Romancing the Miniatures
Art Professor Indicted for Illegal Medium By CAROLYN THOMPSONThe Associated PressTuesday, June 29, 2004; 6:08 PM BUFFALO, N.Y. - An art professor whose use of biological materials made him the target of a federal terrorism investigation - which sparked an outcry in the world art community - was indicted Tuesday on charges he obtained the materials illegally.Steven Kurtz, a University at Buffalo professor, was charged along with Robert Ferrell, chairman of the University of Pittsburgh's Human Genetics Department, in a four-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury seated earlier this month. Prosecutors said Ferrell used his University at Pittsburgh account with a biological supply company to order potentially harmful organisms for Kurtz, which colleagues said Kurtz intended to use in an art project. "The charges do not relate to bioterrorism," U.S. Attorney Michael Battle said. "Very simply, this is a case about fraud." Kurtz is a founding member of the Critical Art Ensemble, which has used human DNA and other biological materials to draw attention to social issues, such as genetically altered foods. As a private individual, Kurtz was not eligible to order the materials allegedly obtained for him by Ferrell, authorities said. A call to Kurtz's attorney was not immediately returned. Outraged by the investigation of Kurtz, artists and academics earlier this month held simultaneous rallies in Buffalo; Vienna, Austria; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Berkeley, Calif. A colleague of Kurtz's who was among several people subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, called the indictment "a total joke." "It sounds like they're trying to keep face because they overreacted and made fools of themselves," the colleague, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. The investigation began in May after Kurtz called 911 to report the death of his wife, Hope, in their home. Firefighters who responded noticed the biological materials and notified Buffalo police, who then contacted the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The JTTF spent two days removing materials from the home. The University at Buffalo, in a statement, said it would review the charges before considering any action, while stressing its commitment to the academic freedom of faculty members to pursue research. As for Ferrell, "He is still a faculty member at the university and a distinguished scientist," spokesman Robert Hill said. "We do hope for a swift and positive outcome." Both men face 20 years in prison if convicted.
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