A work of video art briefly depicting a figurine of Christ with ants crawling on it has been yanked from the Smithsonian's Portrait Gallery after complaints from a Catholic group and members of Congress.
The four-minute video titled Fire in My
Belly was made by the late New York City artist David Wojnarowicz. It features an 11-second segment of a small crucifix teeming with the insects. It had been on exhibit since Oct. 30 as part of a show on sexual difference in American portrait art.
The piece was labeled hate speech by Catholic League president William Donohue who also claimed that it was designed to insult Christians.
After he was alerted to the piece, Donohue began a campaign to urge Congress to cut public funding
for the Smithsonian museum complex, he told The Associated Press: This is not the first time the Smithsonian has offended us, he said. I'm going to cast my net much wider. Why should the government pay for this? ... How dare they take our money
to fund attacks on (our religion).
The call was taken up by the office of House Representative John A. Boehner.
While the amount of money involved may be small, it's symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands
of spending decisions involving Americans' hard-earned money, said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Boehner, the likely next Speaker of the House.
Smithsonian officials told the Post they removed the offending piece to make sure the show's other
pieces weren't overshadowed by the controversy.
The decision wasn't caving in, claimed museum director Martin E. Sullivan: 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.
Rep. John Boehner was unhappy that some Catholics found the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's LGBT-themed Hide/Seek exhibit offensive. Boehner
threatened increased scrutiny of the museum's funding as a roundabout way of getting the Gallery to pull works that don't jive with his constituency.
Except taxpayer dollars don't pay for the exhibitions or the works themselves, only the museum
facilities. (Which are admittedly fairly important for holding an exhibition.)
The Andy Warhol Foundation, on the other hand, does provide a great deal of private funding to the museum - over $375,000 in the past three years to be exact - and
they're not happy about seeing A Fire in My Belly disappear from the exhibition.
In a letter from President Joel Wachs sent to Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough, the Warhol Foundation spoke out saying:
Such blatant censorship is unconscionable. It is inimical to everything the Smithsonian Institution should stand for, and everything the Andy Warhol Foundation does stand for. ...we cannot stand by and watch the Smithsonian bow to
the demands of bigots who have attacked the exhibition out of ignorance, hatred and fear.
Within the Smithsonian, at least one member of the Museum's advisory panel has resigned in protest. In an email posted on the Washington
Post, commissioner James T. Bartlett wrote: I believe it is a fundamental right of museums and their curatorial staffs to make such decisions [about exhibition content], even if some art is deemed objectionable by external critics. I choose firmly and
resolutely not to be part of an institution that is and can be put ad infinitum in this position.
Anyone who missed David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly before it was removed from the National Portrait Gallery exhibit Hide/Seek on November 30 will soon be able to see it right outside the museum.
Mike Blasenstein and Michael Dax
Iacovone, who were detained on December 6 for playing the video on an iPad in the NPG lobby, have followed through on their promise to host a temporary gallery for censored work.
They've now obtained the permits they need to park a trailer outside
the Gallery's F Street NW entrance. The Museum of Censored Art will be open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (mirroring NPG's hours), until Hide/Seek closes on February 13.
The City Paper quotes Iacovone as saying, we
haven't said anything to NPG, but I suspect they're going to find out real soon.
The Museum of Modern Art announced the purchase of the controversial video exhibit featuring an image of Jesus on a crucifix covered in ants that was pulled from the Smithsonian Institute's National Portrait Gallery last month.
The New York museum
have announced their acquisition of David Wojnarowicz's original 13-minute version of A Fire in My Belly, and a 7-minute excerpt, MoMA Director Glenn Lowry said.
The work was included in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National
Portrait Gallery, sparking an outcry from some conservative members of Congress and organizations including the Catholic League, which culminated in its removal from the gallery.
The current debate surrounding the removal of the piece from the
National Portrait Gallery exhibition brought the work to our attention and provided us with an opportunity to look more closely at it and to deepen our engagement with this artist by adding it to our holdings of his work, MoMA said.
is described as a collage of images filmed primarily during the artist's travels to Mexico, it combines footage from a number of sources that refer—often in graphic detail—to death, social inequality, faith, and desire. It is now
housed in MoMA's Contemporary Galleries with other works made during the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
G. Wayne Clough, head of the Smithsonian Institution, has acknowledged that he acted too quickly before deciding Nov. 30 to remove a controversial video from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
In an interview after a long-planned
speaking engagement in downtown L.A., Clough said the decision to remove David Wojnarowicz's 1987 AIDS-protest video, A Fire in My Belly , on the same day that two top Republican congressmen had complained that the exhibition offended
Christian sensibilities, was the most painful thing I've ever done, but denied it could properly be called censorship.
Clough said threats of budgetary consequences by House Speaker John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor played
into his decision, but a primary concern was preventing a media pile-on that would hijack the exhibition by turning the discussion away from the art on display and make it an excuse for a heated and polarizing debate of tangential issues.
Clough spoke proudly of
Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture being the first major museum exhibition devoted primarily to gay and lesbian artists' sensibilities.
Mike Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone, creators of the one-month-only Museum of Censored Art, have received the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award for intellectual freedom by the American Library Association, one of the most well-known
anti-censorship organizations in the country.
The museum was responsible for showcasing the censored film, A Fire in My Belly , by gay artist David Wojnarowicz. The video was originally a part of the gay and lesbian art exhibition
Hide/Seek at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, and contains an 11-second segment that shows ants running on a crucifix.
After the film was banned by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough, Blasenstein and Iacovone set up a trailer in
front of the institution's National Portrait Gallery, where the film was shown along with other exhibits concerning the controversy about the film. The exhibits included a timeline of the Smithsonian's censorship and one that contrasted Clough's words
Almost 6,500 patrons came to visit the trailer, which was open from Jan. 13 to Feb. 13, the last day of the Hide/Seek exhibit.
The award will be given June 25 to Blasenstein and Iacovone in New Orleans at the
association's annual conference.