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.
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:
Obvious problem with AA Bronson email: @smithsonian didn’t edit (just) queer history, it edited American history.
— Tyler Green (@TylerGreenBooks) December 16, 2010
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.”