Hip Hop Virgin Mary Blesses A New Museum

  • “The Holy Virgin Mary" was sold for $4.6 million at Christie’s in London
  • Four black artists works were acquired for the MoMA

Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary" painting is getting the big city art treatment. It’s  entering the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as a gift from billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen. Is this acquisition of black art by a major museum more than a trend?

Why This Matters: In 2015, “The Holy Virgin Mary" fetched $4.6 million at Christie’s in London and it remains the auction record for Ofili. The painting stirred controversy at the Brooklyn Museum during the 1999 "Sensation" exhibit due to its depiction of a black Virgin Mary beside lumps of elephant dung. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani found the art so off-putting he sued the Brooklyn Museum to have it removed.

Now, MoMa has accepted the canvas originally created in 1996 during an acquisition curatorial committee meeting. “People look at our collection as a place that provides history of art in our time. And these artists and works are essential to art history, we belatedly realize," the museum’s chief curator of painting and sculpture Ann Temkin said to Bloomberg.

Ofili was joined by three other black artists whose works were acquired for the MoMA. The works include; "No Title (The Ugly American)," a painting by Herve Telemaque along with “Sweet Thang (Lynn Jenkins)," a painting by Barkley Hendricks. Lastly, a sculpture called “Leaning," created in 1980, by Maren Hassinger was amassed by the museum.

Situational Awareness: Chris Ofili’s painting instigated an ideological war in the art world. The painting became emblematic of everything deemed offensive and irreverent about contemporary art. Perhaps there’s a sense of poetic justice to his work being back in New York City, as a form of acceptance of the city’s cultural heritage.

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