged in a vat of the artist's own urine. Serrano is not gay and his photograph was denounced for religious, rather than sexual, reasons. The letter threatened to seek cuts in the agency's $170 million budget that was up for approval, and demanded that the NEA end its sponsorship of "morally reprehensible trash", and provide new grant guidelines that would "clearly pay respect to public standards of taste and decency".

Amid these attacks on the NEA, the director of the Corcoran Gallery announced that it would be unwise for the gallery to go forward with its commitment to host the Mapplethorpe retrospective. The Corcoran's director felt that the appearance of such controversial images could jeopardize the future of the NEA. The Corcoran itself was also vulnerable since it had no endowment of its own and was dependent on federal funds for a significant portion of its yearly budget. The artistic community, both gay and straight, reacted with outrage. Three days after the cancellation was announced, up to 100 protesters demonstrated outside the gallery. Later that week, close to 1,000 demonstrators viewed slides of Mapplethorpe's work projected on the facade of the Corcoran. Students at Corcoran's school of art demonstrated several times. Several artists also boycotted the gallery, withdrawing from scheduled group and solo shows. The Mapplethorpe retrospective continued to generate heated debate, and legal action, when it moved to Cincinnati's Contemporary Art Center. Within days of the exhibition's opening, the center and its director were indicted on charges of pandering, obscenity, and the illegal use of a child in nudity-related material. The arrest and subsequent trial were a first in the history of US art museums. The director of the center faced up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,000, and the center itself could have been fined $10,000. Several months of legal wrangling followed, during which time the exhibit was allowed to remain open. The center and its director were ultimately acquitted of all charges, but only after a humiliating spectacle.

The Museum of Modern Art in autumn 2000 showed Tell it Like It Is!, the National Coalition Against Censorship's 15-minute video on censorship of children's books, produced by Lora Hays and Chris Pelzer. The anti-censorship film, which features Judy Blume, other children's-book authors and their readers, was accompanied by a feature-length film, Stranger With a Camera.

Svetlana Mintcheva, arts advocacy coordinator for the National Coalition Against Censorship, wrote in a foreword for Free Expression in Arts Funding: A Public Policy Report (2003): "Critic Michael Brenson points out [that] the NEA was the product of Cold War efforts to promote American culture combined with respect for avant-garde artists as a breed of 'prophetic outsiders'. But the Cold War ideology that drove the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the 1960s to promote federal arts and humanities funding was ancient history by 1989. It was no longer politically useful to idealize artists and promote their works abroad; on the contrary, those in the avant-garde could now more conveniently be demonized. Anti-intellectualism, often a theme of the political right, could also now be used to stir resentment against outre artists: the American Family Association's July 1989 press release protesting the Serrano and Mapplethorpe exhibits did this brilliantly by asking repeatedly why truck drivers, factory workers, and sales clerks, who 'are artists also', do not receive government grants."

In the meantime, government funding for the arts had grown and state and local art councils were supporting a wide range of creative production coming from under-represented minorities. When religious groups singled out "offensive" art as a cause around which to mobilize their constituencies, they savvily protested not the art itself, but the public funds that went to its creators. Countering that line of attack with the First Amendment obligation of government not to discriminate against artwork based on the viewpoint it expresses can lead to Pyrrhic victories: under pressure an art program can be terminated; art councils can be de-funded.

With the largest budget of any government arts agency in the United States, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs has long maintained "a de facto policy" of "not interfering in the rights of freedom of expression of the groups that it supports". In September 1999, however, then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Catholic, made headlines by expressing outrage over the upcoming exhibit "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Giuliani announced that several works in the show were "sick" and "disgusting"; and he was infuriated, in particular, by Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, a glittering, icon-like painting of an African madonna with a dollop of dried elephant dung near one breast. The painting was not smeared with dung, as some reports had it, and dried elephant dung is not an insulting or blasphemous substance in African culture. Indeed, Ofili used it in works that were clearly respectful, including other works in the "Sensation" show.

