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.
Update: Art sponsors not pleased by censorship
15th December 2010. Based on article
See also Large crowd of Houston art lovers protest Smithsonian censorship of A Fire in My Belly
See also Canadian artist wants work pulled from U.S. exhibit marked by controversy
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.