Posts Tagged ‘smithsonian’

Artist Requests Removal of Artwork from NPG/Smithsonian Exhibition; Foundations Withdraw Support

December 19, 2010

Since the National Portrait Gallery caved to right-wing political pressure and removed the David Wojnarowicz’ video work, “A Fire in My Belly,” from exhibition, other  artists and donor groups have withdrawn their support of NPG.  The removal of the artwork from NPG’s “Hide and Seek” exhibition has been the subject of widespread criticism in the arts community.

One expression of dissent has come from artist AA Bronson, who has requested that his after death portrait of Felix Partz be removed from the exhibition as well.  The photographic portrait was taken shorty after Mr. Partz died as a result of AIDS in 1994.  In light of the removal of the Wojnarowicz’ work, Bronson said, “I feel I have no choice but to withdraw the work.”  NPG has apparently declined to return the portrait, which is owned by the National Gallery of Canada.  The National Gallery of Canada has not withdrawn the portrait and has stated that it will abide by the loan agreement with NPG.

Art organizations have stated their intent to remove both artwork and funding from the NPG/Smithsonian.  The Andy Warhol Foundation has  threatened to cease funding Smithsonian exhibitions if the Wojnarowicz video is not redisplayed.  The Foundation apparently donated $100,000 for the “Hide and Seek” exhibition itself.  The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation has also stated that it will no longer provide funding to the Smithsonian if the Wojnarowicz video is not restored to the exhibition.

In the wake of the NPG/Smithsonian removal, a number of institutions, including the Tate Modern, have announced plans to exhibit “A Fire in My Belly.”


Protesting Video’s Removal, Artist Asks Portrait Gallery to Take His Work Out of Show (Washington Post)

Curators Criticize Controversial Art’s Removal

Museums Jump In to Show Video Removed by Smithsonian

Tate Modern, David Wojarnowicz event, January 22, 2011

[Warhol] Foundation Says It’s Ending  Smithsonian Support

The New War on the Arts: Wojnarowicz at the National Portrait Gallery

December 5, 2010

David WojnarowiczOn the heels of the recently mid-term elections, the reinvigorated extreme right wing has re-ignited the war on culture–this time with the complicity of the U.S. National Portrait Gallery.  The Gallery, a component of the Smithsonian institution, is removing a video work by renown artist David Wojnarowicz after criticism from Republican Congressional Representatives and the Catholic League.

The National Portrait Gallery exhibition, “Hide and Seek,” opened on October 30th and runs through February 13, 2011.  The exhibition features several artists and is described as, “… the first major museum exhibition showing how questions of gender and sexual identity have dramatically shaped the creation of modern American portraiture.”  Along with Wojnarowicz, the exhibition includes works by Thomas Eakins, Georgia O’Keefe, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Keith Haring, and Robert Rauschenberg, among others.

David Wojnarowicz is well known for his visual art concerning AIDS and sexuality.  In 1990 he successfully sued the American Family Association for improper use of his images under the New York Artist’s Authorship Rights Act, winning nominal damages.  The artist died of AIDS in 1992.

Martin E. Sullivan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, apparently tried to defend the Wojnarowicz video, but the artwork was still removed.  He described the video, “A Fire in My Belly,” as concerning the effects of AIDS in Latin American culture.

According to the New York Times, Representatives Eric Kantor (Virginia) and Jack Kingston (Georgia) were critical of the display of Wojnarowicz’ artwork.  In an eccho of the 1990’s GOP attacks on the arts, Rep. Kingston referred to Wojnarowicz’ video  as “in-your-face perversion paid for by tax dollars.”  Rep. Cantor claimed that it was an “obvious attempt” to offend Christians, also citing the use of tax dollars.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, an organization that is not officially affiliated with the Church, in the Times interview, disputed the significance of the artist’s perspective, and apparently the human catastrophe of AIDS altogether saying, “I’m not going to buy the argument that this is some statement about some poor guy dying of AIDS.”

The National Portrait Gallery belongs to all the people, and AIDS has had a profound effect on this country and all Americans.  That this artwork was removed in this way, due to political pressure particularly, is shameful, despite the contrition of Mr. Sullivan.  Artists and anyone else concerned with First Amendment rights, the sanctioning of homophobia in our public institutions, or the reality of AIDS–historically or presently–should be appalled by this action and the NPG’s complicity Smithsonian leadership’s willing participation in it.

Update 12/12/2010: Frank Rich, in the NY Times, clarified that Donohue’s Catholic League has no official or financial connection to the Catholic Church.  Rich also writes about the creation of “Fire in My Belly,” artists responses to the AIDS crisis, the blatant homophobic decision to censor the NPG exhibition, the ruse of a religious offence, and the underlying right-wing politics underlying it all.

Recommended reading:  Frank Rich, Gay Bashing at the Smithsonian


Wojnarowicz v. American Family Association and case summary on

Summary of New York Artists Authorship Act on

Smithsonian/National Portrait Gallery press release announcing the “Hide and Seek” exhibition.

Above is a well-known image of David Wojnarowicz, frequently associated with the “Silence = Death” slogan used to promote activism in the fight against AIDS.

Nam June Paik Archive at the Smithsonian

May 3, 2009

The Smithsonian American Art Museum announced that it has acquired the archives of the preeminent electronic and video media artist, Nam June Paik.

Mr. Paik was born in Korea, lived in Japan and Germany, and relocated to the U.S. in 1964. He produced numerous conceptual artworks that incorporated electronic devices and phenomena, utilizing both sound and video.  Along with Shuya Abe, he created the first video synthesizing machine, which transformed the process of creating moving-image works. In many ways his early artwork prefigured the advent of the internet and global culture through the positioning of electronic media, including television, and recognized it as a conduit for intercultural communication. He is credited with first using the term “electronic superhighway.”

SAAM was awarded the entire Paik archives by the artist’s estate after it and other institutions submitted proposals. The archive contains a variety of materials that document Paik’s art and innovative perspective, both in terms of art and technology. It will serve as an important and significant resource for artists, curators, and scholars.