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    The Art of Britney Spears

    For the first time since perhaps forever, Britney Spears is being taken seriously. All she had to do was lie pregnant, prone and naked on a bearskin rug.

    Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston, a life-size statue of a buck-naked, bearskin-splayed Spears about to welcome her firstborn, is set to be displayed April 7-23 at Brooklyn's Capla Kesting Fine Art.

    "It's really a sincere tribute to giving birth," artist Daniel Edwards said Monday. "That's really what it is."

    Spears did not pose for the sculpture. She and her well-documented 2005 pregnancy merely inspired it.

    A cover shot for the October 2005 Elle, showing a buxom and blossoming Spears, was the jumping off point for Edwards. Where others saw an about-to-pop pop tart, he, who had never followed her career, much less her tabloid-tracked personal life, saw a "beautiful pregnant woman"--an "unelected spokesperson for pro-life."

    "Whether or not it was true, it made sense to me," Edwards said. "She's given up a career to have a child. That to me was a statement."

    Edwards said he doesn't mean "pro-life" in the political sense. And he said he is not a member of the Manhattan Right to Life Committee, the anti-abortion group whose pamphlets are to be incorporated into the Spears display. (From what he's heard, he said, the group isn't fond of the statue. A message seeking comment from the organization was not returned Monday.)

    But it was what Edwards didn't say that perhaps was most intriguing of all: That it's all a joke, a goof. On Spears. On the anti-abortion movement. On the pro-choice movement.

    The punchline of The Birth of Sean Preston, apparently, is that there is no punchline.

    The gallery press release touting the sculpture's depiction of the pregnant Spears' "lactiferous breasts," "protruding naval," "water retentive hands," and "widened hips for birthing?"

    Serious.

    Perhaps it helps to know that last year Edwards created a work titled The Ted Williams Memorial Display with Death Mask from The Ben Affleck 2004 World Series Collection, which featured the decapitated head of the Boston Red Sox great, but showed no sign of the Good Will Hunting Oscar-winner. For his effort, Edwards was honored with a Bartlebooth Award from The Art Newspaper for contemporary pieces that, the publication said, are serious, despite being "presented to the wider public [in a way that] makes them seem preposterous or comic."

    Which brings us back to The Birth of Sean Preston.

    Edwards labored over Spears' labor for seven months. He pored over pictures. Per the gallery, he even studied an image of the pole-straddling Spears wax dummy at Madame Tussaud's in Las Vegas.

    "I never really studied her before, never really paid attention. But she really is a model, a living Barbie doll," the 40-year-old Connecticut artist said. "It's not easy to be that poised."

    For Edwards, it wasn't easy to decide it Spears' bellybutton should protrude, or no. "If I'd just paid attention during [my wife's] three pregnancies," he said, "this project would have been much easier."

    As a veteran of portrait sculptures, Edwards said people tend not to like seeing themselves in 3-D. "I wouldn't expect [Spears] to be any happier than any of my subjects in the past," he said.

    Edwards has not heard from Spears. Nor has Capla Kesting Fine Art.

    "If Britney Spears wants to come to the opening, I hope she brings Sean," gallery codirector David Kesting said Monday.

    Kesting, it is worth noting, was not being cheeky.

    When asked if "Mr. Federline" also would be welcome at the gallery, Kesting asked, "Who is he?"

    Kesting, it is worth further noting, was still not being cheeky.

    If the gallery and Edwards are quite serious about Spears on the bearskin, then so are the people flooding Kesting's in box with angry emails. They're upset about the exhibit's perceived pro-life/anti-abortion stance. Or they're upset about the exhibit showing Spears in a natural childbirth position when she reportedly underwent a Cesarean section.

    "We knew that it'd be a touchy subject or a hot subject," Kesting said.

    The subject matter is so hot that Kesting acknowledges it's easily garnered the most attention for an exhibit at his gallery since its October 2003 debut.

    Said Kesting: "I think the artist chose his subject matter very carefully."

    And, of course, very seriously.

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