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Update! Brooklyn Paper saves ‘non-Christmas’ artwork at Downtown gallery!

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Con Edison has decided not to pull the plug on a holiday art show featuring “pagan”-themed pieces by a Park Slope artist, changing its corporate mind after a BrooklynPaper.com article highlighted the censorship.

Judith Z. Miller — who explores spiritual themes by carving animals into tree trunks — was asked to remove her art from the lobby of the Con Ed building on Flatbush Avenue after workers complained that it lacks holiday spirit.

“Employees demand a festive lobby … during the Christmas holidays,” curator Leon Kalas e-mailed Miller last week, demanding she pack up her wooden doves and dragons.

Miller — who is Jewish by birth and Pagan by approach — was poised to remove the artwork on Wednesday, but got a last-minute reprieve from the energy giant.

“Some employees felt the work didn’t capture the holiday spirit, but we are leaving it up through the end of the month as originally planned,” the company said in an unsigned statement issued to BrooklynPaper.com on Tuesday.

Miller praised the paper, as well as her own pushiness, for getting Con Ed to see the light and avoid what she called the Santa-and-sleigh bells aesthetics of a suburban strip mall.

“Once Con Ed realized that the media was aware of their wrongful treatment of me, they suddenly changed their tune,” she said. “Prior to this, they figured, I guess, that I would go away quietly while they imposed ‘default Christiani­ty.’

“But I was taught by my mother at an early age to speak up when I saw anyone mistreated,” Miller continued. “Also, I have a lifelong commitment to artistic freedom. The price we pay for silence is oppression.”

She also demanded a personal apology from Con Ed.

Before the “Miracle on 34th Street” ending, Miller was furious.

“They’re making an assumption that Christmas is for everybody,” Miller said earlier this week. “It’s so offensive.”

She had agreed months ago to exhibit her work at the building near Fulton Street — where local artists showcase monthly exhibits free of rent — and hoped that the exposure would help her sell some of her art. She chose the month of December because it’s gift-giving season, then signed a contract stipulating only that the pieces would not be “pornographic or religious” — but made no other promises in terms of content.

On Dec. 1, she moved her carvings into the lobby — but discovered that a large fake Christmas tree had taken up half the wall space.

She got an e-mail from Kalas the same day demanding she take it down — pronto. “Your exhibit has been cancelled,” he wrote. “[Con Edison] has the right to ask for a festive look during the holidays.”

He noted her art must gone by Dec. 7 — or Con Edison would make him toss it.

Kalas, himself an artist who once claimed to be censored back in 2007, told us that the exhibit was slated to be removed because it’s a “safety hazard” because the wooden items “poke out” of the wall and “could injure employees.”

He later added that Miller made a fuss about the proposed censorship for the purposes of self-promotion.

“She is a sick, disturbed woman,” he said. “I gave her the space out of the goodness of my heart.”

But Miller didn’t think of it as gift — “Holiday season” or otherwise.

“It just feels wrong,” she said, adding that Brooklyn is full of folks who don’t sing songs about Rudolph or hang socks full of chocolate. “Why does everything always have to be about Christmas?”

— with Gersh Kuntzman

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at noneill@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

Updated 2:23 pm, December 6, 2011: Adds comments from Miller.
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Reader Feedback

Dave from PS says:
Funny that they have a clause stipulating the art can't be “pornographic or religious” yet they demand a festive Christmas look. Glad Con Ed changed her tune. Bet the artist doesn't get invited back though, and, one less Christmas card for her!
Dec. 6, 2011, 2:55 pm
Gella from Midwood says:
Given that Kalas is changing his story back and forth from "safety hazard" to a "festive" factor, I see little reason for sympathy for him and his position. Further, his ugly name-calling, slinging the words "sick disturbed woman" about Ms. Miller adds an extra layer of offense.
Dec. 6, 2011, 8:18 pm
Joelle from Canada says:
I'd just like to see a non religious approach to this so-called holiday season. As an agnostic-atheist or as I call myself, a rationalist, I care little to nothing about all this spiritual mumbo-jumbo.

I do not side with the artist as far as spirituality is concerned but I find it most appalling of Con Ed to try and silence any artistic voice.

Joelle Circe
Dec. 6, 2011, 8:33 pm
anabdul from cobble hill says:
What's the Z. stand for, Zero? Ms. Miller displays a talent for oppression. Con Edison is an employer, not a gallery. The employees deserve peace, quiet and respect during the holidays. Whether you like Christmas or not.
Dec. 7, 2011, 7:38 am
Naomi from Midwood, Brooklyn says:
I am surprised to hear of these complaints. I am sure they are actually only from a small handful of the total staff who are blind to the beauty and creativity inherent in these pieces. The Con Edison employees should actually feel honored and privileged to be graced with the presence of Ms. Miller’s unique wooden art forms. Each piece is delicately carved and decorated by hand with great care by Ms. Miller. For her, the process of molding each piece into the form of an animal is creative venture that requires using a combination of resourcefulness, intuition and precise technical skill. It is akin to birthing new life into the world. It takes tremendous talent to envision the unique being that a simple piece of wood can be transformed into through proper care and attention. Ms. Miller is extraordinarily gifted to be able to have this kind of vision of not only what an object of nature currently is but what it has the potential to become. In truth, Ms. Miller’s art is a perfect metaphor for what the holiday of Christmas is really about – bringing more beauty into the world through our own unique expression of the love in our hearts.
Dec. 8, 2011, 12:24 am
Robert from Cobble Hill says:
Isn't this the same paper that praised the Brooklyn Museum's hateful depiction of Jesus? At least the Smithsonian has the decency to ban that. It seems Christians are fair game in the public arena
Dec. 10, 2011, 11:44 pm
Troll from Forestville says:
Wait, aren't holiday trees pagan?! I'm so confused. ;)
Dec. 11, 2011, 12:35 am
Lynn from Tribeca says:
Mr. Kalas entered into an agreement with artist Judith Miller, regarding the exhibit of her work. Miller honored the agreement and Kalas did not. That's unprofessional of him. And for him to launch a personal attack of Miller and her work is even more troubling. I wonder what it is like to work in the environment in which Mr. Kalas is a person with responsibility over others, and clearly feels entitled to resort to personal attacks when he regrets an agreement he made. Nice leadership skills, Mr. Kalas. Great example you're setting.
Dec. 11, 2011, 11:28 am
Monica from Dumbo says:
We are living in an age of profound censorship and religious oppression, however well-wrapped under the guise of freedom, and the piddling excuses of a Con Ed Stepford Manager. This is yet another example. For every person who does not throw up the red flag, as Ms. Miller thankfully did, there are dozens more who are being victimized by the turning tide in this country. If you aren't scared, then you aren't paying attention. Think it's just a little lobby dispute and it doesn't mean anything, think again. They're coming to your house next.
Dec. 12, 2011, 7:44 am

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