As an artist who has vigorously fought First Amendment violations in two separate federal court cases, I am all too familiar with stupidity and hysteria surrounding art and religion. Prior to a 2004 exhibition in San Francisco, a Palo Alto printing company deliberately destroyed two of my pieces, one of which, "Who Would Jesus Torture?" depicted George W. Bush on a crucifix sporting a missile between his legs.
Nonetheless, I am still appalled and angered that the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery saw fit to remove the late artist David Wojnarowicz's "A Fire in My Belly," video piece from the "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" exhibition.
Shrill, pseudo-moral nannies like Catholic League President, Bill Donohue, screeched hystrically, calling the piece "hate speech". Representative Eric Cantor called the exhibition "an outrageous use of taxpayer money," (the show is privately funded) and according to The Hill, a spokesperson for soon-to-be House Speaker, John Boehner, ominously warned that "Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January."
The Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough's decision to capitulate to right wing fanatics has no place in the world of art and is terribly damaging to the credibility and reputation of the Smithsonian.
The dirty work was left to National Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan, who took time to explain why the piece was not offensive, but then inexplicably and embarrassingly concluded censorship was the answer:
"I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious. In fact, the artist’s intention was to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim. It was not the museum’s intention to offend. We have removed the video."
I strongly urge the Gallery to restore Wojnarowicz's piece, and urge everyone to support a boycott of the Galery until it does. Disgust can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and a petition can be found here.