PORTAL, the National Portrait Gallery’s Scholarly Center, announces a series of Zoom webinars featuring artists, curators, and scholars in conversation about portraiture and performance art.
I feel naïve to have thought that art offered one of the only scared spaces to be freely expressive. Two weeks ago, I wrote a post that attempted to diplomatically depict the controversial saga that has unfolded over artist Brett Murray’s “The Spear”, a Communist propaganda style portrayal of South African president Jacob Zuma with his penis hanging out from his zipper.
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.”
In The Life Media, producers of In The Life, the longest running television show documenting the gay experience, have created Censoring Wojnarowicz, an exclusive online video exploring the controversy surrounding the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” video installation from the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek exhibition.
On November 30, 1994, choreographer Bill T. Jones’s experimental dance piece “Still/Here” opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The work featured live dancers performing in front of video footage of terminally ill people discussing their sicknesses. Nearly a month later, dance critic Arlene Croce blasted the piece in a now-infamous essay in the New Yorker. Announcing that she had never seen “Still/Here” and had no intention of doing so, Croce wrote, “By working dying people into his act, Jones is putting himself beyond the reach of criticism. I think of him as literally undiscussable.” She went on to classify that category of undiscussability as “those dancers I’m forced to feel sorry for because of the way they present themselves: as dissed blacks, abused women, or disenfranchised homosexuals—as performers, in short, who make out of victimhood victim art.” In many ways, the National Portrait Gallery’s current, controversial, and excellent special exhibition Hide/Seek feels like a resounding rebuttal of Croce’s thesis.
Today, we present all the submissions to our first (and perhaps only) Draw Jesus Day. [NOT A SPOOF]
Two new developments in the Wojnarowicz Censorship case since we last reported on the Hide/Seek show and its problems with government censorship and a Smithsonian Secretary who just can’t say sorry … Washington Post‘s Philip Kenicott is asking for Secretary G. Wayne Clough to resign … collector Jim Hedges wants his work by Jack Pierson out of the show …
Today, approximately 400-500 protesters gathered on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum to take part in a rally demanding that the Smithsonian return the censored video by artist David Wojnarowicz, “A Fire In My Belly,” to the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.
Organized by Art+, a New York-based group organizing direct action against the censorship of Wojnarowicz’s video, the march began in the middle of Museum Mile and marched uptown along Fifth Avenue until the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which is a Manhattan-based Smithsonian institution.
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) [pictured above] be removed from their Hide/Seek exhibition in light of the recent censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire In My Belly” video.
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.
On a recent RT America segment, a Catholic League spokesperson is calling David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” video anti-Christian and compares ants on Jesus to “putting a swastika on a synagogue.” The video was part of the Smithsonian’s Hide/Seek exhibition and was recently pulled when various right-wing politicians, goaded by the Catholic League, manufactured outrage at 10 seconds in a 30-minute video.