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December 1, 2010 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Bowing to pressure from right-wing critics, the National Portrait Gallery has decided to remove David Wojnarowicz's film "A Fire in My Belly" from its groundbreaking exhibit "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture".

The Catholic League has described the four minute clip as "designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians," and labeled it "hate speech" (among other pronouncements) Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor threatened to subject the Gallery's funding to "tough scrutiny" if the piece was not pulled.

"Hide/Seek" was previously discussed here.
posted by ryanshepard (108 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
BOOOOOO
posted by The Whelk at 8:43 AM on December 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


For pete's sake, do they really have nothing better to do?

I guess I need to get off my butt and go see this exhibit before they dismantle the rest of it...
posted by alaijmw at 8:46 AM on December 1, 2010


I'm sure that will placate them! They're very reasonable people!
posted by downing street memo at 8:46 AM on December 1, 2010 [42 favorites]


Well, I can't say I cared for the video, seemed rather meandering and largely pointless to me. More like a high school project from some kid who wanted to shock everyone than anything really worthwhile as art. Crucifix being jerked with, check. Supposedly "freaky" voice doing dialog, check. Male nudity, check. I thought that sort of juvenile nonsense stopped being shocking after Marilyn Manson hit the bigtime.

That said, I feel a burning hatred towards the Catholic League and Boehner for forcing its removal. The curators at the gallery felt that it had merit, and presumably they know artistic merit better than I do, that's their choice and that they have been intimidated into removing it is horribly wrong.

Regardless of whether or not I personally like the piece, it was there for a reason, and it is not the place of anyone to order the Gallery to remove pieces, and it certainly isn't right for the incoming government to act as bully boys for the evil Catholic League.
posted by sotonohito at 8:49 AM on December 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Great exhibit. Very much worth checking out if you're in the DC area, even without this piece in it...

Also, I didn't realize that Diamanda Galas was also involved making that film... some of her other works are....interesting. She's also notable for having been an outspoken HIV/AIDS activist from pretty early on.
posted by schmod at 8:52 AM on December 1, 2010


The exhibit itself was not paid for with public funds, but by grants and donations from various arts foundations. Only the facilities are paid for by federal taxes. Effectively this constituted a demand that a public institution censor private free speech.

(I for one am outraged that my taxes paid for offensive and violent content in the National Pentagon Gallery's art exhibit "War in Iraq.")
posted by brownpau at 8:53 AM on December 1, 2010 [33 favorites]


Well, color me surprised.
posted by Ratio at 8:56 AM on December 1, 2010


Ugh, I can't believe they caved so fast...but I suppose this is the "new tone in Washington" now.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:58 AM on December 1, 2010


Isn't the Catholic League just a fat guy from Boston with a fax machine?
posted by dortmunder at 9:00 AM on December 1, 2010 [17 favorites]


sotonohito, the film's from 1987, a good decade before Marilyn Manson.
posted by droob at 9:00 AM on December 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


To make a substantive contribution, I'm always mystified at what the culture warriors choose to demonize. I live in DC and visit the NGA, Portrait Gallery, etc pretty regularly. The Ginsburg photography exhibit had two or three pictures of a nude Allen Ginsburg. A nude communist Buddhist poet. But nary a peep from the usual suspects.
posted by downing street memo at 9:00 AM on December 1, 2010


The Right sees this as a two-fer: Not only do they get to re-enact the Culture Wars of the 1990s, but they also can tie this in to "being good fiscal stewards" (like the recent political kabuki of the proposed ban on earmarks).

Meanwhile, the the National Portrait Gallery's director is back-pedalling frantically: "I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious. In fact, the artist’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."
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:01 AM on December 1, 2010


they get to re-enact the Culture Wars of the 1990s

I'm sorry, you're under the impression that the Culture Wars were restricted to the 1990's?

Two words: Gay. Agenda.
posted by dry white toast at 9:05 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank God for the 0th Amendment: Congress shall make sure nobody is ever blasphemes against God or the Military, not necessarily in that order.
posted by DU at 9:06 AM on December 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


The curators at the gallery felt that it had merit, and presumably they know artistic merit better than I do ...

Not sure I would presume that.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 9:06 AM on December 1, 2010


Christ, what an anthill.
posted by orme at 9:06 AM on December 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Though I can't judge it (and won't without actually seeing it), I have a feeling I'd agree with what sotonohito said.

There's nothing like pissing off the Catholic League to make me argue passionately about the artistic importance for art I would have previously rolled my eyes at or dismissed as trite.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:11 AM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Good grief...I've seen this movie before. For right-wing politicians, condemning modern art that offends their precious sensibilities (and threatening to de-fund the institutions exhibiting it) is like shooting low-hanging fruit in a barrel.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:14 AM on December 1, 2010


Meanwhile, the National Portrait Gallery's director is back-pedaling frantically.

Martin Sullivan's response to this has been cowardly - the pressure needs to be kept on him and the rest of the Gallery's leadership to do the right thing here (postings RE: this are starting to pile up on the Gallery's Facebook wall.)

... they get to re-enact the Culture Wars of the 1990s ...

The first thing that came to mind when I read the Post article was that someone needs to project the film on the NPG's big white facade as was done at the Corcoran with Robert Mapplethorpe's in 1989 when his retrospective was almost canceled under similar circumstances.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:14 AM on December 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


What organizations AREN'T rolling over for right wing "critics" these days?

Real news would be about a public institution defending liberal values with a rebuttal argument. Or not even "liberal" values, any value at all other than "kill the beast".

