"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fighting Back

I mentioned this awhile back, in this post, but haven't had time to do a proper follow-up. Here's the original story, from HuffPo:

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) spoke on Fox News Wednesday morning and explained his outrage over the critically acclaimed installation.
"This is a museum that gets $5.8 million in taxpayer dollars and in the middle of a high deficit, 15 million unemployed Americans, they decide to have money to spend like this. This is a museum that, by the way, has next to it a display of the American presidents, on the other side, Elvis, and then you go through this -- which is really perverted, sick stuff -- ashes of an AIDS victim, in a self-portrait, eating himself. Male nudity, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her own breast - lots of really kinky and really questionable kind of art."
Kingston continued, explaining his concern that federal funds, though not at all related to the materials in the gallery, were being used to subsidize the building that the specific piece was housed in.

Got that? Federal funds are being used to subsidize a building that is showing art (the exhibition was privately funded).

Art has no place in the conservative mindset, I guess, unless it's saccharine paintings of Christ holding a lamb or something. (Or suffering on the Cross. They really seem to like suffering.) That's the sort of thing that happens when a legitimate political philosophy is hijacked by a bunch of radical religious thugs.

And a congressional investigation? You want to investigate something, how about giving the president sole authority to order the assassination of American citizens? That's worth investigating.

Bill Donohue, who speaks for four or five Catholics, was involved, of course:

Today, after a few hours of pressure from the Catholic League and various conservatives, it decided to remove a video by David Wojnarowicz, a gay artist who died from AIDS-related illness in 1992. As part of "Hide/Seek," the gallery was showing a four-minute excerpt from a 1987 piece titled "A Fire in My Belly," made in honor of Peter Hujar, an artist-colleague and lover of Wojnarowicz who had died of AIDS complications in 1987. And for 11 seconds of that meandering, stream-of-consciousness work (the full version is 30 minutes long) a crucifix appears onscreen with ants crawling on it. It seems such an inconsequential part of the total video that neither I nor anyone I've spoken to who saw the work remembered it at all.

But that is the portion of the video that the Catholic League has decried as "designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians," and described as "hate speech" - despite the artist's own hopes that the passage would speak to the suffering of his dead friend. The irony is that Wojnarowicz's reading of his piece puts it smack in the middle of the great tradition of using images of Christ to speak about the suffering of all mankind. There is a long, respectable history of showing hideously grisly images of Jesus - 17th-century sculptures in the National Gallery's recent show of Spanish sacred art could not have been more gory or distressing - and Wojnarowicz's video is nothing more than a relatively tepid reworking of that imagery, in modern terms.

They just don't get it. They don't understand art, they don't like challenges to their world view (which is what art is supposed to do, for the love of all gods beneficent), and they're really big on displays of naked power. If they were less aggressive in their ignorance, I'd be able to feel sorry for them. As it stands, I consider them about the lowest form of life. (That's an excellent piece from WaPo, by the way -- read the whole thing.)

Happily, we're now getting some pushback. Via Towleroad:

Mr. Wayne Clough
Smithsonian Institution
SIB Office of the Secretary
MRC 016
PO Box 37012
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012

Dear Mr. Clough,

The Warhol Foundation is proud to have been a lead supporter of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, but we strongly condemn the decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition. Such blatant censorship is unconscionable. It is inimical to everything the Smithsonian Institution should stand for, and everything the Andy Warhol Foundation does stand for.

Although we have enjoyed our growing relationship during the past three years, and have given more than $375,000 to fund several exhibitions at various Smithsonian institutions, we cannot stand by and watch the Smithsonian bow to the demands of bigots who have attacked the exhibition out of ignorance, hatred and fear.

Last week the Foundation published a statement on its website www.warholfoundation.org, condemning the National Portrait Gallery’s removal of the work and on Friday our Board of Directors met to discuss the long-term implications of the Museum’s behavior on the Foundation’s relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. After careful consideration, the Board voted unanimously to demand that you restore the censored work immediately, or the Warhol Foundation will cease funding future exhibitions at all Smithsonian institutions.

I regret that you have put us in this position, but there is no other course we can take. For the arts to flourish the arts must be free, and the decision to censor this important work is in stark opposition to our mission to defend freedom of expression wherever and whenever it is under attack.

Sincerely yours,

Joel Wachs

You may know that I'm an artist myself, and a great deal of my work would cause aneurysms in people like Rep. Kingston. I don't want my work censored, and I don't see any reason why some pig farmer from Georgia should have a say on what gets shown in a national museum -- and yes, it's taxpayer funded, and I'm one of those taxpayers.

Blake Gopnik, in the WaPo piece, had the best -- and truly conservative -- solution:

If anyone's offended by any work in any museum, they have the easiest redress: They can vote with their feet, and avoid the art they don't like.


Mahablog brings it all into focus:

Any attempt to suppress free expression by threats or bullying ought to be condemned. However, righties, that means any attempt to suppress free expression by threats or bullying ought to be condemned. That means your attempts, too.

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