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Museums Issue In When Elephants Fight: How Sensation Became Sensational Article

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Dubin, “When Elephants Fight: How Sensation Became Sensational”

Thesis and Main Arguments

Dubin examines the elements of Brooklyn museum confrontation where different groups have diverse opinions of the arts displayed in the museum. Dubin examines the facets without assigning blame to any group. Through the examples and cases cited by Dubin, he argued that institutions that are run by idealistic and naïve individuals are destroyed by small conflicts that are allowed to come into the institutions. Dubin used the article to address the differences arising in a multi-cultural society.


In the article, “When Elephants Fight: How Sensation Became Sensational,” Dubin starts with an African proverb which says whenever elephants fight, the grass on the battleground suffers. The battle referred by Dubin is the public battle that erupted over the diverse views of the newly started exhibition Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection. The exhibition was hosted by Brooklyn Museum of Art (BMA) (p. 246). The battle was between those who supported the exhibition and those who opposed it. Those who supported the museum were against the mayor’s vow to terminate the city’s annual contribution to the BMA. On the other hand, those who opposed the museum claimed that the museum portrayed some figures, which are central to their faith, in a demeaning and defaming. Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, was represented in a painting that did not go well with the Catholics. The fight between the proposers and oppose of the Museum saw the emergence of other groups who sought to investigate and give their view of the matter. The case between BMA and the city mayor ended up in court, and the mayor was ordered to continue financing BMA since it did not violate the First Amendment had it had been alleged earlier. Museum being a universal figure should have served the interests of all the people, but instead, it brought division.

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Author’s Arguments, Strengths and Problems Addressed

Dubin’s main argument is centered around the fight of the two groups while causing the suffering of another third group, Museum. In this case, the museum suffers while in a dilemma. The author made his arguments using a journalistic and revealing interview that showed the stands of the different conflicting groups. The religious groups, Catholics, opposed the Museum’s step of painting virgin Mary in a demeaning manner. To further explain this point, the author gathered more evidence from the Christians in Africa who did not like the idea of the paintings too. The author’s strengths are portrayed in the manner in which he is giving evidence of the fight between different groups who wanted to be heard. After giving all the evidence for each group’s articulation of grievances, the author tells the readers that it is difficult to tell who won Museum blowup.

In the article, there are the problems of religious-cultural conflicts. The Christian Catholics do not like the demeaning of Virgin Mary. On the other hand, there is the fight for resource equality. The city dwellers supported BMA, and thus they fought for their rights. By discussing the plight of each group, the author addressed these problems and made the readers understand each of these groups and what they fought for.

Through the article, the author enlightens the readers that modern museums are crucibles for change. They inform the readers that they live in a multicultural society where tolerance should take center stage for peace and co-existence to prevail.


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