AA Bronson, “Felix, June 5, 1994” (1994/99) (image from whitney.org)

In an email posted on Newsgrist, artist AA Bronson, who asked that his portrait of Felix Partz be removed from the Smithsonian’s Hide/Seek exhibition following the censorship, suggests to director Martin Sullivan that his piece be removed to make room for the Wojnarowicz video.

Bronson begins by acknowledging that the Smithsonian offered to bring the artist to Washington to discuss the matter of the removal of his piece, but also noting that the Smithsonian has suggested that their loan agreement with the National Gallery of Canada, who owns the Bronson work, is legally binding, and the museum will not remove the piece. Bronson responds that Marc Mayer, director of NGC, told him that it was possible to cancel the loan, but the museum would rather not on political grounds.

All of this is completely understandable. The Smithsonian is eager to downplay yet another misstep that only makes them look worse, but is clearly still unwilling to restore the Wojnarowicz video or accede to Bronson’s request. The only way I could see Bronson’s piece being removed would be if the NGC decided to press the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery to return its artwork, a move that seems somewhat unlikely, though possible, given the politics of museum loans.

The weird thing is that Bronson points out that Sullivan may have been considering removing the Wojnarowicz piece before the mounting political pressure. Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” was installed in a small space within Hide/Seek, an installation that has been noted as awkward. Bronson writes,

You withdrew the David Wojnarowicz video because you felt it wasn’t being given “proper respect” because of the lack of space. I am not positive that I got this right, but I think you said that this was done BEFORE the Catholic League published a statement about the work, and you claim that a journalist goaded the politicians into making their statements. Please don’t take offense if I say that this all sounds exceedingly convenient. Not to say that it isn’t true but it is not convincing.

As far as we know, there was no public talk of removing Wojnarowicz’s piece from the exhibition before the onrush of pressure from Republican politicians. There may have been, but that’s outside the official timeline we’re currently keeping. Bronson suggests that the NPG remove his piece, which is mounted prominently in the show, and instead use the space to show the “A Fire in My Belly” in full.

Newsgrist also adds, “Apparently, Martin Sullivan is in a meeting with the Smithsonian this afternoon to determine what they will do.” More as it happens.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...

8 replies on “AA Bronson Negotiates, Offers Space for Wojnarowicz”

  1. Wowzers. Thx for the continuing coverage. …What if a monitor w/ “Fire in my Belly” were placed within the Bronson installation? Tactless mashup or something interesting? Along those lines, what if every artist added the controversial still to their work… Not trying to incite anything, just thinking out loud…

    1. I hope this at least creates some kind of greater response among the show’s other artists. Imagine if Catherine Opie requested her pieces removed or spoke out against it.

  2. I just emailed the admin about this but this artwork is NOT a portrait of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, it is a portrait of Felix Partz of General Idea.


  3. Kyle Chayka: Please note that Bronson’s Felix, June 5, 1994 is NOT a portrait of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, but rather a portrait of his fellow General Idea member, Felix Partz.

  4. The image is a portrait of Felix Partz, one of the three members in General Idea. It is not González-Torres.

  5. Thanks everyone, it has been corrected and was an editorial oversight on my part — it has been such a busy news cycle and there are only two of us in the office. Thanks for being so passionate about the work. I am probably the biggest fan of ALL of General Idea’s work there ever is so I was horrified that let it slip.

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