Actually that would be filed under "fiction" in the Library of Congress. And it would be removed at the demands of Boehner and the firemen.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:18 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The curators at the gallery felt that it had merit, and presumably they know artistic merit better than I do

That is a way, way mistaken assumption. It's random, and "merit" has nothing to do with it. In fact, the whole curatorial process in modern art has developed to avoid declaring anything "meritorious" or not. It's a curious process of non-judgemental judgementalism, where only the earnest is excluded.
posted by Faze at 9:19 AM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


What interests me isn't just the reactionary attacks on art, which the Catholic League has been doing since its inception (my father and his friends used to check their "banned movies" in order to find out what was good at the theaters), but the way that they've adopted the rhetoric of political correctness: It's not just an "offensive" video, but rather "hate speech." It's especially interesting to compare their usage of "hate speech" with the recent designation by the SPLC of the Family Research Council as a "hate group."

It's interesting, especially since "political correctness" is very much a bugaboo of the Right, where their "rights" are always constrained in the interest of some vague PC, when that generally means that their "rights" to discriminate against someone are curtailed by law. In that context, using the same rhetoric seems entirely perverse.

It makes more sense, and this is a little regrettable, because it involves assigning motives to others in contravention of their stated positions, it makes more sense if you realize (and this isn't any kind of shocker here) that it really does come down to an irrational hatred of gays (in this case). It's not just a fear of them, or a suspicion of them, but rather a deep, personal discomfort that has to be in existence in order to construe ten seconds of ants on a crucifix as "hate speech," and an amazing, irrational lack of self-awareness to make that claim in public.

It's a shame that the most public faces of Catholicism, once a huge bastion of social justice voters and progressives, are now child molesters and outright bigots. Those strains have always been there, but the size of the Catholic population in America makes it extremely unfortunate that those are the only ways that people who are not Catholic really experience the institution that is the church.

It's also a shame that institutions like the National Portrait Gallery have taken the bloviations of these bigots to represent the legitimate concerns of Catholics, and caved to them. These are bigots and bullies, and you only lose by capitulating.
posted by klangklangston at 9:20 AM on December 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


It appears to me that this has the potential to start snowballing very quickly. Calls to defund NPR, the National Portrait Gallery... what's next?

In my nightmares, cultural funding is cut and loaded with so many strings that all we have left of places like the Smithsonian are a watered down version of the American History museum and the Air and Space Museum (which, granted, I love, but still). Public culture funding is important because it allows people access to viewpoints that might not otherwise be available to them. I feel that the biggest benefit to promoting culture is that a broadened horizon pushes people away from stereotype and profiling, which in turn promotes understanding and reduces conflict.

It makes me very sad to see people that want to close themselves off from anything they find foreign or objectionable.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:22 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Blake Gopnik, Washington Post:
As part of "Hide/Seek," the gallery was showing a four-minute excerpt from a 1987 piece titled "A Fire in My Belly," made in honor of Peter Hujar, an artist-colleague and lover of Wojnarowicz who had died of AIDS complications in 1987. And for 11 seconds of that meandering, stream-of-consciousness work (the full version is 30 minutes long) a crucifix appears onscreen with ants crawling on it. It seems such an inconsequential part of the total video that neither I nor anyone I've spoken to who saw the work remembered it at all.

But that is the portion of the video that the Catholic League has decried as "designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians," and described as "hate speech" - despite the artist's own hopes that the passage would speak to the suffering of his dead friend. The irony is that Wojnarowicz's reading of his piece puts it smack in the middle of the great tradition of using images of Christ to speak about the suffering of all mankind. There is a long, respectable history of showing hideously grisly images of Jesus - 17th-century sculptures in the National Gallery's recent show of Spanish sacred art could not have been more gory or distressing - and Wojnarowicz's video is nothing more than a relatively tepid reworking of that imagery, in modern terms.

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.
posted by ericb at 9:22 AM on December 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Cowards.
posted by Artw at 9:23 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


GOP's gains ready to propel social issues back into spotlight.
posted by ericb at 9:24 AM on December 1, 2010


Yep, exactly, the "Catholic League" is just one guy in his basement, pretty much.

But he's in New York, not Boston! New York!
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:25 AM on December 1, 2010


Is anyone else getting U2's "One" as a top suggested video? I know it has naked buffalo and all, but huh?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:35 AM on December 1, 2010


For a moment, I thought you meant the National Portrait Gallery in the UK. Now that would have been a shocker.
posted by rhymer at 9:36 AM on December 1, 2010


I can almost hear Rush Limbaugh belching out "LIBRULS!"
posted by Theta States at 9:39 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's random, and "merit" has nothing to do with it. In fact, the whole curatorial process in modern art has developed to avoid declaring anything "meritorious" or not. It's a curious process of non-judgemental judgementalism, where only the earnest is excluded.

Gosh, it would be delicious if you had a clue what you were talking about.

Or, put more simply: cite?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:40 AM on December 1, 2010


In America no one group - and certainly no single religion - gets to declare what the rest of us should see and hear and think about. Aren't those kinds of declarations just what extremist imams get up to, in countries with less freedom?

The Imams of the GOP.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:41 AM on December 1, 2010


but the way that they've adopted the rhetoric of political correctness: It's not just an "offensive" video, but rather "hate speech."

Couldn't have seen that coming. Now we just wait for anti-war protesters to be classified as "hate criminals" because they have hate the military. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you create a tool for censorship and restriction of freedom, people are going to use it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:42 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, I can't say I cared for the video, seemed rather meandering and largely pointless to me. More like a high school project from some kid who wanted to shock everyone than anything really worthwhile as art. Crucifix being jerked with, check. Supposedly "freaky" voice doing dialog, check. Male nudity, check. I thought that sort of juvenile nonsense stopped being shocking after Marilyn Manson hit the bigtime.

In light of the description of the piece posted by ericb, I think this reaction is hilarious. Just goes to show you that context is everything; for example, Marilyn Manson would only have been 18 when this was made.
posted by hermitosis at 9:42 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you create a tool for censorship and restriction of freedom, people are going to use it.

And, if you create a tool for building a house, some people are going to bludgeon each other to death with it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:43 AM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


What interests me isn't just the reactionary attacks on art, which the Catholic League has been doing since its inception (my father and his friends used to check their "banned movies" in order to find out what was good at the theaters), but the way that they've adopted the rhetoric of political correctness: It's not just an "offensive" video, but rather "hate speech."

This sort of move strikes me as a variation on the "if you remove my right to discriminate unfairly, then you're discriminating unfairly against me -- hence you can't remove that right" circular logic that pretty much underlies all of conservative religion's "arguments" against legislation for equality of just about any kind (and especially with regard to LGBT rights).
posted by treepour at 9:46 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is anyone else getting U2's "One" as a top suggested video? I know it has naked buffalo and all, but huh?

The U2 video is based on/inspired by a photo by David Wojnarowicz.
posted by Joey Bagels at 9:48 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


But that is the portion of the video that the Catholic League has decried as "designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians," and described as "hate speech"

Dear Catholic League, please 1) go read a book about the gruesome fates of many of your cherished saints, often at the hands of despotic governments persecuting them for nothing more than their particular expressions of speech, and then 2) man the fuck up. Maybe when a wicked wicked artist grabs your crucifix and puts ants on it you can escalate things to, like the "hey man, not cool" level.

As a Christian, looking for problems to hassle the government about, the fact that nearly one in four children in America are facing an insecure food supply as a regular part of their lives will cover me on the outrage front for the foreseeable future. To hell with these butt puzzles, they aren't worth the effort of hate speech.
posted by nanojath at 9:54 AM on December 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


What interests me isn't just the reactionary attacks on art, which the Catholic League has been doing since its inception (my father and his friends used to check their "banned movies" in order to find out what was good at the theaters)

You've confused the Catholic League and the League of Decency.
posted by Jahaza at 9:59 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, even I have the name wrong... Legion of Decency.
posted by Jahaza at 10:00 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yep, Jahaza makes a good point--the "Catholic League" is one guy and a part-time minion or two. It has nothing to do with the actual Roman Catholic Church except in Mr. Donohue's head.

The amount of attention the media gives to this lone crackpot is ridiculous. I should start the Episcopal League in my own basement! MORE TEA AND COOKIES FOR EVERYONE! IS JESUS DIVINE, OR SIMPLY STUNNING? ::waits for MSNBC's call::
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:03 AM on December 1, 2010 [14 favorites]


Nobody (except for Donohoe, possibly) gives a damn about the video. They only care about whatever votes they've just scored by putting "anti-christian" and "taxpayer dollars" in the same sentence. And if the NPG stands on principle, that number goes exponentially higher. We saw it in New York with the ridiculous "Sensation" exhibit "scandal" in 1999. The Brooklyn Museum stood on principle there (as they damn well should have) and lost their funding while support for whatever Giuliani wanted went through the roof.

So what is the NPG supposed to do here? The smaller, principled fight is only there to bait them into the bigger, stupid fight they're not possibly prepared to win. What should they do?
posted by Navelgazer at 10:03 AM on December 1, 2010


they get to re-enact the Culture Wars of the 1990s

The culture wars used to be a surefire way to unify the party. Now that there is actually some (small) level of debate among Republicans about several issues -- and no war to unify them -- they desperately need to find a common theme. DADT proves the point: Part of the party is leaning just a little bit towards libertarianism, where what people do with their own genitals is their business. That means "the base" is getting lonelier.

I expect the Republican leadership to make a number of high-profile "WFT"-type pronouncements (beyond the usual) in the next 2 years in hopes that something will stick and become a good bumper-sticker in time for 2012.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:04 AM on December 1, 2010


The Blake Gopnik piece in the Washington Post has it right, with this bit:

Of course, it's pretty clear that this has almost nothing to do with religion. Eleven seconds of an ant-covered crucifix? Come on.

This fuss is about the larger topic of the show: Gay love, and images of it. The headline that ran over coverage of the matter on the right-wing Web site CNSnews.com mentioned the crucifix - but as only one item in a list of the exhibition's "shockers" that included "naked brothers kissing, genitalia and Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts." (Through a bra, one might note, in an image that's less shocking than many moves by Lady Gaga.) The same site decries "a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show's catalog as 'homoerotic'. "

The attack is on gayness, and images of it, more than on sacrilege - even though, last I checked, many states are sanctioning gay love in marriage, and none continue to ban homosexuality.


Also, as with the old "banned" lists the Catholic Church used to put out (mentioned above), this is having the ironic result of more people viewing the video than otherwise would have! It's linked at the Post, here, YouTube, getting passed around Facebook and blogs... That turd Donohue may have just given Wojnarowicz's work the biggest boost in almost 20 years.
posted by dnash at 10:12 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The smaller, principled fight is only there to bait them into the bigger, stupid fight they're not possibly prepared to win. What should they do?

Start preparing to win?

In all seriousness - bowing here is basically conceding that the Gallery cannot or will not fulfill its stated mission of "[telling] the history of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture."