Nevertheless, a week before "Sensation's" scheduled opening, Giuliani ordered the Brooklyn Museum to cancel the show. He threatened that if the museum refused, he would freeze funds that the city had already allocated for general operating expenses (the city had not funded "Sensation" specifically), and would evict the institution from its public premises. On September 28, he stated that taxpayer money should not "be used to support the desecration of important national or religious symbols", and a city press release the same day denounced "an exhibit which besmirches religion and is an insult to the community". Giuliani's appeal to religious feelings - at a political moment when he was preparing to run for the US Senate - and his refusal to entertain explanations of the context and meaning of Ofili's work were painfully reminiscent of the political grandstanding that had surrounded the attacks on Serrano's Piss Christ 10 years before. It was frequently noted that Giuliani needed a high-profile political issue on which he could appeal to moral conservatives, particularly in view of his pro-choice record on abortion. "Sensation" was an opportunity to put his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, on the spot. When Clinton expressed aversion for the show but disagreement with Giuliani's desire to shut it down, he responded: "Well, then, she agrees with using public funds to attack and bash the Catholic religion."

This appeal to Catholics was hardly subtle, but it did not have the outcome that Giuliani anticipated. Although "Sensation" remained controversial, with pickets for and against it appearing in front of the Brooklyn Museum during the first days of the show, New Yorkers seemed generally unimpressed with Giuliani's rhetoric. And although the arts community's response was not uniform, the New York City Arts Coalition, consisting of more than 200 non-profit groups, organized a protest statement within days of Giuliani's first comments, and within a week, 22 of the 33 members of the city's Cultural Institutions Group (private non-profit organizations that operate the city's cultural landmarks) released a letter condemning his threats as a "dangerous precedent" that could cause "lasting damage" to New York's cultural life. The signers ranged from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Staten Island Historical Society and the Bronx Zoo. Non-member institutions including MOMA, the Frick Collection, and the Jewish Museum also signed.

This outpouring did not move Giuliani, and when city officials announced that they would withhold the Brooklyn Museum's monthly payment of $497,554, due on October 1, the museum filed a First Amendment lawsuit seeking to stop the retaliation and restore the funds. The city countered with an eviction suit in state court, then argued to the federal judge (unsuccessfully) that she must defer to the state court action.

Opposition to Giuliani's concept of arts funding solidified during the brief but dramatic litigation. Dozens of major institutions joined in friend-of-the-court briefs opposing the mayor, including the Metropolitan Museum, the Modern, the American Association of Museums, the Whitney Museum, the New York Historical Society, the New York City Arts Coalition, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the New York Hall of Science, the American Association of Museum Directors, and the Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York. Local political leaders also filed a brief supporting the museum.

In November 1999, Judge Nina Gershon released her decision. Following the Supreme Court's reasoning in the Finley case, she explained that, even in the provision of subsidies, government cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination, and furthermore, that the city's coercive actions amounted to an unconstitutional effort to penalize the museum and suppress the art being shown. Judge Gershon wrote: "There is no federal constitutional issue more grave than the effort by government officials to censor works of expression and to threaten the vitality of a major cultural institution as punishment for failing to abide by governmental demands for orthodoxy."

Giuliani described the court decision as "the usual knee-jerk reaction of some judges" and vowed to appeal, but in March 2000, he settled the case and agreed to restore the museum's funding. So matters stood until April 2001, when the mayor activated a largely dormant Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission and instructed it to establish "decency standards" for New York City's public museums. The catalyst was another work by a black artist, Renee Cox's nude Yo Mama's Last Supper, again at the Brooklyn Museum, although this time the publicity and the level of sensationalism surrounding Giuliani's disapproval of the work were more subdued.

Giuliani's successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had no interest in continuing the decency campaign. In February 2003, he appointed 21 new members to the Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission, including MOMA president-emerita Agnes Gund and artist Chuck Close. The new members would provide assistance and advocacy for cultural groups, but would not screen for indecency. New York's experience, like that of San Antonio, Texas, and ultimately that of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, suggests that efforts to censor art based on the "taxpayers' money" rationale do not always succeed. While lawsuits were necessary in the short term to restore public funding for San Antonio's Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and for the Brooklyn Museum, in the long run, as the experience in Charlotte-Mecklenburg suggests, political support and good public relations are critical in maintaining censorship-free arts funding.

The question is: If public funding is not a proper rationale for efforts to censor art, can private funding be a proper rationale to censor art in a public space? In 1950, the Modern excluded the still life A Distinguished Air from a major Demuth retrospective because it considered its sexual theme too controversial. Charles Demuth (1883-1935) painted a series of watercolors of sailors with their genitals uncovered but was best known for his landscapes of industrial America, featuring bridges, grain silos and factories. The Rivera mural/Rockefeller Center case clearly demonstrates that in the US, private money enjoys a higher power prerogative than even public funds.

(This is the concluding article in this series.)