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

Original story: So this is Christmas? Artist’s non-yule work censored from Con Ed gallery

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 [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

OK, so maybe it’s not a yule log, but it’s art.
Photo by Judith Z. Miller