December 08, 2010

What in the name of Gilbert Stuart is going on at the National Portrait Gallery?

A week ago, CNSNews’ Penny Starr reignited the culture war with an arresting story about the staid old museum that began thus:

“The federally funded National Portrait Gallery, one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, is currently showing an exhibition that features images of an ant-covered Jesus, male genitalia, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show’s catalog as ‘homoerotic.’”

Film of the crucifix with ants crawling on Jesus is from “A Fire in My Belly,” a video by David Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992, that expressed his rage and anguish at the death of a lover who also died of AIDS.

As this is a Christmas-season exhibit, it came to the attention of William Donahue of the Catholic League. He called the ants-on-Jesus image “hate speech” and demanded its removal.

The rest of the four-minute video of “A Fire in the Belly,” writes Starr, portrays “the bloody mouth of a man being sewn shut … a man undressing a man’s genitals, a bowl of blood and mummified humans.”

One wonders: Why has this exhibit not received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts?

With all deliberate speed, the portrait gallery pulled the video.

Too late. By now the exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in America,” had come to the attention of House Republicans who may have just struck the mother lode of that “waste, fraud and abuse” that the Gipper was always talking about.

Other features in the exhibit include that painting of the naked men kissing with one holding a gun to the chest of the other and a 1954 painting of an aroused naked man, “O’Hara Nude With Boots,” by Larry Rivers. “O’Hara” is poet Frank O’Hara, Rivers’ lover.

“If we cannot agree on what is beautiful, moral and decent, are we really “one nation, under God, indivisible” anymore?”

How did The Washington Post react to Donahue’s protest?

“The Censors Arrive,” said the Post. Yet the ants-on-Jesus image, 11 seconds long, is no big deal said the Post, which chastised Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor for suggesting the exhibit could imperil Smithsonian funding.

The Post added, “We hope Mr. Cantor’s threats prompt many additional Washingtonians to visit and judge for themselves.”

But if the Post is interested in having Washingtonians “judge for themselves” this “art,” why does the paper not publish photos of “O’Hara Nude With Boots”? If this is art the gallery should be showing high school kids who come to Washington each spring, why not let the Post’s readers see what the controversy is all about?


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