Not *some* of those individuals, or just the individuals that reactionary bigots find acceptable - all of them.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:13 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The first thing that came to mind when I read the Post article was that someone needs to project the film on the NPG's big white facade as was done at the Corcoran with Robert Mapplethorpe's in 1989 when his retrospective was almost canceled under similar circumstances.

So, um. Who here has a pickup truck, a really big projector, and a generator?

I'll bring coffee.
posted by schmod at 10:16 AM on December 1, 2010


Or, put more simply: cite?

Forget it, Jake, it's Fazetown.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


"Yep, Jahaza makes a good point--the "Catholic League" is one guy and a part-time minion or two. It has nothing to do with the actual Roman Catholic Church except in Mr. Donohue's head."

That's actually not my point. While Donohue's organization isn't part of the Archdiocese of New York, it does under Canon 216 have to have their permission to use the title "Catholic".

Furthermore, the Archbishop of New York has recently cited Donohue's writings in a posting on his blog.

I think Donohue frequently makes legitimate points and frequently makes illegitimate points. I haven't looked deeply enough into this one to know for sure how to categorize this one, but I'm leaning towards thinking that he's making a mountain out of an anthill.
posted by Jahaza at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2010


ericb, thanks. I wasn't aware it was that old. I assumed that it was a recent work, teach me not to read all the links.

Still can't say I see much artistic value, though to be sure I haven't seen the full 30 minute version only the 4 minute version on youtube, but rambling stream of consciousness stuff was never to my taste so I can't bitch about that. And my taste isn't important to anyone but me anyway.

As for Donahue, I've never understood why he gets the attention he does until now. He isn't important in the slightest, but by pretending that he is it allows Republican sleaze to stir up the faux outrage machine.
posted by sotonohito at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2010


This needs the 'StreisandEffect' tag on it.
posted by schmod at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2010


Jahaza, if Donohue has ever made a legitimate point, please link to it. I'd be interested to see what he looks like when he isn't a foaming at the mouth nutbag.
posted by sotonohito at 10:20 AM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


> The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I'm sure they had only the best intentions when they originated the notion of "hate speech."


> If you create a tool for censorship and restriction of freedom, people are going to use it.

Department of Unintended Consequences That Nobody Could Possibly Have Foreseen.
posted by jfuller at 10:26 AM on December 1, 2010


I think Donohue frequently makes legitimate points and frequently makes illegitimate points.

I have never seen him make a legitimate point, but even the stopped clock is right twice a day. And I am appalled that anyone in the Catholic hierarchy takes him seriously!

There is only one appropriate response to a work of art one finds morally reprehensible--don't go to see it. If you like, write a review of it explaining why you find it morally reprehensible. The part where one lobbies to get it removed is the part that goes off the rails.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:27 AM on December 1, 2010


alaijmw: "For pete's sake, do they really have nothing better to do? "

Not until the Bush tax cuts get renewed, they don't.
According to a letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this morning, Republicans will block all debate on all legislation until the tax cut impasse is bridged and the federal government has been fully funded -- even if it means days tick by and the Senate misses its opportunity to pass DADT, an extension of unemployment insurance and other Dem items.

"[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers," the letter reads. "With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate's attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike."

It was penned by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and signed by all 42 Republicans.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:27 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wall of No now twice as No-y!
posted by Artw at 10:29 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


These days, I'm only surprised that Tea Partiers somewhere didn't elect Colleen Thomas in November. She makes just as much sense as Cantor, Boehner, Beck, et al.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:50 AM on December 1, 2010


It's random, and "merit" has nothing to do with it. In fact, the whole curatorial process in modern art has developed to avoid declaring anything "meritorious" or not. It's a curious process of non-judgemental judgementalism, where only the earnest is excluded.

Gosh, it would be delicious if you had a clue what you were talking about.

Or, put more simply: cite?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:40 AM on December 1 [+] [!]


Faze's comment is an apt description of what I observed in the better part of a decade working directly with curators at a major modern art museum.
posted by werkzeuger at 10:57 AM on December 1, 2010


It's the opposite of what I have seen at two major modern art galleries.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:02 AM on December 1, 2010


I'm really sorry for the state of modern art where you guys live because here in the Midwest it sounds nothing like what people keep describing.

Keeping with that theme, my earlier joke about siding with something that would make me roll my eyes just because the Catholic League was against it was based on my ignorance and misunderstanding of the piece being described -- more accurately, the time period from which it comes and its significance (which, if it were done today, I'd still argue I'd think it trite) I apologize for being glib to make a cheap joke and not, you know, reading shit.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:08 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


"[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item..."

I went to get just close enough to McConnell to look him in the eye and puke on his shoes.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:23 AM on December 1, 2010


*want.*
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:23 AM on December 1, 2010


> It's the opposite of what I have seen at two major modern art galleries.

Government-run or private?
posted by jfuller at 11:44 AM on December 1, 2010


Bowing to pressure from right-wing critics...

Why does it seem like I've been seeing this statement preceding things for most of my adult life. I'm kind of hating that more and more.
posted by quin at 11:46 AM on December 1, 2010


> sotonohito, the film's from 1987, a good decade before Marilyn Manson.

Also, Marilyn has some talent. The MM cover of "This is Halloween" cuts the original, and the original was first rate.
posted by jfuller at 11:48 AM on December 1, 2010


Private, but Faze wasn't making that distinction.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:56 AM on December 1, 2010


I like how the WaPo article said the Christ imagery was an inconsequential and even forgettable part of the film. Of the four minutes at least one was just Christ imagery.

