The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday night removed a piece of video art, A Fire in My Belly by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, which contains a crucifix with ants crawling on it and intermingles LGBT themes with Christianity, after complaints from Catholic groups and conservative politicians. Representative John Boehner, Speaker of the House as of January 3, and Representative Eric Cantor, who will be the second-ranking member of House GOP leadership, encouraged the removal of the video, and the two are now encouraging the Smithsonian to remove the entire exhibit. The Catholic website CNSNews first brought the exhibit to Boehner and Cantor's attention. Some things the politicians could have done:
(a) Not commented.
(b) Said it isn't necessarily within their jurisdiction as lawmakers to do anything about it.
(c) Said they wouldn't personally hang the images in their own homes, but this is someone else's work, and it's art, so to each their own.
(d) Said they have an economy to fix, a WikiLeak to plug, and a Korean crisis on their hands, so maybe they'll deal with the LGBT-themed Jesus statue later.
But why would Boehner do any of that when he could issue this statement?
"American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds. While the amount of money involved may be small, it's symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans' hard-earned money. Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January [when the new majority in the House moves in]."
Cantor's rep said:
"This is an outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season."
Some conservative politicians are now considering investigating the Smithsonian's funding and artwork choices:
"'Absolutely, we should look at their funds,' Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told Fox News. 'If they've got money to squander like this — of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains ... kissing — then I think we should look at their budget.'"
The National Portrait Gallery has removed a work of art from a GLBT-themed exhibition after it attracted conservative and religious ire for its images of homosexuality and Christianity. Director Martin Sullivan announced the removal after conservative news service CNS wrote that the "Christmas-season exhibit," which opened in October, used taxpayer money to indirectly fund an exhibition that includes imagery of genitalia, homoerotic situations, and Christ covered in ants.
National Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan said:
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 are removing the video today.
A spokeswoman for the Smithsonian noted that federal funding is not used to specifically pay for exhibits, only infrastructure, curating, and staff.
This has, of course, all happened before with provocative use of religious imagery, with the Andres Serrano work Piss Christ in 1987, and the Brooklyn Museum's "Sensation" exhibit, which drew fire from then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani for a piece that combined the Virgin Mary and elephant dung.
But Boehner is pushing for the removal of the entire "Hide/Seek" exhibit, which the National Portrait Gallery describes as "the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture." Think Progress notes: "It appears that a celebration of anything LGBT-related cannot exist without inciting right-wing backlash." So, the new congressional session should be fun. Just hide your Hockneys and Warhols. They're apparently dangerous.
[This post has been updated for clarity and to include additional information.]
Smithsonian Museum Removes An LGBT Art Exhibit After GOP Threatens To Defund It [Think Progress]
Boehner and Cantor to Smithsonian: Pull Exhibit Featuring Ant-Covered Jesus or Else [CNSNews via Gawker]
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery removes artwork in response to conservative anger over GLBT exhibition [TBD]
Smithsonian Removes Video After Group Complains [ABC News]