Smithsonian caves to conservative pressure over gay exhibit
In a statement released Tuesday, the director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery announced that the National Portrait Gallery will remove a four-minute video feature that contains an image of Jesus on a crucifix covered in ants.
The action is seen as the Smithsonian caving to conservative pressure groups over a video work entitled "A Fire in My Belly" by gay artist David Wojnarowicz that's included in the gay-centric exhibit "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture."
According to the Washington Post, "The four-minute video, created by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, had been on exhibit since Oct. 30 as part of a show on sexual difference in American portraiture."
Other works criticized
The work intends to reflect the "violent, disturbing and hallucinatory" aspects of the AIDS epidemic.
The Post report continued" "The piece was called "hate speech" by Catholic League president William Donohue and a misuse of taxpayer money by a spokesman for Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumptive incoming House speaker."
The museum’s director Martin E. Sullivan dismissed charges that the Smithsonian was caving into right-wing pressure. "The decision wasn’t caving in," he said. "We don’t want to shy away from anything that is controversial, but we want to focus on the museum’s and this show’s strengths."
"I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious," his statement read. "In fact, the artists’s intention was to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim. It was not the museum’s intention to offend. We are removing the video today. The museum’s statement at the exhibition’s entrance, ’This exhibition contains mature themes,’ will remain in place."
The controversial section of Wojnarowicz’s work is an 11-second sequence that shows a small crucifix covered with ants.
Wojnarowicz was a New York’s East Village artist during the 1980s. He died of AIDS in 1992.
While the focus of criticism has been Wojnarowicz’s work, conservative critics have found other works in the exhibit offensive, including an image of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts.
Investigation called for
Outraged Republican leaders are calling for a Congressional investigation of the museum’s funding.
"Absolutely, we should look at their funds," Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told Fox News.
An image with Jesus covered in ants from the video "A Fire in My Belly," part of the ’Hide/Seek’ exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
The Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery is under fire for hosting an exhibit titled ’Hide/Seek,’ which is filled with homoerotic art such as an image of two naked men embracing, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts and other controversial installments like a video of Jesus on a crucifix covered in ants.
"Hide/Seek" - the largest and most expensive exhibit in the Portrait Gallery’s history - marks a change in the usually staid institution’s programming. The exhibition, the Post explained "was funded by the largest number of individual donors for a Portrait Gallery show. The show, which cost $750,000, was also underwritten by foundations that support gay and lesbian issues."
The exhibit features works by such other artists as Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, George Bellows, Walker Evans, Marcel Duchamp, Berenice Abbott, Grant Wood, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, David Hockney, Agnes Martin, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres -- and even Andrew Wyeth.
"If they’ve got money to squander like this - of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains, naked brothers kissing - then I think we should look at their budget."
Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., called it an "outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.
"When a museum receives taxpayer money, the taxpayers have a right to expect that the museum will uphold common standards of decency. The museum should pull the exhibit and be prepared for serious questions come budget time," Cantor said through a spokesman.
Washington Post condemns action
The Fox report also said that "the Smithsonian declined numerous opportunities to comment on the controversy. Spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas told the New York Post that it does not comment "on people’s opinions on art." She also told the newspaper that while the museum receives funding from Congress, the exhibits are funded through private donations.
In response to the National Portrait Gallery’s decision, Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik wrote in today’s edition:
"Until Tuesday afternoon, museum staff, under Director Martin E. Sullivan, believed that "Fire" was interesting art that made important points. And now it looks as though they’re somehow saying that they were wrong about that, and that it really was unfit to be seen or shown, after all.
"If every piece of art that offended some person or some group was removed from a museum, our museums might start looking empty - or would contain nothing more than pabulum. Goya’s great nudes? Gone. The Inquisition called them porn.
"Norman Rockwell would get the boot, too, if I believed in pulling everything that I’m offended by: I can’t stand the view of America that he presents, which I feel insults a huge number of us non-mainstream folks. But I didn’t call for the Smithsonian American Art Museum to pull the Rockwell show that runs through Jan. 2, just down the hall from "Hide/Seek." Rockwell and his admirers got to have their say, and his detractors, including me, got to rant about how much they hated his art. Censorship would have prevented that discussion, and that’s why we don’t allow it."
Follow this link to read Gopnik’s commentary.
To learn more about "Hide/Seek" visit the exhibit’s website.
Watch "Fire in My Belly" by David Wojnarowicz: