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Artist Requests to Be Removed from Smithsonian’s Hide/Seek [UPDATE 3]

by Hrag Vartanian on December 16, 2010

AA Bronson’s “Felix, June 5, 1994″ (1994/99) is the work the artist is requesting be pulled out of the “Hide/Seek” exhibition. The work depicts Felix Partz, one of Bronson’s collaborators in the Toronto-based collective General Idea. Partz died in 1994 of an AIDS-related illness. (image via aabronson.com)

New York-based artist and artistic director of the Institute of Art, Religion and Social Justice AA Bronson has sent an email to the National Portrait Gallery requesting that his work “Felix, June 5, 1994″ (1994/99) be removed from their Hide/Seek exhibition in light of the recent censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire In My Belly” video. Bronson posted the following status update on Facebook, which I’ve posted here with his permission:

I wrote to the National Portrait Gallery this evening requesting that they remove my work “Felix, June 5, 1994″ from the “Hide/Seek” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. As an artist who saw first hand the tremendous agony and pain that so many of my generation lived through, and died with, I cannot take the decision of the Smithsonian lightly. To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful.

The following is the full text of the email the artist has sent to Martin Sullivan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery:

Dear Martin Sullivan

I have sent an email to the National Gallery of Canada requesting that they remove my work “Felix, June 5, 1994″ from the “Hide/Seek” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I had resisted taking this step, hoping that some reconciliation could be reached regarding the censorship of the David Wojnarowicz video, but it is clear that this is not coming any time soon. As an artist who saw first hand the tremendous agony and pain that so many of my generation lived through, and died with, I cannot take the decision of the Smithsonian lightly. To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful.

yours truly,
AA Bronson
Artistic Director

The work in question is owned by the National Gallery of Canada. A second copy of the same art work is currently on view at the Whitney Museum in their permanent collection show Singular Visions, which opens today.

UPDATE: Art journalist, critic and blogger Tyler Green has just tweeted this comment in response to Bronson’s email:

Though I understand Green’s point, I think the artist’s use of “queer” is related to his own body of work, which often explores queer representation and history.

UPDATE 2: Tyler Green has a great interview with AA Bronson regarding the issue.

UPDATE 3: The National Portrait Gallery now says it will NOT remove Bronson’s work and they are not required to because the “loan agreement is a legally binding document.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/qnetter Roger Klorese

    Obvious problem with Tyler Green’s comment: queer history is LARGER than American history, not smaller.

  • springloaded

    Having seen the exhibit and Bronson’s work there, I have to say I’m saddened that it’s come to this. I kept thinking of the Gay kids walking around the Smithsonian with their families on their DC vacation and stumbling into that stunning collection of portraits of artists and their loved ones.
    I can’t imagine how that would’ve impacted me as a closeted kid. So the idea of taking art off the walls of a national museum… I don’t know.. It seems off somehow. It seems uncharitable about the impact Gay art is having on a daily basis. Protest, yes. But boycotting the show seems so wrongheaded when what we need is MORE Gay people, and ALL people to see this work. They should tour the show wearing protest t-shirts or handing out material. But to deny this work from it’s public audience just feels like a long-term strategy with the next generations of Gay kids who need to see this work.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I understand your concern but I think it’s a great lesson to LGBT kids that you can stand up for your rights and should when you feel it is necessary. Trust me, the LGBT kids will know about this. A simple Google search will teach them that.

      • springloaded

        True enough. It’s a great lesson to LGBT kids. But, again, Google can not begin to touch the impact of standing in those rooms with those artworks speaking to one another. It was for me like a religious experience. And, yes, the sanctuary has been desecrated by removing Wojnarowitz’s piece, but it doesn’t mean we should empty those galleries or not visit them. I wrote to many friends after visiting, urging (imploring) them to come and see this exhibit — the most important exhibition of Gay art of this *and probably the next* decade.

    • Marion Callis

      Dear Springloaded,
      Two protesters tried standing in the show handing out literature, but were stopped by security and ejected (and banned) from the museum. Additionally, visitors to the exhibition who tried to take the literature were interrupted, and intimidated by security. Your concern about removing more work from the exhibition is legitimate – maybe we revisit the sit-ins of the 1960s-70s? No doubt any on-site protesters would be removed from the exhibition also. If you are in NYC, a protest is planned on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum on Sunday, December 19. I for one would love to sit in the exhibition with protest T-shirt as you suggest – I haven’t been arrested in years, maybe it’s time!

  • ardmara

    Have a look at the site hideseek.org for lists of places that are showing Fire in My Belly, and for links to press coverage. There are a lot of very positive protests happening.

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