Wednesday, February 27, 2002
'Our Lady' Opponents Receive Mixed Ruling
By Morgan Lee
Journal Staff Writer
A state museum committee was subject to the state Open Meetings
Act, but the curator's work was not, according to a final court order dismissing
a request to remove a controversial exhibit from the state Museum of International
The exhibit titled "Cyber Arte" contained the image
of a scantily clad Virgin of Guadalupe "Our Lady" by California
artist Alma López. Tey Marianna Nunn curated the exhibit.
Three northern New Mexico residents in October asked a judge
to remove the exhibit, arguing that a review by the Museum of New Mexico Sensitive
Materials Committee violated the Open Meetings Act, a sunshine law guaranteeing
public access to certain government decisions. The folk art museum is a division
of the Museum of New Mexico system.
First Judicial District Judge James Hall rejected taking
down the exhibit before its closing date in October on principle and technical
In a clarification of earlier oral and written statements,
Hall responded Friday to accusations that the museum violated the Open Meetings
"The Court concludes that the initial determination
by the curator to display the exhibit is not the type of meeting or policy
decision covered by the Open Meetings Act," Hall wrote in a final court
order published Friday.
"Therefore, plaintiffs cannot obtain any relief relating
to the decision to display the exhibit."
Plaintiff Terrence Brennan, a Catholic priest and former
attorney for Santa Fe County, had asked for a ruling that made the Sensitive
Materials Committee responsible for approving potentially offensive artwork
before the curator placed it on exhibit.
The wording of the final court order upholds an important
privilege for curators, according to Museum of International Folk Art Museum
Director Joyce Ice.
"I don't know how a curator could possibly do her job,
if that initial determination were subject to this kind of review" before
exhibits open, Ice said. "Upholding that prerogative is important for
curators as well as the museum as an institution."
While relieving the "Cyber Arte" curator of direct
public oversight, Hall's decision treated differently the Sensitive Materials
Committee, a staff committee that heard appeals to take down "Cyber Arte"
The committee recommended that "Cyber Arte" remain
intact and on display, and subsequent appeals to the Museum of New Mexico
Board of Regents were never heard.
"The Court concludes that the Sensitive Materials Committee
is a 'delegated authority' under the Open Meetings Act," Hall's order
According to the state Open Meetings Act, "A public
body may not evade its obligations under the Open Meetings Act by delegating
its responsibilities for making decisions and taking final action to a committee."
Hall stopped short of directing the museum to comply with
the Open Meetings Act, noting that such an action wasn't requested by the
Plaintiff Anthony Trujillo last week submitted a written
request directly to the Museum of New Mexico, demanding the Sensitive Materials
Committee follow all Open Meetings Act statutes.
The Sensitive Materials Committee originally was created
to help the Museum of New Mexico comply with the Native American Graves Protection
and Repatriation Act, which provides for the repatriation of human remains
and sacred objects from federally supported institutions.
Opening all Sensitive Materials Committee meetings because
of a conflict about modern art could have unforeseen consequences for American
Indian decision, Ice said.
"My sense is that there would be many people who would not be interested in entering into discussions under those circumstances," Ice said.