A new book by former Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman recounts the furor over an exhibit in 1999 that turned heads, especially that of mayor Rudi Giuliani, who threatened to defund the exhibit hall out of existence.

Lehman's tell-all, "Sensation: The Madonna, The Mayor, The Media, and the First Amendment" – claims surprise at the furor. Yet, that is the bigger surprise. By the museum's own warning label, he should have expected the exhibit to cause a stir.

Warning label

"The contents of this exhibit may cause shock, vomiting, confusion, panic, euphoria, and anxiety.

If you suffer from high blood pressure, a nervous disorder, or palpitations, you should consult your doctor before viewing this exhibit."

And if the warning label wasn't enough, looking at even one exhibit example, say, "The Holy Virgin Mary" by Chris Ofili would be a tip-off. I'll describe it quickly to keep the bile down: "The Madonna wears a cape partly open to expose a breast made of elephant dung (from the London Zoo). She's surrounded by flying cherubs made from photos of female buttocks scissored out of porn magazines." Ofili told the New York Post explaining the animal waste: "Elephant dung in itself is quite a beautiful object."

When this exhibit opened in London's Royal Academy two years earlier, three members of the Academy resigned in protest.

And demonstrations by Londoners included defacings with eggs and paint. And the culture wars began.

In plain sight

The fact that the London show attracted 300,000 in its three-month run surely played a part in Lehman's decision to mount this show, especially given reported lagging attendance at the museum. He admitted his fixation on the turnout in his memoir - having "seen and marveled at the crowds line up to see 'Sensation' as they spilled onto Piccadilly."

It's wholly unexpected, then, that the Brooklyn Museum website would now contend that Lehman didn't expect the hullabaloo that Sensations caused given a British tabloid headline "B'klyn gallery of horrors – Gruesome museum show"?

The horrors being Damien Hirst's "A Thousand Years" composed of a decaying cow's head accompanied by live flies and maggots come to mind.

Yet, according to the museum website, Lehman and his colleagues "were not prepared for what was to happen: "No one could have anticipated that 'Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection' would become the biggest art story in the history of art history." "No one"?

Sounds like dialogue from the movie "Casablanca" when police captain Renault fakes outrage, "I'm shocked to find out that gambling is going on," as he pockets his winnings.

You're kidding, right?

It's also hard to believe the museum contending that it took Lehman more than two decades to understand the controversy. Really? Bomb threats and threats of a shut-down from Giuliani didn't clue him in?

Certainly, the "Sensations" made a repelling spectacle of itself. But the first amendment barred the government from using the funding to dictate the contents of an art show. Giuliani, who called himself the "law and order" mayor, should have known that.

His over-reaction was unexpected at the time. But, as the world has come to know Giuliani in the Trump era, histrionics are in his DNA.