Main | Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Catholic League Pressures Smithsonian Into Removing Exhibit By Gay Artist

The Catholic League, that one-guy-with-a-computer outfit headed by anti-gay nutjob Bill Donohue, has successfully pressured the Smithsonian into removing an AIDS-themed video exhibit by the late gay artist David Wojnarowicz. Because for eleven seconds, ants can be seen crawling on a crucifix. The Smithsonian acted after incoming GOP House Speaker John Boehner and incoming GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor echoed Donohue's complaints.

The Washington Post's art critic Blake Gopnik reports:
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.
Here's that "hate-filled" clip by David Wojnorawicz. (The music is by the brilliant Diamanda Galas.) Congratulations, Catholic League. You've spring-boarded a relatively obscure work by a gay artist into national prominence.

Over at Art Info, Tyler Green has a lot of questions for the curators at the National Portrait Gallery regarding their capitulation to this act of religion-based censorship.

ALSO RELATED: Since we know Donohue can't resist visiting JMG whenever his name is mentioned, here Bill, this Andres Serrano is for you.UPDATE: People For the America Way respond: "There is absolutely no reason for our government to be in the business of censoring art, or cave to pressure from extreme Religious Right organizations just because it’s Christmas. That Bill Donohue and the Catholic League are fighting for censorship is unsurprising. That the GOP leadership is echoing their call is shameful. That the Smithsonian has given into their transparent political bullying is deeply disturbing."

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