Late last year, the National Portrait Gallery hosted an exhibit entitled "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture." Cutting through the euphemistic title, the Washington Post said the exhibit “surveys how same-sex love has been portrayed in art.”
As part of the exhibit, the Portrait Gallery, which receives federal funds, displayed a video entitled “Fire in my belly” by the late artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz. Part of the video depicted a crucifix-that is, Jesus on the Cross-with ants crawling all over it.
Well, the Catholic League and several conservative members of Congress were none too pleased that U.S. government funds were in part responsible such an outrageously offensive display-and let the Portrait Gallery know it.
Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan saw the wisdom of removing the video. Sullivan told the Washington Post that the video had become a distraction. "We don't want to shy away from anything that is controversial, but we want to focus on the museum's and this show's strengths." So the video was taken off display.
Good. Well, predictably, the arts community went nuts, crying “censorship,” and “insanity,” and accused the Portrait Gallery of “caving in” by disrupting such a “brave and important” exhibit.
Important? Well, if ridiculing the death of Christ and offending the faith of billions is important, then I guess this was important.
Brave? Hardly. The easiest thing an artist or playwright or movie producer can do these days in the West is mock Christianity and our God.
You want bravery? How about a museum displaying a similar video depicting Mohammad? Now that would be brave, on top of offensive and foolish.
The security costs for protecting the museum from outraged Muslims would be huge. And no artist would dare be so quote un-quote “brave” as to put his name on a piece of art that mocked Islam’s prophet.
Have you heard recently from the young woman who wanted to start “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day?” Of course not. She’s changed her name and gone into hiding. It’s a shame the art critics wouldn’t stand up for her right to be bold and important.
Or how do you think a museum’s patrons would react to a video of ants crawling all over a dead gay activist? They’d be furious. And they’d be right to be furious.
Of course this is a free society. We believe in free speech. We believe in artistic freedom. But we don’t believe the government has any business supporting those museums or media that display material patently designed to offend Christians or anyone else.
But if you’re a big fan of offensive art, I’ve got good news for you. The Modern Museum of Art in New York-to the sound of hosannas and huzzahs-has boldly and bravely purchased the video and will have it on display. Next time you’re in the Big Apple, you’re free to stop by and take a look.
But you’ll have to pay the museum’s $20 entrance fee yourself-no federal funds, I’m glad to say. And the only thing you’ll offend is your own sense of good taste and propriety.