Not that it matters.

When the right bothers to care about art it seems it often involves Christianity: Piss Christ, Ofili's Virgin Mary, Bacon's popes, this. The middle and left seem content to let museums do what museums do. The right, however, is the supreme moral authority in the land. This isn't so much blasphemous because of Jesus and ants. It is blasphemous because it challenges that moral authority.

That is why in America there is still nothing more subversive than vomiting on St.Eustace.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:58 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


For those living in the DC area, there will be a protest tomorrow at Transformer Art Gallery. Consisting of screenings and a march, the protest will begin at the gallery (14th & P NW) and make its way to the NPG.

More details.
posted by MichaelJoelHall at 12:12 PM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


That is why in America there is still nothing more subversive than vomiting on St.Eustace.

burning an American flag is usually my go to.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:13 PM on December 1, 2010


The curators at the gallery felt that it had merit, and presumably they know artistic merit better than I do

That is a way, way mistaken assumption. It's random, and "merit" has nothing to do with it. In fact, the whole curatorial process in modern art has developed to avoid declaring anything "meritorious" or not. It's a curious process of non-judgemental judgementalism, where only the earnest is excluded.


That's not at all what I experienced working in major art institutions, including a 5 year stint in curatorial departments and two years working on a major traveling exhibition. It could hardly be further from random. Planning for major exhibitions begins years in advance and each piece must "earn" it's way into the exhibition. I would say that there are sometimes substitutions, if a loan for a desired object falls through, for example. And some works may be chose for how well they fit in with the theme or message of an exhibition or to show an artist's progression, rather than because it is considered the the ne plus ultra example of that particular genre or artists' work. You may not like the art; you may not agree with the curatorial decisions that were made; you may even lament the fact that art history programs no longer teach connoisseurship, but to make some overly broad generalization that was so far from what I've experienced in the art world and then not back it up? I couldn't let that stand unchallenged.

So faze, where have you personally witnessed curatorial methodology that was totally random and without any process (again whether or not you agree with the process is another thing entirely) to determine what is included and what isn't? I honestly would like to know.
posted by kaybdc at 12:18 PM on December 1, 2010


So, um. Who here has a pickup truck, a really big projector, and a generator?

I don't know if that's the direction this is heading in, but I sure hope so:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=174904725862683
posted by ryanshepard at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2010


Donohue just held a chat on washingtonpost.com (not sure if there's a login required to view it) - he starts out throwing some class warfare grenades and then settles into repeating the phrase "vile video" for the duration. The guy sounds like a shrill clown.
Washington, D.C.: Will the committees consider withholding funding?

William Donohue: I hope they will reconsider funding. After all, why should the working class pay for the leisure, e.g., going to museums, of the upper class? We don't subsidize professional wrestling, yet the working class has to pay for the leisure of the rick. Not only that, because the elites don't smoke, they bar the working class from smoking in arenas. This is class discrimination and should be opposed by those committed to social justice.
posted by ChuqD at 12:42 PM on December 1, 2010


Oh, FFS. The reason I love museums is because my family took me to the Smithsonian all the time when I was a kid because we were too poor to go to Hersheypark or whatever.

I'm hoping to make at least some of the protest tomorrow. Although I do somewhat sympathize with NPG...it really is a scary time to be perceived as a "liberal elite" in DC.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:54 PM on December 1, 2010


Censoring this video solely due to the demands of a religious group puts their particular faith on a pedestal above all others, and breaches the wall between church and state. This is an outrageous and cowardly act.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:57 PM on December 1, 2010


yet the working class has to pay for the leisure of the rick.

You wouldn't get this from any other guy.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:10 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Private, but Faze wasn't making that distinction.

But it couldn't be more pertinent to this thread. The fpp is all about the most obvious problem, for artists, with state involvement and support of the arts, namely that in a democracy every basement-dwelling troglodyite has -- rightfully has -- a vote about what sort of art the state will support. Any artist hanging from the state teat can never know when the teat is going to be rudely jerked away because one of the troglodytes saw his stuff, freaked out, and called his congressman (or is the congressman.) If the state supports you the state owns you, and the minute some agent of the state perceives any downside to continuing your funding, be ready to hang your stuff on a fence and put your hat on the sidewalk. An artist who expects to be both truly transgressive and state funded is... well, "naive" is the kindest word. It's safer to make a living by selling your stuff to Cosimo de Medici. (Which of course is what most private galleries have to do, with consequent adjustments in attitude.)
posted by jfuller at 1:14 PM on December 1, 2010


My first thought was that I'd really stick it to the Christian Savior. It's an edgy concept, because it might upset old people like your grandparents and Harrison Ford and, as far as I knew, it hadn't been done before. I decided I'd find a picture of Jesus Christ, have Chet kick me in the nuts, then piss blood all over it. But while I was looking for a suitable portrait, I stumbled across this disturbing image some Internet crackpot made of Jesus nailed to a cross!
posted by straight at 1:15 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


"This is class discrimination and should be opposed by those committed to social justice. "

I wonder if he knows that Catholics literally died for social justice all throughout Latin America not even 30 years ago. If he doesn't he should read more about liberation theology; if he does, it's a pretty vile appropriation of their rhetoric in order to justify his anti-intellectual attacks.
posted by klangklangston at 1:18 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a feeling that one day in the future people will use the word "Republican" as an epithet to describe actions such as these, and supporting torture, and discriminating against gay people, much the way "Socialism" and "Facism" have become epithets in public discourse today.

Of course, by that point, there will be new political parties doing new reprehensible things.
posted by jnaps at 1:34 PM on December 1, 2010


Remember that South Park episode where the president of the Cartoon Channel comes out to address a crowd protesting the toilet humor of Terrance and Philip? He walks up to the microphone, clears his throat and says, "Fuck you." He then walks back inside.

When is someone going to stand up like this?
posted by CarlRossi at 2:55 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is a facist someone who only likes three members of the A-Team?
posted by howfar at 3:01 PM on December 1, 2010


Is a facist someone who only likes three members of the A-Team?

I think the word for that is "everyone".
posted by Copronymus at 3:07 PM on December 1, 2010


I think the word for that is "everyone".

True. If you're going to be named after a part of the body, make sure it's one that you can hit people with.
posted by howfar at 3:09 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


sotonohito: "Well, I can't say I cared for the video, seemed rather meandering and largely pointless to me. More like a high school project from some kid who wanted to shock everyone than anything really worthwhile as art."

MCMikeNamara: "art I would have previously rolled my eyes at or dismissed as trite."

Y'all are entitled to your crappy opnions, of course. But I the attempt to asses this piece's "merit" in the context of this particular exhibition's theme smacks of sophomoric privilege to me. Video art was an important and new genre of expression during the AIDS era; I think the exhibition would have been remiss without a piece such as A Fire in My Belly. Consider that it's being framed as portraiture. I find that at least somewhat compelling on its face. If you can point to a superior piece of art expressing feelings about the AIDS crisis, in that era, and with the video aesthetic, I'll take your critiques more seriously. I don't doubt there are pieces which qualify.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:14 PM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


But I the attempt to asses this piece's "merit" in the context of this particular exhibition's theme smacks of sophomoric privilege to me.

I quite like the piece -- among other reasons, because I love Diamanda Galas -- but there's a lot of video art and conceptual art I find self indulgent and pretentious, and I don't think sophomoric privilege is the only thing that can account for a negative reaction to "A Fire in My Belly". I also wonder why "merit" merits the scare quotes.

I agree that late-seventies, early-eighties video art is an ecological niche that would need to be filled in this exhibit, though.
posted by steambadger at 5:23 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fpp is all about the most obvious problem, for artists, with state involvement and support of the arts, namely that in a democracy every basement-dwelling troglodyite has -- rightfully has -- a vote about what sort of art the state will support.

The feds do all kinds of terrible shit with my tax dollars, and I don't have the right to expect that just because I call a press conference they're suddenly going to stop spending money on shit I disagree with. I mean, fine, Donohue can whine all he wants - we all can, it's our right! - and then pull the lever on election day like the rest of us, but it's absurd to say that just because something has fed dollars going to it that that thing should tremble in fear for its livelihood just because some asshole has a loud voice. Or maybe it's not absurd, as long as that thing is queer, or otherwise "yucky."

Can we now look forward to a long parade of jerks declaring that something in the Smithsonian offends them/their religion/their reality, and should therefore be stuck back in the attic? Shit, just shut the whole thing down!

I'm feeling (and expressing) more GRAR about this than I otherwise might because I just spent most of the day at a World AIDS Day event at the National AIDS Memorial Grove. There was a lot of crying and remembering dead friends and lovers and heroes, and to have the Smithsonian cave like a soup sandwich right now is just a little much.

I did send pissed-off emails to the director of the NPG, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, and the undersecretary for the arts and humanities. It didn't really make me feel any better.
posted by rtha at 5:41 PM on December 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was in litho class when Wojnarowicz was the visiting artist. The Post
article does not even scratch the surface of what was happening when David Wojnarowicz began to show and sell (and more importantly -Speak) .

Wojnarowicz was at war with hypocrites. He had spent much of his young
years as an extremely poor gay prostitute whose clients where often
wealthy and influential leaders in the church and in government.(I know you're shocked right?)

Select closeted well offs who spent their time playing in the sex underground wanted his mouth shut from the first day he stepped into the light. I guess they finally got what they wanted. We will always know the truth. They can never be free.

R.I.P. David Wojnarowicz
posted by dvdvndk at 5:57 PM on December 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


R.I.P. David Wojnarowicz

.
posted by steambadger at 6:33 PM on December 1, 2010


ericb's out today. I'll be filling in:
Transformer will also be hosting a protest march tomorrow, Dec. 2, according to Reis. The march will begin at the gallery at 5:30, and arrive at the Portrait Gallery at 6 p.m. Marchers will be covering their mouths with black tape in honor of Wojnarowicz, says Reis – imagery inspired by his art.

Today, a single protester, artist Adam Griffith, has handcuffed himself to the railing of the G Street side of the Portrait Gallery. He is protesting the museum's decision, not the show. He is holding mirror inscribed with the repeated phrase "Put it back."
--TBD

Visitors to the exhibit respond:
“It’s not considered classic art, and I prefer classic art,” explains Megan, who stumbled into the exhibit because “it’s right after the presidents and on the way to Elvis.”
posted by schmod at 7:53 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can I be the annoying person to say that there#s more than one National Portrait Gallery? I was confused as to why I'd heard nothing about this given I work not far from Trafalgar Square.
posted by mippy at 8:14 AM on December 2, 2010


The fpp is all about the most obvious problem, for artists, with state involvement and support of the arts, namely that in a democracy every basement-dwelling troglodyite has -- rightfully has -- a vote about what sort of art the state will support.

If every basement-dwelling gnome has a say, then by your logic I have just as much of a say.

