An Inclusive Litany

11/20/00

After 73-year-old Dennis Heiner splashed white paint on Chris Ofili's dung- and pornography-laden depiction of the Virgin Mary at the Brooklyn Museum's infamous "Sensation" exhibit, his lawyers argued that he had a First Amendment right to deface the artwork.

But District Attorney Noel Downey countered with another novel argument: that the vandalism wasn't protected as speech because he went after only one of the paintings rather than the exhibit as a whole. "He might have had an argument if he emptied the shark tank or kicked the bloody head across the floor," said Downey.

The painting has been mostly restored, and the museum provided no damage estimate to the court, perhaps because the controversy triggered by the vandalism caused its value to increase.

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