- Norman Rosenthal, Director of the Royal Academy of Arts, London
The blogosphere today buzzed with controversy at the Smithsonian! The Smithsonian finally bowed to the pressure from the religious groups, specially the Catholic League, and removed a 4 minute video, which according to the right wing sensibility is "anti-religion".The NPG was showing an excerpt (the original is 30 minutes long) from a piece titled "Fire in My Belly" which gay artist David Wojnarowicz made in honor of Peter Hujar, his lover and fellow artist ( Hujar died of AIDS in late 1980's). For few seconds, the video, shows a crucifix, crawling with ants! I obviously did not find any anti religion overtone in that short excerpt! If anything the whole thing reeked of human sadness over losing a loved one! It does not have the blatant disrespect of Andres Serano's Piss Jesus, done more for sensationalism than anything else!
Boner,( ooops, I meant Boehner) and his right wing cronies soon jumped on the bandwagon and turned the whole thing into a media circus! David Wojnarowicz, has been dead for 20 years and obviously can't defend his art but I (and many others, I am sure) feel strongly that the Smithsonian should not have caved to political demands! But then Smithsonian is a not a bastion of free thinking! The fact that a four minute video was removed is not really as concerning as the fact that at end of the first decade of the twenty first century we are still plagued by bigotry! A work of art does not defile religion. Intolerance does.
|The Holy Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili (Part of the Sensation Exhibition. The black Madonna made with elephant dung was one of the controversial images)|
I remember the huge controversy surrounding the Sensation Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum! The major player was then Mayor of NYC, Giuliani! He condemned the show as "sick" and tasteless and threatened to cut funding from the museum! May I add, he did not see the show prior to making the accusations! Steven C. Dubin, a writer for Art in America observed "Art critic, landlord, social worker and sponsorship scold: Giuliani tried on all these hats and more, desperately hoping to find one that fits".
Another such controversy was in 1989,when the Corcoran Gallery of Art announced that it was canceling the Mapplethorpe Retrospective because it hurts the sensibility of the public and it did not want to "adversely affect the NEA's congressional appropriations". Artists, students and gay and lesbian rights activists picketed the Corcoran, while slides of Mapplethorpe photographs are projected on the museum's facade. Just another example of censorship at play!
|David Wojnarowciz (Silence\Death)|
My point is,the Smithsonian incidence is not the first time American politics has affected art! And if we think this controversy will be the last one, then we are mistaken! I understand if religious groups find it objectionable that their revered symbols are being used, well , not "religiously"! But I think they should take it as it is! Just an expression of an individual artist! If their belief system is strong and deep enough, they can take these minor things in their stride! My only concern is that, if art has to bow down to religious and political pressure, will a day come when self expression withers away? Does anyone else think this smells like the Nazi oppression of art and artists prior to WWII? America would hopefully not follow down that same disastrous path! One thing that makes America great is the freedom of Speech and Expression. If we take that away, don't we lose a moral ground? Food for thought.....