But wait -- I don't have a say at all, because I'm not straight, not a Christ-worshipper, and not financially and politically well-connected. Because if I had a vote, this and many other provocative artworks -- and not just a David Wojnarowicz film from 1987 (or "classic art," quoting the imbecile above) -- would get public support.

What's even more depressing is that David Wojnarowicz died on July 22, 1992, and here we are re-fighting the same old "Piss Christ"/NEA Four/Judy Chicago battles that were supposedly close to being won before he passed away (partly because he fought his ass off for artistic freedom), battles which all began because George Bush the Elder and Barb (and Donald Wildmon and Jesse Helms) were "bothered" by "fist up rectum" images and other "raunchy stuff."

Also, with the GOP's recent triumphs nationwide, this is only the beginning.
posted by blucevalo at 8:41 AM on December 2, 2010


Correct me if I'm wrong but 'Fire In The Belly' seems to have been shot on film rather than video. I see a few comments about 'video art' here but I've watched the 4 minute excerpt a couple of times and I see film grain and artifact that accompanies film not video. Trivial perhaps but I'd be curious to know if it was all shot on film. Maybe it's part film and part video? I'm guessing it was shown in a video format rather than projected. But I am not sure it should be called 'video art'.

BTW for those who criticize the artistic merit of the work consider the fact that the excerpt is only 4 minutes of a 30 minute piece. I see definite Kenneth Anger influence here which undoubtedly means there is a lot going on that would take a few viewings to completely comprehend or decipher.

From my perspective the use of the song with the images of the ants on the cross as well as the naked body, the blood and the masturbation are used as a way of making a statement about all things that we as a society label 'unclean' yet which are completely natural. The filmmaker seems to be ironically saying to us; "This is 'unclean'"! Ants on a crucifix appear unclean because ants [I guess] represent unwanted creatures that accumulate in an unkempt filthy area. But they are merely ants! Would cute kittens crawling on a cross be as offensive? And a naked body and/or masturbation is labeled unclean yet they are natural. It seems to be an interesting [and yes provocative] film. Isn’t that the very least we expect from art?
posted by Rashomon at 2:34 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fire in My Belly was, indeed, shot on Super-8. It is displayed, of course, as video. The distinction between Super-8 and video as his choice of medium is important and instructive, but both are part of a shared project in this era's avant-garde expressive filmmaking, and speak alterity of form in a way that 35mm doens't do.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:10 PM on December 2, 2010


Reading more on Wojnarowicz, who, though I study avant-garde film, I've not learned abything about until now, he was specifically critical of the Catholic Church in his activism and art. That makes a (nominally) Catholic response to him now, a decade later and after his passing, somewhat more sensible, but no more acceptable, especially in light of the Pope's recent toothless capitulations to safe sex practice.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:16 PM on December 2, 2010



MCMikeNamara: "art I would have previously rolled my eyes at or dismissed as trite."

Y'all are entitled to your crappy opnions, of course. But I the attempt to asses this piece's "merit" in the context of this particular exhibition's theme smacks of sophomoric privilege to me. Video art was an important and new genre of expression during the AIDS era...


Um. damn straight.

(Since you're calling me out by name, I feel obliged to point out that later in the thread that I've renounced my opinion and apologized for not realizing the historical importance of this (and I'm not going to speak for sotonohito but he pretty much did the same thing.) to make a cheap joke at the Catholic League's expense before I'd done the research.

I know I'm making far too big of a deal about this, particularly in the public thread, but it is something that's super important for me to be clear about. I do feel that there is much...well, not much but way too many... examples of artists treating HIV/AIDS -- and being queer, for that matter -- like it's still 1987. Fortunately, it's not. But that's the kind of trite bullshit I'd be talking about. If I wasn't so ignorant. Which I was.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:25 PM on December 2, 2010


That's cool, dude. I'm trying to write term papers but this news story got me pissed off enough to come involve myself in this without doing a careful reading of the thread, which is poor form.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:07 PM on December 2, 2010


Two activists were detained by police on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery after showing David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly on an iPad inside the museum. Both activists were ejected and subsequently banned for life from any Smithsonian Institution facility.

Video of the protest is here. In addition to tossing them out, guards make a point of telling museum visitors that they are not allowed to take the flyers that Mike B has in his hands.
posted by rtha at 5:55 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


guards make a point of telling museum visitors that they are not allowed to take the flyers that Mike B has in his hands.

so fucked up. and so disappointing that the visitors give the flyers back. :(
posted by mrgrimm at 10:12 AM on December 6, 2010


Portrait Gallery Censorship: Can you REALLY be 'banned for life' from the Smithsonian?

that was my initial response as well. turns out you can't. or not really.

"Both of the activists are not banned 'for life,' as they claim on their blog, but rather, Iacovone is banned for 12 months, and Blasenstein is banned Indefinitely."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:14 AM on December 6, 2010


I know you don't necessisarily want someone screwing up your exhibition, but artists doing art in an art museum seems appropriate.
posted by garlic at 10:58 AM on December 6, 2010


I hate the decision to remove the piece, and I want to cheer for the activists but...doesn't having a blanket "no protesting or handing out flyers" rule make sense? I'd hate to have to wade through Fred Phelps-types to get to the exhibit. (Oh jeez, I bet this is on their radar now.)
posted by JoanArkham at 11:21 AM on December 6, 2010


But it won't turn back the tide of civil rights history. If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is "no legitimate state interest," as Justice Scalia wrote, it's too late for equality to be denied. Irrational animus is a good working definition of bigotry, and that's all Smithsonian opponents have been putting on display. LA Times
posted by rtha at 9:08 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


