Virgin-in-bikini ruling could force hearings by museums before controversial exhibits
Posted: Sunday, January 06, 2002

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A judge's ruling in a case involving a computer-generated image of the Virgin of Guadalupe wearing a bikini could force the state's museums to hold public hearings before displaying culturally sensitive material, an attorney said.

State District Court Judge James Hall on Friday approved a court order stating that the museum "should have given public notice and public hearing before the exhibit was displayed at the museum."

Alma Lopez's "Our Lady," a computer generated collage of model wearing a floral garment resembling a bikini, was part of a Cyber Art exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art.

Roman Catholics were offended by the bared-midriff image and asked a judge to order it taken of the wall of the museum. The exhibit was open from February through October of last year. It closed four months early.

In spite of the exhibit's closing, court proceedings on allegations of a violation of the Open Meetings Act continued.

The museum's Sensitive Materials Committee met in private before recommending the exhibit remain on display.

On Oct. 10, Hall said the Open Meetings Act was not applicable to the determination that the art should remain on display.

Hall ruled on matters that are "culturally sensitive" during the hearing Friday.

Museum attorney John Grubesic asked the judge to clarify that decision.

"It was my understanding from (your earlier comments) that the decision of the curator wasn't subject to the Open Meetings Act," Grubesic said. "From this it appears there should have been a public meeting before it was hung."

Attorney Terrence Brennan, a plaintiff in the case against the museum and Catholic deacon Anthony Trujillo of Santa Fe praised the decision.

"This is what we were looking for, in order to establish in court that the museum's Sensitive Materials Committee is to give public notice and public hearings," Brennan said. "In the future, we'll be able to participate, and that's all we wanted to do is participate before something gets out of hand."

State officials say they may need some additional clarification on the matter before a final order is drafted and signed.

Museum of New Mexico director Tom Wilson declined comment on the ruling Friday evening because he had not read the document.