As an individual who values artistic creation and freedom of speech, I would like the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution to know that I am deeply distressed and saddened over the cowardly decision to censor the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” by removing the video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz titled “A Fire in My Belly,” thereby displaying an unnecessary capitulation to political pressure from various conservative and right-wing factions.
As Blake Gopnik notes in his excellent article on the subject, “National Portrait Gallery Bows to Censors, Withdraws Wojnarowicz Video on Gay Love,” published November 30th in the Washington Post, if museums were to remove every piece of art that upset some person or group, our museums would be pretty empty. Can you imagine this kind of censorship applied to our libraries? Because that’s the kind of logic being used, and if we don’t speak out against this, book censorship is not far down the line.
This is not a small, isolated, unimportant incident. Many people will remember the late Senator Jesse Helms, and how he was able to escalate conservative outrage over Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” in order to effectively eviscerate the NEA.
Wojnarowicz, a highly regarded American artist who died of AIDS in 1992, sadly cannot add his own voice to our outcry of disgust about this act of censorship. I’ve signed lots of petitions but never started one before now. This seemed like a good time to start. Please take action against museum censorship today, and pass this along:
For another good read on how we got to this point, check out New York Magazine’s article “U.S. Representative John Boehner Is Now a Curator”.
This is not an issue of quality. Who the heck knows why museums show half of what they do? Like why does the winner of Bravo’s (un)reality show “Work of Art” get a solo show in the Brooklyn Museum of Art? The public is not collectively qualified to be in charge of making curatorial decisions. I support the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to mount this exhibition, and would like to see the curators continue to have the freedom to do their jobs, while the public reserves the freedom to decide whether to go see the show or not.
Whether or not you or I think a work like Serrano’s “Piss Christ” was any creation of startling genius or not isn’t really the point, the point being that Jesse Helms was able to use it, regardless of the quality or even the artistic intent behind it, to end NEA grants to individual visual artists – a moratorium still in effect today. This means other deserving artists (and I’d like to think I can include myself), are no longer eligible to apply for those NEA dollars. And that’s not Serrano’s fault. It’s Helms’ fault and his supporters’ fault (from their standpoint, a victory), but also all the fault of all the lazy-ass artists, dems, and freedom of expression lovers who were too complacent and apathetic to stand up against Helms and his thugs. And don’t think I didn’t take notice that there was a selective focus on giving visual artists the shaft then that’s just as vehement and selective this time too. NEA grants for individual writers & composers still exist. Somehow, the right-wing nut-jobs don’t realize that the pen (or typewriter or computer or musical instrument) can be equally “subversive” or “offensive” – or shall we say “powerful?” Oh yeah…all you have to do is look at a few Tea Partier signs to know they don’t read anyhow. Reading is for illeetists like our un-American, Kenyan President. But maybe he’s not reading either, since it sure seems he’s not reading the writing on the wall clearly spelling out that a bunch of us are feeling pretty concerned about the whereabouts of his spine. But I digress…
Beyond the issues of censorship and freedom of expression, it is hard to ignore the anti-gay rhetoric being brought into the argument by those who have lobbied for the removal of the Wojnarowicz video. This, and not the 11 seconds of the video, is the kind of hate speech of which our society should be wary.
So I’m up on my soapbox today, and I’m staying here! To heck with the righteous wingnuts. If they want “art,” they can have all the Thomas Kinkade they want. (And I’m NOT giving you a link for that. You can just go google him if you must.)
p.s. Another mighty fine link for those who care about this issue: Tyler Green on artinfo.com