After two local artists were detained and "banned" from the Smithsonian museums for screening a recently censored video on an iPad in the lobby of the National Portrait Gallery, they're planning more long-term methods to get the artwork shown and provide some public shaming while they're at it. Mike Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone are now working to obtain permits for a temporary structure to be erected outside the NPG which will screen David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in my Belly through next February – the run of the exhibit Hide/Seek, from which is was removed.
--NPG Protesters Plan Temporary Gallery for Censored Work

Also, the Commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery has resigned in protest of the work's removal.
posted by schmod at 7:41 AM on December 9, 2010


Update: Tyler Green (DC area art critic/blogger) has posted his interview with the two curators of the exhibition Hide/Seek, David Ward and Jonathan Katz. This was posted yesterday but I didn't notice it until this afternoon.

Today Green reported that:
National Portrait Gallery commissioner James T. Bartlett has resigned in protest of the Smithsonian’s removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibition. Bartlett is the former board president of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The commission functions as a kind of board of directors for the gallery.
posted by kaybdc at 1:04 PM on December 9, 2010


I got a bullshit form email (not that I was expecting anything else) back in response to the email I sent to the director of the NPG (and a couple of other people). It says, in part:
As you know, more than 100 art works are on view in the overall exhibition. More than a dozen works specifically address the tragic impact of AIDS. The exhibition continues to include two important works by David Wojnarowicz as well as a portrait of him by Peter Hujar. The art was assembled from the Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection and from many other sources. It is presented together for the first time ever, thanks to generous lenders and private financial supporters.
Wow. Um. Thanks for only censoring some of it. Really grateful for that.
posted by rtha at 3:32 PM on December 11, 2010


December 4, 2010 Video of Smithsonian security not allowing patrons to take flyers from protestors, and handcuffing a protestor videotaping the action.

The blog Silence (still) = Death has an Anti-Censorship Petition up. If they were to put up PDF's of the flyers, I'm sure people could have them printed and distribute them outside museums and galleries everywhere.

"Land of the free" ... obvious we've still got a ways to go before we all know what "free"means.
posted by Twang at 2:25 AM on December 12, 2010


Frank Rich | New York Times: 'Gay Bashing at the Smithsonian' :
Like many of its antecedents, the war over Wojnarowicz is a completely manufactured piece of theater. What triggered the abrupt uproar was an incendiary Nov. 29 post on a conservative Web site. The post was immediately and opportunistically seized upon by William Donohue, of the so-called Catholic League, a right-wing publicity mill with no official or financial connection to the Catholic Church.

Donohue is best known for defending Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism by declaring that “Hollywood is controlled by Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.” A perennial critic of all news media except Fox, he has also accused The Times of anti-Catholicism because it investigated the church pedophilia scandal. Donohue maintains the church doesn’t have a “pedophilia crisis” but a “homosexual crisis.” Such is the bully that the Smithsonian surrendered to without a fight.

Donohue’s tactic was to label the 11-second ants-and-crucifix sequence as “anti-Christian” hate speech. “The irony,” wrote the Washington Post art critic, Blake Gopnik, is that the video is merely a tepid variation on the centuries-old tradition of artists using images of Christ, many of them “hideously grisly,” to speak of mankind’s suffering. Those images are staples of all museums — even in Washington, where gory 17th-century sculptures of Christ were featured in a recent show of Spanish sacred art at the National Gallery.

But of course Donohue was just using his “religious” objections as a perfunctory cover for the homophobia actually driving his complaint. The truth popped out of the closet as Donohue expanded his indictment to “pornographic images of gay men.” His Republican Congressional allies got into the act. Eric Cantor called for the entire exhibit to be shut down and threatened to maim the Smithsonian’s taxpayer funding come January. (The exhibit was entirely funded by private donors, but such facts don’t matter in culture wars.) Jack Kingston, of the House Appropriations Committee, rattled off his own list of exaggerated gay outrages in “Hide/Seek,” from “Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts” to “naked brothers kissing.”

It took only hours after Donohue’s initial battle cry for the video to be yanked. “The decision wasn’t caving in,” the museum’s director, Martin E. Sullivan, told reporters. Of course it was. The Smithsonian, in its own official statement, rationalized its censorship by saying that Wojnarowicz’s video “generated a strong response from the public.” That’s nonsense. There wasn’t a strong response from the public — there was no response. As the museum’s own publicist told the press, the National Portrait Gallery hadn’t received a single complaint about “A Fire in the Belly” from the exhibit’s opening day, Oct. 30, until a full month later, when a “public” that hadn’t seen the exhibit was mobilized by Donohue to blast the museum by phone and e-mail.
posted by ericb at 2:47 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I realize it's kind of a bizarre aesthetic position to take, but one of the big reasons why this male heterosexual really enjoys a lot of male homoerotic art is because it's easier for me to separate the ideas and intent of the art aside from the sexiness (though even I can admit that some of it is totally hot, it just doesn't pull my magnet the same way).

Maybe it's from having to read too much Phaedrus in liberal arts classes, but I really liked the explosion of openly homoerotic art coming into canonical status (and being more openly shown) right about the time I started nerding out on photography. And it's a shame that a lot of these fights are ones that I already felt like the public had won, and that we had moved on from.
posted by klangklangston at 6:35 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Warhol Foundation Threatens To Pull Funding From Smithsonian Unless It Restores Censored Wojnarowicz Video.
posted by ericb at 6:41 PM on December 14, 2010


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