While at the landmark exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the Brooklyn Museum, I realized I had to start my review with a statement that will look simple and quite possibly stupid: Hide/Seek is more than David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire In My Belly.”
David C. Ward is co-curator of the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition, which has become a lightning rod for right-wing attacks on the federally funded Smithsonian institution. The show is the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture. There are many LGBT images on display but the work is not limited to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender artists and encompasses work by many names that are mainstays in art history, including Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Romaine Brooks, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Agnes Martin, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, AA Bronson, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
But what has really catapulted the show into the limelight is the fact that last week Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough ordered David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” video pulled from the National Portrait Gallery show.
A Facebook post is sometimes a dangerous thing. When Artinfo’s “What’s Troubling about the Smithsonian’s Gay Art Show,” re-titled “What’s Troubling About the Smithsonian’s Hide/Seek Show,” article was posted to their Facebook page, it was re-captioned with the admittedly punchy line: “Are sexuality and gender appropriate themes for a Smithsonian art exhibition?” The ensuing response thread involved commenters, the show’s curators, and a game of journalistic hedging. It turns out that this “reviewer” hadn’t even seen the show they critiqued.