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.
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.
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.
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."
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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